A recent New York Times article on Common Core uniform standards to help raise the bar on what we want our students to achieve had me mesmerized and agitated. Experiencing the Common Core roll out through the eyes of nine-year-old Chrispin, his mother, and a teacher is the perfect way to see how far removed policy and practice can be. The article highlighted the many ways policies intended to improve our public schools get twisted by politics, carelessness, implementation mistakes, and the lack of stakeholder input along the way. (I also wanted to shout about 100 times, “Common Core is not about the tests!” But, that’s another story, for another time.)
Like so many words in our public discourse, “Common Core” has taken on coded meaning designed to scare, distract, confuse, and polarize people. The intended beneficiaries of this effort to improve public education outcomes have, once again, become victims of this corruption of public policymaking. The cynic in me is not surprised at how effective government opponents are at manipulating public opinion about the value of government. The parent in me is confused and angry at the idea that anyone would question a concerted effort to help our children reach their full potential.
Two years ago, I had the chance to work with a group of charter school teachers in Arizona, who were early adopters of Common Core. They embraced the opportunity to deepen the content of their work with students and bring more professional independence and creativity back into their instruction. They gave clear advice to their state superintendent of education about what would happen when every school in Arizona made the transition to Common Core.
I wish all of the Common Core skeptics and supporters had considered their advice, which was published in the report Arizona Charter Teachers Guide to Common Core Implementation: “Advice From the Classroom.” These teachers made it clear that educating and engaging the public, teachers included, is the goal behind Common Core, and the strategy to reach that goal was of utmost importance. They flagged the need to make adequate investments of time and money in both changing curriculum and textbooks for students, and professional development and support for teachers. They also were clear that if Common Core was implemented in each state with effective dialogue with stakeholders and deliberate investments in content adjustments, testing would play a supporting, not primary, role.
Unfortunately, the professional agitators, on both ends of the ideological spectrum, didn’t heed that advice. Instead, they seized another opportunity to undermine change and re-litigate ideological debates about the value of government and the importance of government services.
Change is hard and change is scary. So, it’s all the more important that when we’re making big changes — especially to essential public services like education — we take more care to focus on the goal and bring all the stakeholders together. If we are ever going to overcome ideological gridlock, we have to return our collective attention to where it belongs: the best way to improve public good through the smart allocation of public resources. That means hearing and heeding Chrispin’s teachers in Brooklyn, the Arizona teachers, and their peers across the county, including those who have reasonable critiques, who are working to make the most of the opportunities Common Core offers. It’s their professional experience that will drown out the manipulators and ideologues, fulfilling the core goal of Common Core, raising the floor on student learning, and elevating professionalism in teaching. That’s common sense.