Welcome to the new blood sport, America: the fight over the Common Core State Standards Initiative. No issue in recent memory has served to divide the education community like Common Core. It has pitted reformer vs. reformer, brother vs. brother. Is implementing Common Core the vital ingredient to ensure the systemic reform for our schools we all want? Or is it, as some have suggested, another example of overreaching by the federal government trying to impose its will on a state issue?
One way to answer those questions is by looking at history. Remember No Child Left Behind? Like the Common Core, NCLB was a federal initiative designed to raise the educational standards in the states. The law gave states until the end of the 2013-2014 school year to bring all children to the proficiency level in math and reading.. Failure to do so would threaten future federal education funding. Guess what happened? Nothing. States still aren't educating many of their kids and they are still receiving their federal funds by way of waivers from the NCLB mandates. Keep in mind that this is after many of these states received millions of new federal dollars through Race to the Top.
Maybe it's me, but could it be that all of the discussion, debate and handwringing over Common Core Standards is a bit much? Sure, I am all for high standards and that is why I supported the thrust of No Child Left Behind. We clearly need higher expectations and standards for all of our students. They will rise or fall based on the expectations we place on them.
I also understand the urge to want agreement on what those standards should be. We have seen how some states will agree to certain educational goals and standards, only to back away from them later.
But as I listen to more and more of the Common Core debate and the intensity attached thereto, I can't help but wonder if our time couldn't be better spent making sure we have schools and classroom teachers who can help kids meet those standards, whatever they may be. Maybe we could also directly deal with the status quo work rules that hamper school district reform. As it stands now, the death fight debates over the Common Core places too much emphasis on the 'what we need to do'. We need more focus and attention on the 'how'. For instance, how will these states reach these standards? Also, how will Common Core address the urgent need to educate kids in need today? How can we make sure this will not be a repeat of the NCLB waiver fiasco. And yes, how can we utilize the efficacies of educational choice while we implement higher standards?
Think about it. Let's say every state decides to adopt the Common Core Standards. Then what? Our kids will still be in need of immediate help and paralyzing school district practices will still be in place. We need to be honest with ourselves: changing the standards alone won't change the results.
So what do I think about the Common Core Standards debate? Well, my fear is that after all the blood is shed and the battle is done, there will be limited energy and vigor left for changing the conditions that will then block our kids from reaching those new standards. And as we saw with NCLB, reformers will gather 15 years from now to talk about new standards as we continue to watch too many of our nation's students fall through the cracks.