Call It What You Want, Common Core is Here to Stay

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Today’s Washington Examiner article, entitled “Tide Shifting Against Common Core,” is a great illustration of  the failure of journalists to differentiate between  the Common Core State Standards and aligned assessments like PARCC and Smarter Balanced. Here’s the lede:

The more people hear about Common Core, the more controversial it becomes.
Massachusetts would rather spend millions of dollars and delay testing by a year than stick with a test aligned with Common Core education standards, The New York Times reports.

No, that’s precisely wrong. Massachusetts has been implementing the Common Core-like standards for years; in fact, much of the Common Core was written and supervised by Massachusetts educators because the state has been widely regarded as a leader in integrating higher standards into public schools. (The high student achievement in the state validates this strategy).

The current political backlash isn’t about the Common Core (although there remain pockets of resistance from Tea Partiers who maintain that the creation of the standards was some sort of federal conspiracy) but about the tests. These have been widely derided by teacher union leaders, who recoil at local efforts to link student outcomes to teacher evaluations, and suburban parents who think that their kids don’t need standardized assessments.

A few examples: in periwinkle New Jersey (i.e., blue with a tinge of red) the State D.O.E.  has tiredly assembled a group of stakeholders to “review” the standards because Chris Christie, who once heralded the Common Core as “one of those areas where I have agreed more with the president than not and with [Education] Secretary [Arne] Duncan,” felt the need to shamelessly genuflect to the GOP leadership.  N.J. Ed. Comm. David Hespe apologetically confided to NJ Spotlight that “this is more of a renovation, not a tear-down,” and that’s the same approach other states will most likely take.

And no wonder. N.J. students and teachers have been using the Common Core in classrooms for almost six years. By the way, N.J. is sticking with PARCC.

A true blue-state example: last month New York Governor Cuomo followed Christie’s lead, and created a  Common Core Task Force even though  common sense educators praise the standards. In fact, material from the New York Department of Education’s Common Core resource called EngageNY has been downloaded by educators more than 20 million times.

Let’s redden up. Crimson South Carolina triumphantly repealed the Common Core last March but Sheri Few, president of the South Carolina Parents Involved in Education, which describes itself as a group of “taxpayers and patriotic Americans committed to conservative education,” told Breitbart that  “[by] the state Education Oversight Committee’s (EOC) own admission, the ‘new’ replacement standards are 90 percent aligned with Common Core.”

So let’s get the facts straight. The Common Core is fast on its way to becoming a multi-tagged set of generally uniform school standards. Anyway, what’s in a name? Call it the Christie Core, the Cuomo Core, the Conservative Core, the Randi Weingarten Core, the Patriotic Core; really, who cares? It’s a name-change, not a standards-change. At worst, it’s a standards-tweak.

Look: we’ll most likely have uniform standards. A child in South Carolina will have access to the same math content as a child in Massachusetts. What we won’t have is the ability to make comparisons state-to-state, not only because some states are fiddling with aligned assessments  but also setting their own cut scores. It’s a political backlash to accountability, not course content, and that’s the distinction missing from coverage at the Examiner and the Times.

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