Two important pieces have come out in the last couple of days that analyze the impact of the Common Core. In Will a Year’s Delay Save the Common Core?, Anthony Cody looks into intelligent, effective alternatives to Common Core. Paul Thomas calls for non-cooperation with it in, A Call for Non-Cooperation: So That Teachers Are Not Foreigners in Their Own Profession. Both pieces are fairly long, and each requires some patience and thought. One of my concerns with the whole conversation around the CCSS is that patience and thought are both hard to find. We are naively rushing forward to impose them without fully understand the implications. It seems to me that as public workers and learners, educators also have the obligation to be public intellectuals. And this task requires much thought, and much patience. So please patiently and thoughtfully consider my addition to this conversation, but, more importantly, read Cody and Thomas’s works completely.
In my mind, there are two separate conversations regarding the Common Core. (Please recognize that I know these are simplifications of more complex arguments.) One of them focuses on the instructional aspects of the standards, while another focuses on the political implications of them. Let me address each in turn:
1. Instructional Integration
This conversation attempts to justify or criticize the quality of the standards themselves. For instance, the controversy over the privileging of non-fiction works over fiction in the ELA portion of the Common Core falls into this category (though not neatly). The essential focus of the instructional aspect of the Common Core has to do with the standards’ ability to improve individual schools and classrooms. What is the quality of the standards themselves? Will these standards help make teacher instruction and individual schools better?
2. Political Purposes
This conversation is a bigger picture conversation about the impact of the adoption of the standards on the quality of, perception of, and funding of public education. This conversation ties into the broader concern of the CCSS as a tool of high stakes testing, accountability and the corporate education reform movement.
There are many educators that I respect who are proponents of the CCSS from the perspective of its instructional aspects. They honestly, thoughtfully believe that the adoption of the Common Core has the ability to improve their classrooms and/or schools. Their arguments are coherent, and though I disagree, I do respect their positions. There are no educators that I know who are in support of high stakes testing and the corporate education movement. So, though there are differing opinions on what the imposition of the CCSS means for classrooms, there is strong consensus among educators against the political purposes of the CCSS.
The problem is, that by agreeing with the adoption of the Common Core based on an instructional argument, educators also accept all of the political implications that come with it. As the standards are adopted, measurement of those standards will also be adopted. And we have enough experience to know that the superficial testing measures of the accountability movement, and the national testing that tied to national standards, actually means the continued dismantling of public education as we know it. The two different conversations as I have outlined them are necessarily conflated. (And for a great example of this conflation, see Common Core Standards Are Common Sense from the Detroit Free Press. The author, one who I generally admire, uses the argument of instruction- posed from a position of neutrality that veils the political consequences of her argument- to react to a politically ideological stance.) By agreeing with and accepting the CCSS as means of improving instruction, we also condone and accept its political consequences as a tool of the corporate education reform movement. As public intellectuals of thoughtfulness and patience, we can no longer be naive in our belief that classroom practices tied to accountability measures have been beneficial for what’s left of public education in this age of neo-liberalism. As Thomas writes in another article, Corporations Are Behind the Common Core- And That’s Why They’ll Never Work
“In other words, high-stakes testing labels and creates achievement gaps; it doesn’t help close the gap. Since the history of accountability has shown that all standards that are linked to high-stakes tests become what is tested is what is taught, CCSS are destined to the same failure as found during the preceding thirty years.”
By leveraging the gaps that it necessarily creates, the standards and testing movement continues to dismantle the commons of public education, and to profit corporations such as Pearson and a number of for profit charter companies. And by naively condoning the instructional aspects of the CCSS, we continue to allow the nefarious political implications.
Thought and patience, followed by a good dose of activism, please.
For another thorough example of thinking about the Common Core, read Diane Ravitch’s, Why I Cannot Support the Common Core Standards