It has become fashionable to blame the effects of nationalizing education on anything but the national curriculum mandates and the tests that accomplish it.
Teachers unions have seized on Common Core to undermine testing mandates and teacher evaluation schemes, bemoans Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek. Bad model lessons are undercutting Common Core’s potential, exclaims Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Common Core teacher retraining sessions teem with learning theories that research has proven ineffective, complains E. D. Hirsch, founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation. And textbook publishers have twisted Common Core into a resurgence of “fuzzy math,” asserts College Board’s Kathleen Porter-Magee.
In other words, our nation’s 50 million schoolkids enter a storm of curricular chaos this fall, but, like them, Common Core is just a hapless victim. Has Common Core really been hijacked, or has it been a rogue vessel all along?
A look at the standards themselves, as its proponents often demand, suggests this controversy is at least partly Common Core’s fault. Its curriculum mandates are wordy, obtuse, and inaccurate. Try this representative directive, for kindergarten: “Associate the long and short sounds with the common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels.” After wading through the blubbery language, an astute reader will ask, “How many ways can there be to spell the five vowels? And are there any minor vowels?” There is precisely one spelling for each of the five, and only five, vowels. So what could this mandate mean?
It’s unclear, and so is the rest of Common Core, as in-depth analysis along these lines from Hillsdale College’s Terrence Moore shows in his book The Story Killers. So no wonder New York teachers, and teachers everywhere, must muddle about, prey to contradictory education theories, in the name of Common Core. The lack of curricular clarity in Common Core has spawned mass confusion. Follow the money: The Common Core beneficiaries are consultants and test developers.
That’s the real essence of Common Core: a political movement, a neat and tidy scheme to streamline U.S. education through a set of rapid, enormous policy changes rather than undergo the tedious process of convincing people and their elected representatives they should assent to a new way of organizing education. To speed things along, the people who created Common Core requested back in 2008 that the federal government play “an enabling role” and “offer a range of tiered incentives” to get states to sign onto national curriculum mandates and tests.
Once President Barack Obama came into office, he obliged, and then some. Thanks to federal grants offered during the recent recession, 40 state departments of education offered to accept this complete overhaul of their schools’ curricula and tests more than five months before the actual curriculum requirements were published in June 2010 and two months before even a draft was made publicly available. Taxpayers still await the final version of these new national tests.
Given the speed, secrecy, and arm-twisting of this initiative, the resulting chaos is no surprise. Potential pitfalls and a broad base of support never emerged during public debate, because there was no public debate. What is surprising is that people still insist on blaming Common Core’s victims rather than its perpetrators.
What the Common Core Authoritarians who have tried to shove these untested, ill-conceived national standards and national tests down the throats of the entire nation while claiming they're "voluntary" are discovering is that you can rig the political process, buy off the politicians, shove through your policy changes in the dark of a recession and throw "incentive cashola" around like George Steinbrenner on the first day of free agency, but if people around the country don't buy into the policies, you're going to get major pushback.
The Common Core Authoritarians are now in the "whining stage" of their defense, which is where they blame everybody but themselves for the mess.
That's a pretty good sign that things aren't going to turn around for Common Core and the ancillary tests and other policy reforms that go with it any time soon.
I can't imagine Bill Gates whining that he can't understand why Common Core is such a political football is going to win over too many critics and skeptics.
Common Core whine - it doesn't get better with age.