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If common core fails, then what?

5 min read


I was invited to attend the Annual Conference on Evidence-based Policymaking and Innovation, sponsored by the National Association of State Boards of Education. The conference was well planned, with excellent leaders and speakers in each of the sessions. These were the very sessions the members of NASBE needed to consider the weighty decisions they need to make on policy required by their positions on their state boards of education. I was there as an observer and a blogger, and I was impressed by their genuine concern to do the right thing in education. It seemed that many members were at one time an educator.

A key session for me was the general session on the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The panel consisted of David Coleman, “The Architect of the Common Core,” along with Christopher Koch, Illinois superintendent of schools, and Jean-Claude Brizard, CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Brizard was replaced the next day, having nothing to do with this session; I am sure.

Coleman was the driving force of the panel. He was passionate in his presentation of the Common Core State Standards. CCSS is his baby. I am not in agreement with all aspects of CCSS, but I do see a need to provide some statewide guidance to what expectations or goals we have for our learners and teachers. The sticking point will always be the assessment of these expectations and goals.

The point of this panel, beyond the explanation of the CCSS, was the fact that all of the states involved will need to be common core compliant by 2014. They stated emphatically that CCSS will affect all subjects and not just math and language arts. It became obvious to me that they were really driving home the who, what, where, when, and most definitely, the why of common core. What was searing my brain, as I squirmed in my seat, trying very hard not to jump up screaming 20 questions all at once, was the obvious missing plan of how this is to be done. It cannot be done without teachers fully in support. Where is the professional development piece to all of this? The common core is planned and structured and handed to the states with the full support of the U.S. Department of Education. Where is the implementation plan beyond the deadline for compliance? Where is the plan and support for professional development for this grand scheme that will change American education?

There are many teachers in our education system who recognize the need for change in other districts, but they remain satisfied in what they do as educators in their own district. Their students are coming to school, doing work and getting jobs or going to college. According to the media and the politicians, the system is crumbling with no hope for repair, but that is not what educators see in many of their own districts. Why change if we don’t have to? Every educator learns early on that whatever change is being implemented now, if you wait long enough, it will go away when another idea comes along. The other big misconception is that the common core right now is only for math and language arts. It is not going to affect any other areas.

Many schools have bought into common core and are preparing their teachers for it. Some are doing a better job than others. There are other schools however, that may not be sharing the enthusiasm to be compliant by 2014. The failure or success of common core rests with the educators. It might have behooved the policy makers to have first considered an educator’s common core for professional development and support so that the very people who are most needed to support, enforce and teach under CCSS will be properly prepared. When it comes to professional development in education, there is little positive commonality. To be better educators, we need to be better learners.

A possible outcome is that if Common Core State Standards fails, it would not be assessed as a failure because it wasn’t a great idea. It will be judged a failure because American teachers never embraced it or supported it. If it doesn’t work, it’s the fault of the bad teachers. No one will look back at the implementation and ask, “How did we prepare our educators to implement this bold idea?” or “Where were educators ranked in the priority of the plan?”

Much of this came in great clarity and focus to me on the plane after I left the conference. The flight attendant was doing the in-flight instruction and got to the part where the oxygen masks come down. She said: If you are an adult with children, place the mask over your face first, and then you will be able to place the mask over the face of the child. If common core fails, what then?

Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He came to that position after 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.