The education world is abuzz today discussing the political significance of AFT President Randi Weingarten’s call for a moratorium on Common Core stakes yesterday. The idea of using Common Core as an accountability moratorium has kicked around for a while behind the scenes, now it’s out there. Three thoughts on all of that:
1) After more than a year of behind the scenes, and increasingly public, bad signals for Common Core supporters, Weingarten’s move should be the most worrisome yet. If Common Core were a stock yesterday would have been a good day to start shorting it. Weingarten is nothing if not completely political about positioning and this is what you might consider a serious market signal about Common Core prospects. If this doesn’t wake up the Green Zone, I’m not sure what will. And union support, from both national teachers unions, for Common Core has been key in a few ways including as an obvious rebuttal to the idea that teachers were not involved with or are not on board with the new standards.
2) For Weingarten it’s a no-lose tactic. It’s important to remember that in any debate with teachers unions and public officials is really a debate between two sets of elected officials — public officials and elected teachers’ union officials. Weingarten is paying attention to her base in the union with this play and by linking Common Core to issues like evaluation she can at once appease a membership angling for a harder line and also position the union to exit Common Core if necessary. One smart observer noted yesterday that the standards she is setting are akin to the ones conservatives set on border security and immigration reform: Impossible to quantify or discern and consequently cover for whatever position one wants to subsequently take.
3) While I’m not a fan of moratoriums and so forth, it’s a mistake to dismiss what Weingarten is saying and some of the issues she is raising out of hand. Common Core implementation is not nearly as robust as it should be and the lack of support for too many teachers threatens to turn would-be Common Core allies into opponents. At BW we looked at implementation activities around the country for a recent analysis and what’s out there is woefully under-matched to the scale of the challenge. But rather than crude approaches like moratoriums that make good headlines but lousy public policy, this should be an opportunity for policymakers to really think about smart implementation of all the various moving parts today – evaluation and Common Core – and, yes, selectively slowing down where necessary. The goal here should be to get it right, hold the line against predictable political pressure to back off on hard decisions and consequences, but not to just show who can be the most ‘gangsta’ on education reform. In other words, we should hope national leaders heed this as a wake-up call and a chance to really engage with what a significant shift in ambition Common Core represents, but not an opportunity to jump into the politically convenient but highly counterproductive moratorium slipstream.