Common Gored?

Big above-the-fold Washington Post look at Common Core pushback late last week.  Three quick thoughts:

First, all this was frustratingly predictable. There have been warnings for several years.  Pro-Common Core conservatives have flagged the problem, warnings regularly popped up as an issue in the Whiteboard Education Insiders survey, and debates inside conservative groups like ALEC were a clear signal something was up.  Granted, in American public affairs and politics it is a lot easier to stop something than to implement it.  Still, pro-Common Core players (and I’m someone generally in favor of Common Core) seemed so sure of the obviousness and rightness of their position they left themselves exposed and dismissed the critics as a few cranks with email lists. Good reminder that the action isn’t in the Green Zone.*

Second, the big problem with stories like the one in the Washington Post is that they create momentum that can push undecideds off the fence. We’re approaching a tipping point where if you’re a conservative and not against the Common Core that’s a dangerous place to be politically – and midterms are coming in 2014.  Meanwhile, you can see the clear outlines of the same problem on the educational left.

Third, unlike issues such as Obamacare, ditching Common Core is relatively cost-free for states.  Right now GOP governors are cross-pressured on Obamacare because while it’s good politics to be against it, it’s not good policy as the debate over Medicaid expansion shows. That’s not the case on Common Core: Fighting it is good base politics and a pretty cost-free policy. To the extent there are costs – for instance sacrificing the potential of better quality and lower-cost student assessments – those are not visible costs to voters. In other words, the political calculus is pretty obvious and in education that generally trumps the policy.

I don’t think the entire enterprise is going to unravel and think the predictions of Common Core doom overstate the likely outcomes here, but it’s increasingly clear we’re going to end up with something different than what was envisioned.

*It’s a great illustration of how Balkanized our politics and information flows are these days that while many Common Core supporters didn’t even notice its inclusion in the 2012 Democratic Party platform, the mention of Common Core in that document lit up conservative activists.

3 Replies to “Common Gored?”

  1. I don’t think it’s fair to say halting Common Core would be a cost-free policy. Teachers and principals have been getting PD on Common Core, and are already teaching it and being evaluated on it in certain areas. There would be costs associated with at least the following:
    • Re-teaching the old curriculum
    • Re-developing tests aligned to the old curriculum (particularly to modify for on-line assessments)
    • Modifying the whole focus of various existing PD initiatives
    • Re-negotiating contracts for textbooks or other content

    It’s also important to remember that many (most? all?) NCLB waivers are predicated on adopting Common Core. If a state were to ditch Common Core and have their waiver revoked, there would be costs for providing NCLB-mandated interventions in schools that would be labeled as not meeting AYP after the revocation of our NCLB waiver.

  2. Ann –


    The NCLB point is a good one but in practice states just have to commit to college and career ready standards, so they could find ways to avert that. It also seems unlikely that an administration under attack for making these standards de facto mandatory is going to be heavy handed with a state pulling out.

    Your other costs could be real but they’re not especially visible to the public. In other words, they’re costs but voters are unlikely to feel them directly. And most states aren’t that far down the tracks anyway – that’s a whole different Common Core challenge.

  3. I’m no longer sure that this is going to blow over; it could easily unravel. There is just enough here for everyone to hate something – great expenses, more tests, fear of govt over-reach, loss of faith in NCLB, concern about corporate interests calling the shots. I remain in favor as I think most of the people out in the schools I work with do, but at this point I think all bets are off. Any backing off by the teachers and admin. unions and it dies, I think.

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