Core Problem: Bill Keller Shows The Liabilities Facing Common Core, Not The Strengths

Bill Keller has a column in The Times this morning about Common Core.  It’s the kind of column that shows up in your inbox a dozen times before your second cup of coffee because everyone is sending it around so happy that it righteously makes their case. It should be circulated for a different reason: It’s illustrative of the political jam the Common Core is in and highlights the problem rather than the way out.

For starters, the barely hidden argument is that many conservatives are ignorant, or at best favoring policies that foster ignorance. That’s feel good partisan stuff but a lousy way to win an argument. In this case, New York Times columnists telling them they’re stupid merely refinforces Tea Party opposition to the standards. Politically, if you want to convince people that the Common Core isn’t some Washington-hatched plan then it would probably be helpful if you had examples of support that were not basically the Washington chattering class, most of whom don’t move the needle within the Beltway, let alone around the country. Substantively, it might be useful to point out that some of the critics are thoughtful and make points worth considering, even if you don’t agree with them (in general I don’t).

In addition, while conservatives are a big problem on the Core so is the left and that’s part of the story here.  It’s easy to point out the excesses of the Glenn Becks and Michelle Malkins of the world as Keller does, that basically writes itself. But in case you haven’t been paying attention there isn’t a big clamor for the new standards (and especially not the accompanying tests) on the political left.  In some of the states Keller cites as places the Core is in jeopardy pushback from the left is shaping the field as much as pushback from the right. If Common Core unravels it won’t just be because of one end of the political spectrum, it’ll be the classic right-left opposition to school reform that has doomed previous efforts.

The column that Common Core supporters should want to see is the one highlighting examples of how local civic and business leaders have decided that educational mediocrity is a problem and that while neither perfect nor a stand-alone reform, the Core represents an important step toward better schools. It might even have examples of local chambers of commerce or civic leagues stepping up to hold local and state officials accountable for not only supporting the standards but supporting implementation efforts as well (training, curriculum , evaluation and so forth).*  That column would be worth emailing all over the place as evidence of progress. This one merely underscored the problem, which isn’t a new problem at all.

*Just an aside, when you look at other political issues and see the robust grassroots and grasstops political work surrounding them and then look at the infrastructure supporting the Common Core it’s like comparing a short season single A baseball team to the major league team. That’s not lost on politicians as they try to figure out where to move on this issue.

4 Replies to “Core Problem: Bill Keller Shows The Liabilities Facing Common Core, Not The Strengths”

  1. I agree that Keller’s article points to the problems more than to progress. It’s time to stop the reactionary political baiting and get on with implementing these standards well. The Common Core standards pragmatically point the way to better curricular decisions for schools. This is where the real debate should happen–how to get this right in the curriculum. That’s where it matters.

  2. There continues to be a lack of the criticism that the mathematics standards deserve. Minnesota has taken the more responsible position, being the only state to have approved the English language arts standards while rejecting the mathematics standards. Commonly reprinted editorials, such as that by the leaders of the U.S. business community (e.g. the Chamber of Commerce), make arguments in favor of a common core of standards but are quite clearly misinformed about the (lack of) competitiveness of this Common Core. The fact is that after all of this ballyhoo, after hundreds of millions of dollars will have spent on all of the hardware, textbooks, training and so on, our students will still be two years behind those of our competitors across the Pacific, we’ll still have the same lousy PISA ranking in mathematics, and new classes of high school graduates will have found their ability to compete for jobs in an international environment will have been damaged by educational thought leaders who write about these standards without having studied how they compare with those of the competition.

  3. Fox & Friends and the American Patriarchy Association’s Bryan Fischer are among several conservative outlets pitching a selectively edited video that appears to show Illinois school official Amanda August saying that under the Common Core standards, it won’t matter whether a student thinks three times four equals eleven or twelve, as long as the student can explain why they came up with their answer. Fox & Friends showed a clip of August saying just this much:
    Even if they said, ’3 x 4 was 11,’ if they were able to explain their reasoning and explain how they came up with their answer really in words and in oral explanations, and they showed it in the picture but they just got the final number wrong, we’re really more focusing on the how.
    Steve Doocy mocked the clip, saying, “if you can explain it to the teacher…you get credit!” and co-host Anna Kooiman decried it as part of the “wussification of America [where] everybody gets a trophy … what happens if the child becomes a doctor and decides to operate on the wrong knee?” Pretty shocking stuff, and just more evidence that liberal teachers are throwing standards out the window!


  4. The CCSS wouldn’t be such heavy lifting for the left if it weren’t shackled to the teacher assessment regime. NGSS is next.

    The Tea Party crowd will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER be happy with ANYTHING that even could be construed as Obama-based. They are not to be reasoned with, only marched into the FEMA reeducation camps.

    Nice to see Phillip is a fellow Wonker–I should have guessed!

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