What We Talk About When We Talk About Common Core (Hint: Not Common Core)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s flip flop on Common Core looked like pretty naked politicking. But that wasn’t as interesting to me as what it seemed to vividly illustrate: These days when people debate “Common Core” they’re not really talking about Common Core at all. I take a look at that in a U.S. News & World Report column today:

In 2013, Christie supported Common Core. “We’re doing Common Core in New Jersey, and we are going to continue. This is one of those areas where I have agreed more with the president than not and with [Education] Secretary [Arne] Duncan,” he said. But last Thursday he changed his tune. “We must reject federal control of our education and return it to parents and teachers,” Christie said. “We need to take it out of the cubicles of Washington, D.C. where it was placed by the Obama administration and return it to the neighborhoods of New Jersey.”

It’s easy to pick on Christie for shameless politicking – he offered little in the way of specific criticisms and the standards are unpopular with conservative primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina where his fledgling presidential campaign is struggling to get traction. He’s hardly the only politician pandering on the issue; calling Common Core the product of federal bureaucrats (it’s not) is a standard Republican talking point. Meanwhile, reasonable people can change their minds or disagree about the standards, which turned five this week. For my part, I think they have promise but their transformative potential has been oversold by many advocates and their adoption and implementation is inadequately supported.

None of that, however, is what makes the New Jersey situation so illustrative. Instead, the saga of Common Core in New Jersey (and elsewhere) highlights how our education debates are often proxies for other issues…
You can click here to read the entire column in U.S. News’ daily “Report.” Follow me on Twitter and share shameless political things you’ve done to woo primary voters or what problem Common Core is a proxy for in your life.

4 Replies to “What We Talk About When We Talk About Common Core (Hint: Not Common Core)”

  1. I agree with you, Andy. But you miss a key point: the Common Core movement itself contributed to the problem in several ways and must take part of the criticism for it.

    First, Duncan attached federal consequences to adopting the Common Core. So, why wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) conservatives fed up with aggressive executive action on all fronts be negative on this one?

    Second, the movement began, and is still stuck, in an ideology that it’s virtually all about the standards. For one thing, this narrow view will likely doom all the energy spent in promoting it to making little actual difference in improving student outcomes. Further, by choosing to promote THE Common Core rather than high and solid standards as part of a broader good and accountable education system, the movement is getting what it invited. That is, it’s getting an attack from conservative populists that the nation doesn’t need one-size-fits-all standards established, as they see it, by an elite and promoted from above and with federal carrots and sticks.

    I don’t agree with them on all this. Obviously I’m one who believes in federal pressure to improve in return for receiving federal money. But standards are a particularly sensitive matter. There’s a long history here, as folks who’ve been involved well know. My main point: it’s more two sided than it appears on the surface.

  2. Dear Andy,

    I agree with you on the notion that when people, mainly politicians, are talking about the Common Core, they avoid talking about about the actual standards. I’m interested in your take on why.

    Moreover, why is it an issue that they don’t talk about the actual standards now that people are choosing to oppose it, but it was okay for knowledge about the Common Core standards to be limited when trying to push it into legislation? Why can we talk about policy with disregard to its design, content, and actors involved in the process, and still see it forced onto individual states when it is tied to federal aid?

    I’m not a policy expert, but in one of my education policy analysis courses, one of the most rewarding classes of my undergraduate career, we took a look at one of the complex rubrics and my professor stated she would not use even impose on her undergraduate students. She also taught high school for 5-6 years, so as a teacher and professor of education, I think her statement sheds light on why we don’t talk about the standards, or why people use Common Core to address other issues: “You can’t mandate what matters!”

    I think it shows the disregard of K-12 teachers being involved in the development of the standards, overlooking the great work being done on the local level and shying away from the real issue of education inequality and solutions that show the most impact on student progress. Higher standards are depicted as a magic bullet to our “nation’s failing school system,” when students at our best public schools perform just as well as top students across the globe. Instead of a Common Core, we need a “Common Budget” that ensures all schools receive the resources necessary to implement an excellent education for all students.

    Bottom line: We don’t talk about the standards of the Common Core because it was never the real issue to begin with.

  3. Bottom line: We don’t talk about the standards of the Common Core because it was never the real issue to begin with.
    Sharp line there. Cuts through the chaff.

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