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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Business Leaders Asked to Sell the Common Core to the Public

By Peter DeWitt — June 18, 2013 4 min read
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A few weeks ago, N.Y. State Education Commissioner John King met with business leaders from around the Capital District Area (Albany). It was hosted by the Center for Economic Growth (CEG) and business leaders from large corporations such as General Electric (GE) attended the “conversation.”

Collaboration between business leaders and the public school system does not happen often enough. Regardless of where a school is located around the country, there are small and large business leaders who could offer valuable insight into what they look for in the workforce.

• Are students prepared for jobs after school?
• How about the men and women entering the workforce after they graduate from college
• What are their areas of strength?
• What are the weaknesses that schools could help address?

The ultimate goal of schools is to make sure that students are prepared for college or the workforce when they graduate. School personnel and business leaders are the bookends of this process for students. Unfortunately, the conversation that took place between Commissioner King and the business leaders was about selling the Common Core State Standards, accountability and high stakes testing. They missed a valuable opportunity to collaborate with schools.

According to the Times Union, “King urged a roomful of corporate decision-makers to support the tests and, more importantly, the new Common Core approach to learning embraced by New York and 46 other states.” King said “We need the entire community to support the standards.”

Why not take this opportunity to bring together school personnel and business leaders to talk about the pros and cons of the Common Core? Once again, it seems that a state education department is spending less time talking with stakeholders and more time selling an agenda. Instead of listening to the input of educational experts in the field, that would have provided the scaffolding necessary to find success, business leaders are being asked to apply pressure to the media and their communities to force schools to get on board.

Launch and Learn
Not all educators dislike the Common Core State Standards. They just want time to digest it, reflect on what they have learned, and make it stronger. Other educators find it too early to have an opinion about it because they are too busy trying to keep up. Those voices should be heard in business meetings as well so that leaders understand the issues. It’s unlikely that officials from the state education department verbalize those concerns.

When these meetings take place do they reflect on the weaknesses?

A critique of the Common Core State Standards is that they are assessment-driven. As much as state leaders and policymakers say they are not, there is a very strong emphasis on testing, and it’s very hard to differentiate between the Common Core and assessments. However, the bigger issue is all of the accountability. The increased accountability does not foster collaboration, nor does it foster creativity. Those are vitally important to the workforce.

According to the Times Union “CEG Executive Director Michael Tucker urged those in attendance to sign a pledge saying they would support the Common Core by writing letters to the media and generally talking up the concept.” This seems to be in-line with the other CCSS marketing we see in American Girl® Dolls who carry around Pearson Math Textbooks. The Common Core is everywhere.

One of the guiding issues that educators have with accountability is the amount of high stakes testing that students are exposed to every year. With testing comes test prep, and educators spend many weeks (sometimes months) on prepping students for the test. This takes them away from fully delving into the Common Core or other content that could be more meaningful. In the meeting, Robert Corcoran, President of the GE Foundation “maintained that there’s never enough time to fully prepare for a lot of endeavors, and that can become a trap leading to endless planning but no action.”

From my perspective, educators are not looking for endless planning opportunities but they would like better guidance and more effective accountability. We feel like we are plate spinners. As soon as we get all the plates spinning at the same time, one plate begins to fall to the floor. Simply offering a website (EngageNY) filled with resources is not educationally sound and does not help lead teachers, students and principals to better outcomes. At some point the plates will fall.

Much like the Merryl Tisch, the New York Chancellor of the Board of Regents, who believes it’s not the time to slow down on the Common Core, Corcoran said, “You launch it and you learn. You can’t afford to wait.”

The biggest question is what opportunities are the New York State Education Department, and other fast moving state education departments around the country, offering to reflect and “learn” from the “launch?” There is no learning....just force feeding.

If business leaders truly want to help the public school system they should push to get rid of one-size-fits-all accountability, which brings out one-size-fits all instructional models that do not foster critical thinking skills. Get rid of that mentality and we will see true innovation happen.

Documents from the meeting:
The Common Core State Standards
Education Reform Playbook

In early April, Peter interviewed Commissioner King for the School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS).

Commissioner King Interview - Preview from Michelle on Vimeo.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.