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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

Common Core: Guilty by Association...or Just Guilty?

By Peter DeWitt — March 09, 2014 4 min read
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I’m having a hard time differentiating the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) from test-based accountability; especially after reading Marc Tucker’s blog, which you can read here. Unfortunately for the Common Core, it is lumped in an era of test-based accountability, something that has defined education for the past decade. It makes me question whether the Common Core is guilty by association, or just plain guilty.

Adding to the Common Core and test-based accountability debate is an interview I listened to on NPR’s Diane Rehm show. Tom Gjelten was in Diane Rehm’s place when he interviewed Michael Cohen of Achieve, Carol Burris of Southside High School and Catherine Gewertz of Education Week. To listen to the interview, click here.

In the interview, Michael Cohen said the Common Core State Standards were designed in 2008 (but had “deep roots” in 2005), as a result of a study that showed how many college students had to take remedial courses when they entered their freshman year. He continued by stating that over 40% of New York students entering college needed to take remedial courses. Carol Burris reputed the remedial course argument very well in the interview.

As the participants spoke, Tom Gjelten asked whether it was the Common Core people disliked, or whether it was the implementation. As I have stated before, the implementation in N.Y. was heavy-handed, top-down, and terribly flawed. In a previous post Marc Tucker, who is very pro-Common Core wrote,

The Common Core is now under sustained attack from people who will say anything about it--whether true or not--to bring down what they see as another federal government intrusion into their local rights and freedoms, and by others who are tired of too much testing and the use of standards and tests to circumscribe teachers' work and deprive them of their jobs. Probably the single biggest liability of the Common Core right now is the ham-handed way it has been implemented in too many places."

Everyone believes they are speaking the truth about their side of the CCSS debate. Who is correct?

In addition, the Common Core argument always seems to head in the direction of testing, which goes back to test-based accountability. It’s a vicious and never-ending cycle, but I do always wonder why testing, in this day and age, is considered by policymakers and state education leaders, as the best way to determine whether students learned the Common Core State Standards or any other standards for that matter?

In his blog about test-based accountability, Tucker writes, “The damage that test-based accountability has done goes far deeper than a missed opportunity to improve student achievement. It is doing untold damage to the profession of teaching.” However, in the blog, Tucker never mentions the Common Core. Interesting enough some of those commenting on his blog did lump test-based accountability in with the Common Core.

Can They be Separated? Should they be separated?

In my professional experience, I have always had a need to dissect something, work with it, and see where it fits before I reject it. A teacher once told me that before I came to the staff with a decision or directive, I looked at it seven ways to Sunday. I guess it’s a trait I haven’t let go of yet.

Truthfully, where the Core is concerned, I have been compartmentalizing.

There are more compelling arguments on why to reject the standards than accept them. I know that should weigh into my final decision...my compartmentalizing. Critics believe that the Core, which is clearly tied to test-based accountability, were created to prove that the public school system is failing. I must admit, that after the past few years of negative rhetoric on the part of politicians and policy makers, I would not be surprised if that was true. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but...

To be fair, there are parents and teachers who like the CCSS. One such teacher is Annice Brave, who was a call-in guest for the Diane Rehm Show. Annice was also the 2011 Illinois State Teacher of the Year. There have been parents who told me directly that they welcome more “rigorous” standards, and teachers who like the fact that children moving in from other schools in other states have been exposed to the same standards. I can’t dismiss their feelings.

Other parents, teachers and students reject them. They felt, and still feel, as though the Core is too hard, too rigorous, and not age appropriate. On my seven ways to Sunday I cannot help but hold on to the fact that increased academic standards are great for some students, and completely wrong for others.

Perhaps I’m too elementary, but I want learning to be fun, engaging, and challenging, all of which looks different for every student. So...what do we do? Out of 45 states that adopted the Common Core, a handful are now questioning their decision.

In the End

As educators, parents and students we have to ask ourselves some hard questions. Is it the standards we don’t like because they are not appropriate? Some experts say that the CCSS are not age-appropriate, while in other blogs there are experts who are quoted as saying they are. I’d love to hear from teachers and students.

Or is it the control we have given up over the past few years? Is it both? Can numbers and accountability really prove a school is successful (I don’t think so)? Or will they just add to the notion that schools, and the students within them, are failing?

Tucker perhaps says it best when he states, “If we want broad improvement in student performance and we want to close the gap between disadvantaged students and the majority of our students, then we will abandon test-based accountability and teacher evaluation as key drivers of our education reform program.” That would be a perfect place to begin. If that happens, which I wish for on a daily basis, will the Common Core be viewed differently?

If test-based accountability and teacher evaluation were no longer key drivers, would the Common Core help students become more successful...or make them feel more like failures? Will the Common Core engage our students to stay in school, or make them feel as though we didn’t understand them at all as they leave us behind? As those of us old enough to remember the phonics versus the whole language era...our present students will remember this present time as the Common Core era.

Will they think that the Common Core was guilty by association...or just plain guilty?

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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.