Standards Opinion

2013 in Review Part Two: The Year the Common Core Began to Unravel

By Anthony Cody — December 25, 2013 3 min read
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It was supposed to be easy. The campaign was one of shock and awe, intended to overpower and silence anyone with the nerve to criticize. Most of us first heard of the Common Core when we learned that 45 states and the District of Columbia had summarily adopted them, with no public hearings or even legislative approval. Just the signatures of the Governor and state superintendent was all that was required, and we were off to the races - or Race to the Top, as it turned out.

We were warned to get on board, get out of the way, or get run over. Our unions signed on, professional organizations, and of course all the recipients of Gates funding as well, became cheerleaders for the new standards - which had nothing to do with curriculum or testing, of course.

But the project began to unravel this year, as people began to see the ways in which the Common Core enhanced and deepened our reliance on high stakes tests for all sorts of important decisions. I tracked the growing opposition, beginning with this February post which described an Arizona event where I debated a conservative proponent of standards associated with ALEC, and found surprising support from the audience for my critique of high stakes testing.

In the summer we received the Common Core test results from New York state, and saw how officials there had created a “disaster by design,” since they knew in advance that only 30% of the students were going to pass. This dovetailed with a report from Indiana that showed how one of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, Tony Bennett, had rigged the school grading system to lift his favorite charter school from a C to an A. (In the latest round of school grades, the school has fallen to an F).

Towards the end of the year, I laid out the most comprehensive critique of Common Core I could muster. That post has been my most widely read ever, and was the number one article at Education Week for more than a week. It laid out a ten colossal errors I feel are inherent in the Common Core, beginning with the undemocratic manner in which the standards were written and adopted, and including concerns about the appropriateness of the standards, the problems with tightly managed guidelines and the clear connection to an ever-expanding regime of high stakes tests.

Since some people seem stuck on the idea that the success of Common Core is inevitable, I wrote an essay about the possible future when that inevitability collapses. I suggested some different scenarios, focusing on California, where we have adopted Common Core, but remain resistant to high stakes tests. We must move beyond the central mission of Common Core tests, and many other testing systems - the ranking and sorting of our students and teachers. That must be our goal, whether Common Core stays or goes.

There continues to be confusion about the genesis of the Common Core standards, so I offered an interview with a Florida teacher who was among those who reviewed the standards back in 2009. I also wrote about the Common Core creation stories, the mythology that has been generated to cover the true origins of the standards.

The way that the Common Core standards were imposed presents a real challenge to our democracy. The whole project raises the question “Who decides what is taught in our schools?” I favor a far more significant role for parents, educators and students, and much less of a role for the federal government and huge corporate philanthropies.

The ultimate question we face as a result of the Common Core is what will best serve our students. The Common Core is built around preparing the next generation of workers to be of maximum usefulness to employers - and perhaps this accounts for corporate enthusiasm for the project. But this cuts against the grain of many of us as educators and learners.

As I wrote last month,

Certainly one of the roles of our educational system is to prepare people for productive work that we hope awaits. But the United States became the most dominant economy in the world without a national, standardized educational system. We now face a monumental challenge: Can we reshape our economy in such a way that it not only provides for the needs of our communities across the nation, but also does not destroy the planet? This is not a "standard" question. The answer will not appear among four options offered by Pearson or McGraw Hill. The answers will emerge from a generation rebelling against standardization of thought, and the need to be useful and profitable for some corporation.

See also:

2013 in Review Part 1: Charter Schools, Public, Private or Parasitic?

2013 in Review Part 3: Gatesian Reforms Rejected.

2013 in Review Part 4: Teachers, Unions, and the Path Forward

What do you think about the way the year 2013 treated the Common Core standards? Any predictions for the year to come?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue 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.