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Teaching Profession Opinion

Common Core: Mend It; Don’t End It

By John Wilson — March 27, 2013 4 min read
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I have watched and listened very carefully to the debate on the Common Core Standards among many people I respect and know to be knowledgeable on the subject. Of course, this debate comes after 45 states have adopted these standards, after hundred of hours of professional development by teachers and administrators, and after millions of dollars spent on implementation. Still this debate might be helpful if it leads to compromise and not polarization. When those on both sides of an argument make good points, it’s time to look for middle ground. As a person who was involved in the early stages of the discussion of whether we should have common core standards, I would like to make some observations and suggestions.

First, let’s go back to the reason that this course of action was launched. In some states, there were so many standards that it was impossible for any teacher to assure that her students learned all of them. In other states, there were so few standards that teachers had to question whether the students were receiving the education they deserved. This mixed bag of standards was putting our country at a disadvantage in the global community. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) stepped up to represent the voice of states in addressing this concern. This was their initiative. They owned it.

I remember listening to Gene Wilhoit, who, at the time, was the executive director of CCSSO. He stated that these standards would be state-shared. What is most important, he said, was that these standards would be higher, fewer, and clearer. We were also promised that the standards would be internationally bench-marked, research-based, aligned with college and career readiness, and inclusive of 21st century skills. Those are all worthy goals for world-class standards and so the goal of a set of common core standards for our nation was embraced by teachers.

CCSSO and NGA have been good stewards of this initiative. I know that when I asked for more teacher involvement, they were very responsive. Both NEA and AFT convened panels of some of the best teachers in America who reviewed the initial draft of the standards. The teachers made many suggestions, and most were integrated into the standards. The Common Core Standards deserve to be implemented.

Of course, there have been problems as the nation has moved toward implementation. The criticism of process and publisher guidelines is legitimate. We hear reading teachers say the guidelines contradict good instructional practice. Some sample lesson plans on official websites have been criticized by teachers. The involvement of so-called reformers should continue to be suspect and monitored. These valid concerns should be addressed now and fixed.

CCSSO and NGA, as parents of the process, have a responsibility to put in place a system that allows for changes in the Common Core Standards every three to five years to assure established measures of success are being met. This system should include collecting data from teachers, administrators, researchers, and policy-makers on the flaws that have been identified. A process to correct inadequacies is critical to gaining and maintaining credibility and support from educators. While the states have the flexibility of creating up to 15 percent of the standards on their own, this may not be enough to correct or overcome flaws in the other 85 percent, thus, the need for a clear process for evaluation and correction.

Second, let’s learn from the old adage of go slow to go fast. If we rush integrating new standards into an existing learning system, we risk a backlash from teachers. The most critical element in avoiding this is the assessment piece. These new standards deserve authentic assessment, and that will cost more money. Personally, I will consider the two assessment consortia failures if the assessments they produce are all multiple choice. I will also be suspect if all uses of these assessments are not validated for the purposes for which they are intended.

I think it is important to place at least a three-year moratorium on all high-stakes decisions using these new assessments. I know this will disappoint those who enjoy pointing out any public school failure, but this waiting period is critical to gaining the confidence of those who teach the standards. Most high-stakes tests are not properly validated and are more political than educational. CCSSO and NGA should recommend this moratorium, and states should concur.

Debate on the Common Core Standards should be encouraged, but that debate, however heated, should never cause us to give up on state-shared standards and the larger goal of having states work together to do things more efficiently and effectively. And during that debate, states and our nation should listen to and respect the professional opinions of teachers and make changes in the implementation and content accordingly. As a result of this collaboration by all partners, our students will be better served, and we should always remember that the Common Core Standards are what every child should know and be able to do and not everything a child should know and be able to do.

The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed 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.