Undoing the Common Core: Repeating the Cycle of Failure

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Are we, as a nation, not learning from the past? We seem to keep repeating the same mistakes time and again. Just as the U.S. implements the rigorous Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—and attempts to take a page from the book of other countries with world-class educational systems and stellar student results (such as Finland, China, etc.)—three states have suddenly defected from the Common Core. The U.S. can’t afford to abandon the Common Core, and we can’t afford to lose focus on what is important in supporting our teachers. We are at a critical point where we have some major challenges in K-12 education—and it’s time to face them.

1. Accountability vs. Implementation

When it comes to the Common Core, we’ve been focusing on the wrong thing. There has been too much emphasis on testing and teacher evaluation tied to test results, and not enough focus on why we created the CCSS in the first place—which is to make kids college and career ready in a globally competitive environment. Remember, “Common Core State Standards give all students a shot at college and family wage jobs. They are a big improvement over the hodgepodge of expectations developed state by state.” (Vander Ark, 2014) Yet the larger problem is that we haven’t done an effective job at implementation. We are using the same approach for professional development as we did with the low-bar standards where student achievement was less than 40% proficient. Will this transform teachers to address the Common Core?

2. The Fear Factor

There’s also a lot of fear around the Common Core. As in Salem Witch Trial fear. Parents are afraid their kids will be penalized with more complex work and testing. The unions fear that there’s no quality implementation plan and that teachers will be unfairly held to task without training. States fear they’ll look bad, because initial test scores may drop while older kids who didn’t come up the ranks with the rigorous new standards flounder. Let’s all take a deep breath here. What can we do to make the CCSS less scary—but still get over the hump of integrating more rigor?

We can provide better PD for our teachers on how to implement the standards. We can, like Tennessee, use our older state tests for another year before administering PARCC or another new test. Or we can say PARCC scores won’t count for 6th-12th graders in year one. Better yet, we can define a more effective way to implement the CCSS and use the assessment as a benchmark of our implementation, rather than a measure of teacher or student performance.

3. The Lack of a Sputnik Moment

The Common Core needs an advocate. As far as leadership goes, we need a Sputnik moment. John F. Kennedy once challenged the science community to put a man on the moon. We sat up and beat the Soviet Union in that race. Now, instead of facing up to the challenge of fixing our education system, everyone is running scared. President Obama and governors are afraid to talk about it, because they don’t want to seem too far to the right or to the left.

We need leadership that will take the field of education into the knowledge economy. We need to equip educators for teaching in a technology-driven world—beginning in college and continuing throughout their careers with ongoing professional development. We must train them to teach kids how to think critically and creatively. If the U.S. is going to be a leading country in this ever-more competitive global economy, we need to take a stand to be competitive with the education systems of other nations. We need someone to fight for higher standards, someone who is going to say let’s not give up on this; we can do this.

We’ve Skipped a BIG Step!

Even if the Sputnik moment were here, districts need to stop focusing on accountability of individuals and focus on accountability of the system to get implementation right. We need to focus on the right thing: teacher professional development. We’ve neglected to help our 3.5 million teachers change from the way they used to teach to a much more difficult way to teach, and we continue to spend billions on PD that has been deemed “useless.”

It’s unfair to hold teachers accountable unless we invest in developing them with effective PD. We can’t hold on to the same methods we’ve been using for the last 50 years. We need to be more progressive than that. Here’s what the research says that it takes to implement effective professional development: 50 hours of sustained professional development is required to improve teaching practice and increase student achievement (Yoon, et al, 2007). We need to harness technology to effectively develop and support our teachers with new methods that are scalable across a school, a district, or a state. With this approach, the fear will dissipate and the focus will be on how to help our children succeed in a globally competitive, college, and career-ready environment.

Let’s Get Our Game On.

It’s time for the leadership in the U.S.—and in the education community—to step up and reclaim our place among the leading nations in education. It’s time to face the change we need to make. Let’s not abandon new standards that were designed to get all of our kids on the same page so that the opportunity gap can finally start to shrink no matter where they live. If we want to succeed, we need to build a game plan that sets up teachers to effectively teach the Common Core. Let’s realign our expectations so that in three years, teachers will be able to support all kids on their way to college and careers. Let’s make this our education Sputnik moment.

Do you think we are repeating the cycle of failure with our current approach to the Common Core?

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