As the great Yogi Berra is reported as saying, it’s like deja vu all over again!
This past weekend, dear ol’ Eduflack was out in San Francisco for the ASCD Annual Conference. On Saturday, I had the privilege of addressing more than 100 folks who came out on a monsoon-like Saturday morning to learn more about how to build, execute, and measure a successful public engagement campaign in the education space. A good time, I hope, was had by all.
After the conclusion of that merriment, Eduflack wandered over to the exhibit hall to see what companies, non-profits, IHEs, and government agencies thought ASCD attendees would be most interested in. It was a full hall, comprised of many of the same organizations that make the rounds during the spring education conferences.
But the one thing that caught my eye was how many booths and vendors bore the supposed blessing of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. We had “Common Core approved” and “Common Core certified.” For those not quite willing to go out on the limb, we had even had quite a few “Common Core aligned.” The label could be found on curriculum and supplemental materials, professional development and assessment tools. It seemed to be applicable for everything short of the tote bags and candy giveaways.
Yes, I realize that most states have signed onto Common Core and are currently in the process figuring out how to move that adoption to implementation. Yes, I realize the embrace of Common Core was a requirement of Race to the Top and is likely to play a role in ESEA reauthorization. And yes, I realize the importance of having a one national yardstick by which we measure all U.S. students.
But we also have to be clear here. States are adopting relatively general standards in just two subject areas. We have no curriculum to go with those standards yet. We have no tests to go with the standards yet. We have no textbooks or workbooks or cookbooks that go with those standards yet. in fact, we don’t even have the full standards yet, as all states have the ability to add 15 percent of their own priority standards to the common ELA and math standards currently in play.
So it just seems far too premature for us to be peddling the “Common Core approved” when we still don’t know what Common Core looks like in the schools and THERE IS NO ONE TO APPROVE ANYTHING ON BEHALF OF COMMON CORE! No one is certifying or approving on behalf of CCSSI. At a time when states and districts are worried about Common Core (and many at ASCD were), we have vendors marketing their wares to those concerns, promising the magical elixirs that will fix everything.
And that’s where the deja vu comes into play. It was only seven or eight years ago when we saw the exact same scene unfold around scientifically based research. In 2002, 2003, 2004, just about anyone who was anyone at an education conference was selling an SBR-based product that was aligned with NCLB. Didn’t matter if it was true or not, everyone was scientifically based. Everyone had an evidence-based core. You could talk to a dozen reading programs on conference row in 2003, and they were all SBR. Ask them what their research was, and most handed the same document to you — the National Reading Panel report (or the NCLB legislation itself).
The problem here is that people understood the expectation (everything needed to be scientifically based) but they didn’t understand (or didn’t care) what that meant. The type of research required under the law took four or five years to develop, and the sales cycle didn’t allow for that sort of time. So take the NRP report, slap a focus group or two together, put together some bar graphs, and there was your research base. Add a colorful “checklist” aligning your product with the NRP and you were really excelling.
(As an aside, perhaps my favorite vendor at ASCD this weekend was one peddling a product labeled as “scientifically researched based.” I don’t know what scientifically research is, but I’m guessing that extra “ly” makes the research extra good.)
Here we go again. We all saw how successful it was to sell vapor and snake oil as SBR in the last decade. It cost us another generation of students. It killed a potentially strong program in Reading First and wasted millions (if not billions) of dollars in the process, as we couldn’t distinguish between the real deal and the posers.
Before we rush to reach for the Common Core label, can we just take a moment to actually digest CCSSI? Can we let states ID their 15 percent add on? Can we see how districts apply it to instructional expectations? Can we see how the assessment consortia begin developing their products? And can we see, please, if these standards actually move into the classroom or if they just hang out there as a good idea that we agree to, but don’t actually implement?
Of course, there is one difference between SBR and CCSSI. WIth SBR, the federal government established a new pot of money, $1 billion a year under RF, to help fund the acquisition of those new SBR products and services. With Common Core, there doesn’t appear to be any new money. Perhaps, as districts and states are spending their own funds from existing obligations and aren’t playing with house money, that they will scrutinize their purchases a little more, ensuring they are buying the real deal.
There are some great products and services out there that do match up well with Common Core and can help districts and schools meet their current and future obligations. But anyone can slap a label on a product. It is up to educators to discern the strong from the squishy.