A Common Core Branding Problem or Implementation Problem?

With current actions having the governor of Louisiana filing suit against the Federal government over the Common Core State Standards and poll after poll showing new data on public perceptions regarding the standards themselves, the name Common Core, and just about everything else related to CCSS, it is no wonder that we aren’t quite sure what to make of it.

It is only going to get louder, as we get closer to the November elections, as we see candidate campaigning against (and a few for, I suppose) Common Core. Just ask the state superintendent in Arizona about the impact of the CCSS issue.

In today’s Waterbury RepublicanAmerican, Bruno Matarazzo has an interesting piece on how the topic is playing out in a true-blue state like Connecticut, a state that, back in the 1990s, was once a beacon for high educational standards. There, the issue is playing out through an Independent candidate for governor and growing concerns about the linkages between the standards and how new assessments will be used in high-stakes ways, such as teacher eval.

As Connecticut is a former stomping ground for dear ol’ Eduflack, I offered a little perspective to Matarazzo for his piece. Important for Connecticut, but also relevant for dozens of other states grappling with Common Core implementation issues. As Matarazzo writes:

PATRICK RICCARDS, THE FORMER DIRECTOR of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now and current director of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, said Common Core has a branding problem; the standards themselves are not bad. He said supporters of Common Core have done a poor job of demonstrating why a common set of education standards across the country is needed.

Riccards said supporters also forget the emotional impact the topic of education can have on an entire community, from parents to the town gadfly. People don’t want to be made to feel the way they were educated as children was wrong, he said.

“You don’t win that fight with facts and figures, you win that by winning hearts,” Riccards said.

The problem with the state’s rollout is that it wanted to accomplish too much in too little time. Even before Common Core was implemented, a new computerized assessment pilot program was launched and a new teacher evaluation format was introduced.

Riccards said the gold standard in Common Core implementation was Kentucky, which rolled it out over four years and waited until it was complete to begin working on its own assessment test that was tied to the new standards.

Rebranding Common Core and holding town hall meetings to inform the community about the standards won’t help quell the fears of people concerned about the standards, Riccards said. What Connecticut needs to do, he suggested, is focus solely on Common Core implementation and make it sure it’s done right because the state only has one chance.

“If Connecticut screws this up, there’s no going back and doing it over,” Riccards said.

There are no do-overs when it comes to Common Core implementation. In an era of instant gratification, we need to really put the time in with regard to instruction, professional development, curricular materials, and the like before we worry about how the test scores are going to be applied.


A Texas-Sized Step Back on Edu-Thinking

Earlier this month, the Texas Young Republicans passed a resolution adopting a two-page platform and recommending the Republican Party of Texas endorse it whole cloth in 2016. Why is this important? Well, the two-page platform included some specific language regarding education policy (in the non-Common Core-adopting Texas).

The Texas Young GOPers stated:

We believe that all children should have access to quality education. Parents have the primary right and responsibility to educate their children, and we support their right to choose public, private, charter, or home education. We support the distribution of educational funds in a manner that they follow the student to any school, whether public, private, charter or home school. We reject federal imposition of educational standards and the tying of federal education funding to adopting federally mandated standards.

Reads like the flag and apple pie, huh? Setting aside the problem of using the Oxford comma at the beginning, and then forgetting the serial comma in the second set of school descriptors, let’s take a look at the statement.

Sentence one, I’m with ya. Every child should have access to quality education. I’ll do you one better, Young Texans, every child should have access to quality public education. And high-quality public education at that.

I’m also with you on parents having the right and responsibility to educate their kids. I didn’t realize that such parental rights were under siege. If anything, the main issue seems to be what we do when parents do not exercise said right, and their kids’ education is then solely the responsibility of teachers. We should be focusing more on getting parents more involved in what happens in our schools.

Then we shift into the “money follows the child” philosophy, with an added wrinkle. Not only are we calling for equal funds to go to charters (school choice) and privates (vouchers, or school choice on steroids, depending on your perspective), but we are now saying that money should follow the home schooler? Are we suggesting that each parent who decided to home school is now entitled to a $10k or $20k tax rebate (per child), for keeping them out of the public schools altogether?

And we finally get the horcrux that continues to dog just about every education discussion. The notion that the evils of everything public education lies embedded in Common Core State Standards. Forget that Texas had no issue rejecting the “imposition of federal standards” in the first place. Forget that most states who put the standards in place didn’t get a federal dime to do so (while they may have hoped to, there were far more Race to the Top losers than there were winners). Yes, now is the time to take a strong stand on a policy decision that was made four years ago (in terms of initial adoption of the standards and tying $$ to them).

At some point, we — and that includes those young Republican Texans writing political platforms — just need to acknowledge that the vast majority of states have adopted CCSS. They decided, for a range of reasons, that these standards were better than the hodgepodge of crappy standards each individual state had developed and adjusted and weakened over the years. They did so by their own free will, and did so (presumably) because they saw it as a positive step for their state, public schools, and communities. We need to see it isn’t a bad thing that many students will be held to higher standards than their older siblings, and we should embrace it.

Most importantly, we need to see it is imprudent to try and undo a policy decision that was made eons ago (politically) and that, instead, we should focus our attentions and energies on ensuring that said standards are implemented well and done so with fidelity. That we focus on the best in terms of instructional materials and PD. That we move forward with efforts to improve those standards and make them stronger and better over time (particularly with regard to early childhood and the math). That we use this as a foundation to build a stronger public education system for ALL students, and not as a “last stand” for those looking to reopen the battles of the past.

I yield the soapbox, and suspect I won’t be asked to speak at the Texas GOP convention in 2016 …