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Public needs clarity on Common Core Standards; Brooks isn’t helping

David Brooks’ main premise - that the public’s understanding  of  the merits of the new Common Core standards is becoming yet another victim of the current political environment – is one I agree with.  Unfortunately, by failing to accurately articulate the objections of the “left” from his pulpit at the Times, Brooks is only adding to the public’s confusion.  

As Brooks himself points out, over 75% of teachers are generally in favor of the new standards (in spite of the fact that teachers were minimally consulted in their creation, but that’s an argument for another day.)  So what’s the issue? Teachers’ unions in New York, for example, are objecting to the fact that teachers haven't received adequate time, proper training, financial resources, curricula, and the other support that will be needed in order to successfully bring the standards into their classrooms.

Most teachers have yet to receive training on what, for many, would be a significant shift in their practice.  Further, we have no baseline of evidence on how well the new ‘Common-Core-aligned’ tests will actually do in terms of assessing the new standards -  the tests are still being written, for God’s sake!  (In fact, I would argue that with its greater emphasis on critical-thinking, and the ability to articulate that thinking, the Common Core may not be compatible with high-stakes, standardized testing.)  And yet, in many states,  how well students perform on these untested tests is going to impact performance reviews, pay and even careers, starting as early as the next school year. Elsewhere, states are implementing the new standards – but measuring it with the old non-aligned tests!  Are you kidding me??

For anyone who actually cares about education, these would be very reasonable and important concerns. Using the new state tests (basedtheoretically, on the standards) to evaluate educators and schools may well destroy the benefits the standards might have provided before we even get off the ground. The fact that these concerns are essentially being brushed off as ‘whining’ is what leads one to question motives.

Some of this I attribute to the arrogance of policy-makers who fail to understand that  large-scale change cannot come all at once, nor solely from the top down. (See my reference above to the lack of teacher input.)  And some of this, frankly, is opportunism on the part of those who really do want to undermine the basic principle of public education. (“Just because you’re paranoid…”)

But let’s be optimistic! I’ve been making the case for some time that the standards, by and large, are pretty good, and that the implementation, by and large, has been pretty awful. Let’s keep the former and fix the latter. And take time to do it right.

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