My last post attracted the following comment.
“Because the common core standards were adopted very quickly, under federal government pressure? Please expound on this often heard mantra. What federal pressure? When? How? Quickly? It has been years. I first heard about it in 2010, but full implementation is not until 2014. Isn’t that enough?”
Since I think this reader raised important questions, I want to answer in a new blog post rather than simply replying within the blog.
Actually, this turns out to be a two part question, because adoption of the standards did, in fact, occur very quickly and under considerable federal government pressure. The ongoing implementation of the standards is also, to my mind, proceeding rather quickly, but not at the same breakneck speed.So far, I’d say that the hare is beating the tortoise. I’m less sure that the hare’s victory will benefit our schools.
I’m going to tackle the first part of the question – adoption of the common core standards - in this post, and then open a discussion of the implementation schedule in my next post. As always, I hope that readers will chime in.
Here’s how the New York Times described the adoption timetable in a news story dated July 21, 2010. I could cite many other similar news stories, and will if there’s a demand, but I figured my readers won’t suspect the Times of flacking for the vast right-wing conspiracy.
Less than two months after the nation’s governors and state school chiefs released their final recommendations for national education standards, 27 states have adopted them and about a dozen more are expected to do so in the next two weeks.
The pros and cons of setting national standards for what students should know.
Their support has surprised many in education circles, given states’ long tradition of insisting on retaining local control over curriculum.
The quick adoption of common standards for what students should learn in English and math each year from kindergarten through high school is attributable in part to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition. States that adopt the standards by Aug. 2 win points in the competition for a share of the $3.4 billion to be awarded in September.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education. “This has been the third rail of education, and the fact that you’re now seeing half the nation decide that it’s the right thing to do is a game-changer.”
Even Massachusetts, which many regard as having the nation’s best education system — and where the proposed standards have been a subject of bitter debate — is expected to adopt the standards on Wednesday morning. New York signed up on Monday, joining Connecticut, New Jersey and other states that have adopted the standards, though the timetable for actual implementation is uncertain.
Some supporters of the standards, like Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, worry that the rush of states to sign up — what Ms. Weingarten calls the “Race to Adopt” — could backfire if states do not have the money to put the standards in effect.
Here’s the Utah timetable. The state school board first tentatively voted to adopt the standards in June, just a few days after they were released, and cast a final vote in favor of the standards in August. I would call this moving very fast. (Utah didn’t end up winning any of the Race to the Top money, by the way. Neither did most of the 46 states that adopted the Common Core at a similar speed.)
I can understand why common core supporters chose a blitzkrieg strategy. Education reform proposals – good and bad – always attract opposition, often from entrenched defenders of a comfortable and inadequate status quo. Moreover, proposed changes to educational standards almost always ignite the culture wars. Why not head the warriors off at the pass?
There is a good answer to that question, even for those who don’t enjoy tossing out conspiracy theory accusations, indeed, even for those who strongly support the common core standards.
Democratic debate is almost always protracted, often rancorous, and sometimes more than a little stupid. But along the way we educate one another and, if we’re lucky and wise, begin to build consensus. Common core supporters, and the Obama administration, decided that the virtues of speed and decisive action trumped the virtues of deliberation.
I taught AP Comparative Government for several years, and one of the countries my students examined was Great Britain. Every year a handful of students – usually especially bright, politically committed, and altogether terrific students – would comment, wistfully, that the United States would be better off with a parliamentary system. In a parliamentary system, governments can promote serious, rapid change. Just look at how Britain created a National Health Service right after World War II . . . and here in America we were still debating what to do about the legions of uninsured. (This was pre-Obamacare.)
I tried to respond sympathetically, especially since I admired these students’ passion and reforming zeal. At the same time, I tried to help them see the benefits of deliberation . . . of rooting for the tortoise rather than the hare.
Utah is not the only state now convulsed with an after-the-fact revolt against the common core. Some of the rancor, I’m persuaded, stems from the stealth strategy that core supporters adopted. Maybe the benefits of the new standards will turn out the exceed the costs. But what troubles me, as I’ve stated before, is what could happen when schools fully implement the new curriculum. All sorts of issues will inevitably surface. What happened to geometry? Why does my kid’s English textbook contain political editorials? Why have statewide proficiency scores gone way, way down? Why has the textbook budget suddenly ballooned?
There may very well be good answers to all of these questions. But I suspect that administrators are going to have a much tougher time persuading the public to accept these answers . . . because they didn’t make the effort to educate, and persuade them, the first time around.
Still, I recognize that the hare has already won this race. Most states have adopted the standards, and school districts are now scrambling to adapt their curriculum and bring teachers up to speed.
So the question for my next post is, should we give the tortoise another chance, and slow down the timetable for implementing these changes? Or are we in fact moving forward at an appropriate, deliberate speed?