Another bite at the common core standards – will they make a difference?

Supporters of the common core expressed dismay when education scholar and activist Diane Ravitch reserved judgment on the common core standards. A long time supporter of stronger, more specific core requirements, Ms. Ravitch explains on her education blog:

I have neither endorsed nor rejected the Common Core national standards, for one simple reason: They are being rolled out in 45 states without a field trial anywhere. How can I say that I love them or like them or hate them when I don’t know how they will work when they reach the nation’s classrooms?

In these times of austerity, I wonder how much money districts and states have available to implement the standards faithfully. I wonder how much money they will put into professional development. I wonder about the quality of the two new assessments that the U.S. Department of Education laid out $350 million for. . .

These are things I wonder. But how can I possibly pass judgment until I find out how the standards work in real classrooms with real children and real teachers?

Blog readers know that I like much of what I see in the standards, but worry about how quickly states adopted these standards, how many scarce education resources they could consume, and how little public debate (and how much Obama administration pressure) preceded their adoption. And while I often disagree with Diane Ravitch, I share her skepticism about wholesale adoption of these standards without field testing.

A recent survey by Michigan State University raises still another concern. As reported in Education Sector’s “The Quick and the Ed”,

First for the good news: Teachers are embracing the Common Core State Standards. According to a recent survey by Michigan State University, 90 percent of teachers had heard of the new standards, 70 percent had read them, and, best of all, 90 percent liked them. “Those are results we wouldn’t have predicted,” the university’s William H. Schmidt told attendees at the GE Foundation’s Developing Futures in Education conference in Orlando last week. “There is no pushback from teachers.”

But then Schmidt, who co-directs the university’s Education Policy Center, put up his next slide. It showed that about 80 percent of teachers think that the Common Core is “pretty much what they are already doing.” That, said Schmidt, is the bad news. Because if the presentations in Orlando were any indication, nothing could be further from the truth.  “I say to those teachers,” Achieve’s Mike Cohen told the group, “Let’s take a look at those standards again.”

For those who don’t like the common core standards, this “business as usual” attitude may actually sound like good news. But I worry that we’ll get the worst of both worlds: a lot of bother and expense, little change.

I plan to resume suggestions about using scarce education dollars wisely. Some of these suggestions will involve improving the odds that  more rigorous standards actually enhance student learning.


  1. BobDean

    Diane Ravitch only states the obvious.

    1) the CCSS have not been used long enough anywhere to make any claims about them. Despite this we see hundreds of supposedly educated people make all kinds of wild claims about how they will transform our education system.

    2) why wouldn’t teachers think that the CCSS are pretty much what they are already doing? During the adoption process they were sold as being very similar to existing standards. Even Alabama’s math standards were more than a 90% match to the common core. Numerous states had better standards including Calif, Mass, Indiana, Washington, plus others. The crosswalk between these states and numerous others show that the differences with the CCSS are insignificant when looking at college preparation.

    The CCSS are promised as the latest silver bullet that will turn our education system around. Unfortunately, the media and the general public don’t seem to get that this is just another hyped up education fad that will have little or no effect. Our politicized education system thrives on short memories and public ignorance……People will still by snake oil if you just put it in the right package.

  2. Carolyn Sharette

    I believe that if there were rigorous OUTCOME targets the CCSS could be a great tool to help schools achieve them. But as they are just “stand alone” ideas, really, we will probably see results that mirror a laid-back approach (like teachers saying “it is pretty much what we have been doing all along – no need for big changes in my teaching”).

    For example, if we had an outcome target such as: over 90% of students will score * or higher on the ACT English section and THEN we used the CCSS to provide a high quality education to prepare the students, it could all work together to improve educational outcomes.

    Putting BOTH outcome targets and high quality supports (like the CCSS may be) together would provide the best chance of truly reforming education, in my view.

    • Mary McConnell

      I agree with you (no big surprise.) Common core proponents – at least the original proponents – support stronger, more meaningful assessments. But given the inevitable uproar about “teaching to the test”, I worry that adopting the common core standards will come to be seen as a SUBSTITUTE for better assessment. Hey, we’re pursuing reform, right? And there’s only so much wiggle room in that budget!

      Truth is, we’re marching toward this brave new world before we have these new common core assessments in place . . . and before we know whether states and school districts will stick to their guns when they discover, as they will, that better tests produce lower scores.

      I have a lot of sympathy for teachers who dislike shallow multiple-choice tests. But my own experience teaching AP classes suggests that more demanding tests will reveal even more student weaknesses. That’s okay by me – identifying weaknesses and helping students address them is what we’re here for, right? But schools will need to prepare parents and the public for the coming bad news, and teachers will need to step up to the daunting challenge of teaching more material and higher order skills. Ready for some serious essay grading, anyone?

  3. Christel Swasey

    Thanks for keeping the dialogue going about Common Core. The sooner the public realizes what we’ve signed up for, the better able we’ll be to take action that keeps local control of quality education. The more our state sells out to the pressures of the federal government, the more demoralized teachers and students will be eventually. We need to hang on to local control. (And adopt Massachusetts’ pre-common-core standards, which were top of the world when they tested as an independent country)

Leave a Reply to BobDean Cancel reply encourages a civil dialogue among its readers. We welcome your thoughtful comments.