Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Common Core in the Real World: Created to Fix Problems That NCLB Either Started or Couldn't Fix Itself, the Common Core Faces Its Own Challenges-Seen and Unseen-During Implementation

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Common Core in the Real World: Created to Fix Problems That NCLB Either Started or Couldn't Fix Itself, the Common Core Faces Its Own Challenges-Seen and Unseen-During Implementation

Article excerpt

The Common Core has been in the news quite a bit of late. Conservatives have attacked it as a "Nanny State racket," while liberals denounced Common Core test results as "bunk" (Gewertz, 2013b). This year, legislators in nine states introduced legislation to drop the Common Core or to cut funding for its implementation (Bill Status Tracker, 2013). U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan felt called upon to defend the standards in a speech to the American Society of News Editors saying, "The federal government didn't write them, didn't approve them, and doesn't mandate them, and we never will" (McNeil, 2013).

Amid the resulting hubbub, it's been all too easy for the practical questions of the Common Core to fall by the wayside. This is a shame, as the standards are slated to become the backbone for student, teacher, and school accountability systems and will play an increasingly prominent role in the American educational ecosystem. Given the fact that the 2013 PDK/Gallup poll found that only 38% of American citizens had ever heard of the Common Core, it is an especially propitious time to begin to take a hard look at what the standards mean for schools (Bushaw & Lopez, 2013).

This is not to say that folks haven't already been talking about the challenges of implementing the standards. Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said, "the biggest potential pothole, by far, is failed implementation" (Gewertz, 2013a). William McCallum, the University ofArizona professor who cowrote the math standards, similarly said, "implementation is everything" (Weingarten, 2013).

They are undoubtedly right, but implementation is a word that obscures all manner of sins (Hess & McShane, 2013). Its very ambiguity allows any number of policy missteps, dumb decisions, or miscalculations to be dismissed as nothing more than "implementation challenges." Yet the last half-century of school reform includes a remarkably long list of once celebrated now discarded ideas accompanied by the common lament that they were undone by implementation. Using such a broad term bundles together missteps produced by a lack of forethought, political and institutional resistance, the innate difficulty in scaling new programs, insufficient attention to the nuts and bolts of change, or unforeseen and unforeseeable surprises and treats these missteps as if they were the same.

This all matters immensely when it comes to the Common Core. After all, on the one hand, the Common Core is simply a set of standards--a listing of what students should know, aspirational words on a page. On the other, delivering on the promise of the Common Core will require states, districts, and schools to make a slew of complementary changes to curriculum, tests, teacher training, and the like.

More to the point, the Common Core has huge capability to do harm if it doesn't work out. While previous initiatives that fell apart in implementation--including site-based management, block scheduling, or comprehensive school reform--created headaches, disruption, and frustration at individual campuses or in certain districts, their reach was limited. The Common Core will affect state assessments and accountability, revamp K-12 instruction, force changes in teacher preparation and professional development, and more. If the Common Core falls apart, it runs the risk of taking all of those down with it, and the costs in terms of time, dollars, and disruption will be enormous.

The Common Core intersects with current efforts to improve education in the United States in at least four key places. Understanding those intersections can help educators, parents, and policy makers maximize the chance that the Common Core is helpful to these efforts and, perhaps more important, not harmful.

#1. New tests

In President Obama's 2009 economic stimulus package, the Department of Education granted about $330 million to two consortia of states to develop tests aligned to the Common Core. …

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