The Trouble with The Common Core (Part II)

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BY : THE EDITORS OF RETHINKING SCHOOLS
The engine for this potential disaster, as it was for NCLB, will be the tests, in this case the “next
generation” Common Core tests being developed by two federally funded, multistate consortia at a cost of
hundreds of millions of dollars. Although reasonable people, including many thoughtful educators we
respect, have found things of value in the Common Core Standards, there is no credible defense to be
made of the high-stakes uses planned for these new tests.

The same heavy-handed, top-down policies that forced adoption of the standards require use of the
Common Core tests to evaluate educators. This inaccurate and unreliable practice will distort the
assessments before they’re even in place and make Common Core implementation part of the assault on
the teaching profession instead of a renewal of it. The costs of the tests, which have multiple pieces
throughout the year plus the computer platforms needed to administer and score them, will be enormous
and will come at the expense of more important things. The plunging scores will be used as an excuse to
close more public schools and open more privatized charters and voucher schools, especially in poor
communities of color. If, as proposed, the Common Core’s “college- and career-ready” performance level
becomes the standard for high school graduation, it will push more kids out of high school than it will
prepare for college.

This is not just cynical speculation. It is a reasonable projection based on the history of the NCLB decade,
the dismantling of public education in the nation’s urban centers, and the appalling growth of the
inequality and concentrated poverty that remains the central problem in public education.
Nor are we exaggerating the potential for disaster. Consider this description from Charlotte Danielson, a
highly regarded mainstream authority on teacher evaluation and a strong supporter of the Common Core:
“I do worry somewhat about the assessments—I’m concerned that we may be headed for a train wreck
there. The test items I’ve seen that have been released so far are extremely challenging. If I had to take a
test that was entirely comprised of items like that, I’m not sure that I would pass it—and I’ve got a bunch
of degrees. So I do worry that in some schools we’ll have 80 percent or some large number of students
failing. That’s what I mean by train wreck.”

Reports from the first wave of Common Core testing are already confirming these fears. This spring
students, parents and teachers in New York schools responded to the administration of new Common
Core tests (developed by Pearson, Inc.) with a general outcry against their length, difficulty and
inappropriate content. Pearson included corporate logos and promotional material in reading passages.
Students reported feeling overstressed and underprepared—meeting the tests with shock, anger, tears
and anxiety. Administrators requested guidelines for handling tests students had vomited on. Teachers
and principals complained about the disruptive nature of the testing process and many parents
encouraged their children to opt out.

Common Core has become part of the corporate reform project now stalking our schools. Unless we
dismantle and defeat this larger effort, Common Core implementation will become another stage in the
demise of public education. As schools struggle with these new mandates, we should defend our
students, our schools, our communities and ourselves by telling the truth about the Common Core. This
means pushing back against implementation timelines and plans that set schools up to fail, resisting the
stakes and priority attached to the tests, and exposing the truth about the commercial and political
interests shaping and benefiting from this false panacea for the problems our schools face.

Rethinking Schools has always been skeptical of standards imposed from above. Too many standards
projects have been efforts to move decisions about teaching and learning away from classrooms,
educators and school communities, only to put them in the hands of distant bureaucracies. Standards
have often codified sanitized versions of history, politics and culture that reinforce official myths while
leaving out the voices, concerns and realities of our students and communities. Whatever positive role
standards might play in truly collaborative conversations about what our schools should teach and
children should learn has been repeatedly undermined by bad process, suspect political agendas and
commercial interests.

Unfortunately, there’s been too little honest conversation and too little democracy in the development of
the Common Core. We see consultants and corporate entrepreneurs where there should be parents and
teachers, and more high-stakes testing where there should be none. Until that changes, it will be hard to
distinguish the “next big thing” from the last one.