Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Are We 'In Denial' Over The Impact Of New Nationwide Standards?

    Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

    South Bend teacher Matt Szumski leads his class.

    Plans are in motion to begin holding students to the same set of academic standards across much of the nation, including Indiana.

    We’ve written that it will cost roughly $117 million to implement those standards in the Hoosier State alone, by one estimate. (It could be even more.)

    But the more we talk about the new Common Core State Standards, the more we hear concern that few educators have any idea how to implement the standards by 2014.

    As Education Sector’s Susan Headden wrote on Tuesday:

    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 [said] 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… nothing could be further from the truth…

    There was a great deal of talk [at a conference in Orlando last week] about the political will and public support that will be needed to sustain what former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called a “fragile coalition” through the Common Core’s implementation. “This is not going to be easy,” Bush said.

    “This will be a massive train wreck if we are not prepared. Some states are in total denial.” He and other speakers predicted some steep declines in test scores from the new assessments and urged states to prepare for – or preempt — the inevitable fallout. “That’s going to be ugly,” Bush said.

    Common Core supporters have talked about how downplaying the importance of implementation could be dangerous to the initiative, which is funded with the help of federal stimulus money. But those who back the new standards charge opponents with getting too melodramatic in their criticisms.

    “It was just two short years ago that a remarkably broad and bipartisan coalition that united union leaders and market reformers helped secure passage of the new standards,” supporter Kathleen Porter-Magee wrote on Fordham’s Common Core Watch. “In this increasingly toxic environment, Common Core has become one more conspiracy to uncover, one more grand scheme for the fringe on the right and left to fight against.”

    Not-so-favorable storylines about the Common Core are surfacing, though.

    Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

    Indianapolis teacher Kevin Sandorf leads a discussion in his English class.

    “We could have the best standards in the world — define best how ever you want — but if those tests don’t meet the level of excitement people have for them, then the standards don’t matter at all.”
    —Jonathan Plucker, IU’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, in an April interview with StateImpact

    “A quiet, sub-rosa fear is brewing,” EdWeek assistant editor Steven Sawchuck wrote last May, “among supporters of the Common Core State Standards Initiative: that the standards will die the slow death of poor implementation in K-12 classrooms.”

    Beyond implementation questions, The Huffington Post reports the two standardized tests developed for nationwide rollout in 2014 — including in Indiana — are behind schedule, according to a survey of insiders.

    “Expect outrage” when the standards are implemented, said David Coleman — one of the lead writers of the Common Core — in an EdWeek post earlier this month.

    But other educators feel fears about the Common Core faltering during the implementation process are overblown.

    Back in May, when we wrote a post giving voice to similar fears, teacher Darren Burris left a comment. “I hope fear will be accompanied by hope and willingness to overcome that fear,” Burris wrote in his comment, leaving a link to his commentary at Hechinger Report:

    Ask 10 fifth-grade teachers how they teach fractions, and you’ll probably get 10 different answers. That’s the beauty of teaching: part art, part science, all creativity.

    Will the Common Core State Standards change that? Will we suddenly have a nation of automatons at the front of our classrooms, delivering identical lessons?

    As a teacher, I think not. To me, the Common Core represents an empowering opportunity for teachers to collaborate, exchange best practices and share differing curricula­ — because a common set of standards is not the same thing as a common curriculum.

    So whose argument do you buy?


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