By Katie Ford
Those of us in Washington state (or anyone trying to travel on I-5 through Washington state) received a wet wake-up call last month about how easy it is to break big, strong things. A bridge that has stood for 58 years, safely transporting 70,000 vehicles a day on the route between Vancouver and Seattle, collapsed into the Skagit River when a truck knocked into a support beam.
That state of the Common Core State Standards Initiative reminds me of this bridge. A couple of years ago, implementation of these standards in nearly every US state appeared to be a foregone conclusion. They had the backing of important, strong, well-resourced organizations like the National Governor’s Association, the US Department of Education and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Education companies were developing content and curriculum for the new standards. Two groups were developing the tests that would be used to measure progress against the standards. The bridge was ready for crossing.
But for those watching closely, it has become increasingly clear that this bridge wasn’t built to sustain impact from the massive trucks deployed by the Common Core critics. Advocates on both the left and the right who have concerns with the Common Core have grown more vocal as we approach district implementation. They have been mobilizing other powerful groups not part of the central Common Core coalition–most notably state legislatures and the Republican party–to exploit its single biggest vulnerability: the public has no idea why we are doing this.
For as much as has been written about Common Core in Education Week, for as many panels there will be at ISTE next week discussing implementation, the people–mostly parents–who elect governors, legislators, mayors and school boards have been largely ignored as an audience for information about this initiative. There is a school of thought within education reform circles that communicating to parents is a waste of time, pointing out that previous education policy initiatives have hinged on teacher and advocacy support. This philosophy ignores the fundamental ways in which social media has created new opportunities for individual activism and influence, and it has created a huge opportunity for Common Core critics to frame the initiative in negative terms.
Rick Hess blogs in Education Week:
Surprising, given the nature of their enterprise, the Common Core advocates have long shown remarkably little interest in taking the time and energy to discuss their exercise with those outside the education policy bubble. (I’ve been given all kinds of good reasons for this — from a dearth of manpower to the need to focus on technical issues — but they don’t change the reality.) Instead, Common Core’ites seemed eager to pocket their Race to the Top-aided wins and just move on to implementation. The problem is that adopting the Common Core doesn’t end the political and popular discussion; instead, it prompts questions about spending, accountability, teacher preparation, governance, and the rest. And it’s now clear that lots of parents, policymakers, and educators never really understood the Common Core, and certainly don’t feel obliged to do what it’ll take to implement it. The paucity of public discussion created a vacuum, and we’re now seeing it filled.
I believe the Common Core initiative has a solid shot at success. In the last month, supporters have fought back vigorously in state legislatures and in the media against efforts to repeal adoption in states like Alabama, Indiana and Ohio. But this group of opponents is a tenacious bunch, and the current crisis communications approach will only work for so long.
I am a public school parent in a Common Core state. The only information I’ve received about Common Core from my child’s school or district, and the only impression I have from reading local news, is that it will require a lot of extra work from teachers and student test scores are likely to drop. What I’ve heard makes me anxious. Anxiety is the precursor to fear. Fear is the most powerful weapon in politics. Without a massive campaign to educate parents about the benefits of Common Core, fear is fueling the truck that will take down this bridge.