Better Governing Now » Support For Common Core Blinds N&O Editors


Support For Common Core Blinds N&O Editors

Publisher's note: This post, by Bob Luebke, was originally published in the Issues section of Civitas's online edition.

 The News & Observer is doing its darnedest to ignore the growing criticism of Common Core standards. The paper's recent editorial "Defending Common Core" was an exercise in putting lipstick on a pig.

 So let's rub off the lipstick and look at the pig. For starters, let's acknowledge there is nothing wrong with high standards or the idea of trying to develop a benchmark to allow states to gauge academic performance. Those are laudable ideas and all things states can already do without the investment and frustration of jumping on the Common Core bandwagon.

 Two of the biggest problems with Common Core are how the standards were developed and how they've been implemented. As astounding as it may sound, Common Core standards have never been pilot-tested. Let me say that again: Common Core Standards have never been pilot-tested. It's a source of frustration for many parents, educators and policymakers. Why didn't its advocates pilot-test the standards before implementing them nationally? Were they afraid of what they might find?

 A second problem with implementation is that the standards violate the principles of federalism. When implemented, the standards transfer much of the responsibility over education policy from local communities and the states to unelected officials in Washington or in national organizations with little public accountability.

 N&O editors casually dismiss these criticisms as political. That's a mistake — especially when criticism has come from educators, child psychologists and individuals on both sides of the political spectrum.

 The criticism and unease about Common Core eventually landed the topic in the lap of the North Carolina General Assembly, where legislators created the Academic Standards Review Commission (ASRC). ASRC was charged with reviewing the math and English Common Core standards and ensuring that the North Carolina standards are "robust, appropriate and enable students to succeed academically and professionally" — a task most North Carolinians believe the State Board of Education should have fulfilled before it signed on to the Common Core Standards.

 Now that ASRC is winding up its work, various narratives have Common Core advocates nervous. In an effort to ensure the standards are kept in the schools, it seems editors have bestowed on Common Core an exalted status beyond the reach of public criticism.

 It's interesting to note that editors call replacing the standards a "bad idea," say opposition reflects a "political atmosphere," and that opponents are "misinformed." So much for reasoned discussion.

 Equally detestable is the effort to sever the assumed linkage between Common Core Standards and student achievement. Students not measuring up? According to editors, it's not the fault of Common Core Standards. Failure may be the fault of parents, students or teachers. Or, the state may not be providing enough resources for students to meet the standards.

 What's the real story? National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test results were recently released. Like the rest of the nation, North Carolina NAEP scores were a mixed bag, but they were mostly disappointing. Generally, Common Core was left out of the explanations — unless you're U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He went out of his way to say Common Core standards had nothing to do with the results, even though two years earlier he made a point of citing the Common Core standards as to why scores might have improved.

 That's precisely the point. It's interesting how proponents say it's difficult to tease out the impact of the Common Core Standards on test results. There are too many confounding variables, they say. It's an arguable point. We are not unaware of the methodological difficulties. What is interesting to note, however, is the complete absence of caution and circumspection early on in this discussion when Common Core advocates were seeking to sell the nation on the benefits of the standards.

 The expectation was the Common Core standards would boost learning, student achievement and improve the economy. Education advocates accepted the equation on faith. But why? Where's the linkage between standards and student achievement and student achievement and the economy? It's intuitive and sounds logical, but — truth be told — it doesn't appear in the research.

 Results from two national polls suggest more trouble ahead for Common Core advocates. Poll results from Phi Delta Kappa and Harvard's PEPG Poll suggest support for Common Core is trending downward and is eroding among both Republicans and Democrats. In 2014, the Harvard PEPG Poll reported 33 percent of all respondents favored teachers in their community using Common Core to guide what they teach. By 2015 that number declined to 24 percent.

 The same poll has charted a steady decline in support for the adoption of Common Core standards in the states. In 2012, overall support for Common Core standards stood at 63 percent. By 2015, the figure had declined to 49 percent. Support for the standards has also eroded in both political parties. According to the Harvard PEPG poll, in 2012, 63 percent of Republicans supported Common Core. By 2015 the overall figure had declined to 49 percent. Likewise in 2012, 65 percent of Democrats voiced support for adopting Common Core Standards. In 2015, only 57 percent of all Democrats voiced support for Common Core Standards.

 If you stand by the Common Core Standards, these are not good numbers. You may believe they do not reflect the views of most teachers or educators, who surely feel differently, correct? You may be surprised to learn teacher opinion on Common Core is divided.

 Truth is, teachers are conflicted about Common Core. Many may like the standards in general, but many teachers have reservations about individual standards and how the standards are being implemented. In 2013, an informal, unscientific online poll found:

  • 62 percent of teacher respondents favored proposals to slow down or halt the implementation of Common Core Standards; 38 percent oppose proposals to do so.
  • 55 percent of respondents rated their schools' preparation for Common Core Standards as "average, weak, or poor."
  • 65 percent of respondents approve of the decision to implement Common Core Standards.
  • Less than half of all respondents expressed confidence that Common Core Standards would help to improve student achievement.

 To learn more about what teachers think of Common Core, click here.

 Common Core Standards have been lauded by educators, politicians and business leaders. If the standards are so good, if the expectation is that they will produce deeper learning and improved student achievement, why is it nearly impossible to find a private school in North Carolina using Common Core?

 Actions speak louder than words. Of course N&O editors have every right to defend Common Core. That said, readers also have every right to consider the facts and to conclude it's a hollow defense that lacks substance and conviction.

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