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Sherman Dorn: 19,000 Reasons to Pay Attention to Common Core Politics

According to the Orlando Sentinel’s Leslie Postal, the set of 19,000 comments that the Florida Department of Education received on the Common Core state standards is not quite the 20,000 comments on the state science standards when they were in the process of being rewritten in 2007-08. But 19,000 still easily outstrips most involvement of the public in education policy matters as deep into the weeds as the “skeleton of the curriculum,” as one of my students called curriculum standards.

I do not know what the tenor of the public’s Common Core comments were. The department’s online intake forms presented the standards and substandards individually, confronting someone wishing to comment with the details. I made a few comments, generally positive while wincing on occasion regarding the phrasing. In particular, I would like to have a few words with whoever thought of “informational text” as a horrid catchall for “whatever is not fiction.” I have a sneaky suspicion it’s a few decades old, though I suspect it’s only with the Common Core standards or a few other documents that anyone has tried to use the term for historical documents and the like. Ugh. But for the most part, while there are places where people can (strongly) disagree with some specifics on pedagogical grounds, the English/language arts and math standards are pretty far from the Glenn Beck and Phyllis Schlafly claims.

Unfortunately, Florida’s newspapers have done a fairly poor job of describing the standards — I don’t think I’ve seen any excerpts of the actual standards in the Tampa Bay Times‘ coverage in the past year, or other papers I’ve scanned online, and that’s simply a poor editorial choice about how to use space. You want to write an editorial about the politics of curriculum standards? Great. Maybe have examples somewhere in the coverage? I guess that was not important. Or maybe editors are hoping that BuzzFeed will cover it for them. You know, “13 math standards tied to skills you really could use but can’t remember.”

So with the coverage, we have False and Pants-on-Fire claims from some opponents of the Common Core, while proponents of the Common Core never talk about the standards themselves, just the glorious things that will happen and are happening because of them. Right now, the people who are more energized, more active in education policy debate in Florida are not in possession of basic information about the standards, and Common Core proponents are part of the problem.

Forget for a moment whatever position you take on the Common Core standards themselves and think about the numbers involved here, vs. the typical audience at school board meetings or talking with state representatives and senators before and during the annual legislative session. What we are seeing is an engagement of a very large number of citizens in the state. I may disagree with many of them, but I would love for every important education policy to attract 20,000 comments from around the state. That would be great for general civic participation, whether I’d win or lose on a particular issue. So why is it happening here and not with a host of other issues?

And, on the other side, why are Common Core proponents so passionate about everything except the standards themselves? You are wedded to the standards as a solid planning document and are missing the fact that talking up the standards without mentioning anything specific is like telling younger teenagers they should read Romeo and Juliet as “great literature” without mentioning that the plot revolves around forbidden love, gang warfare, and suicide pacts. Good grief, folks, if you like the repeated and close reading ideas in the English/language arts standards, could you memorize a few of the standards and be willing to recite and defend them in public?

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Sherman Dorn

Sherman Dorn is the Director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at the Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, and editor...