Alliance for Excellent Education: Core of the Matter: Dismissive, Insulting, Deflecting (#CoreMatters)
The following blog post comes from Christopher Edley, Jr., a professor and former dean at the University of California-Berkeley Law School, member of the Alliance for Excellent Education’s board of directors, and co-chair of the National Commission on Education Equity and Excellence. His post is the latest in the the Alliance for Excellent Education’s “Core of the Matter” blog series, which is devoted to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and struggling students. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to receive an email notification when a new blog post in the series is published.
Proponents of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are not always as righteous as they believe themselves to be. In places where political support evaporates, hubris will be a principal cause. We have to challenge it before this opportunity is derailed.
Over the course of two years formulating a comprehensive set of recommendations, the congressionally-chartered national Commission on Education Equity and Excellence discussed CCSS for only about five minutes, because the merit and importance were so clear to all of us. The twenty-seven Commission members, appointed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan, included researchers, the unions, some major civil rights organizations, public interest litigators, state and local education officials, and several other important voices. In developing a unanimous set of recommendations, there were several hard-fought issues. CCSS was easy.
In particular, for most equity advocates steeped in the issues, the promise of CCSS is that every student will have access to curriculum content, instructional goals, and well-designed assessments all directed towards twenty-first century college and career readiness. Put differently, CCSS provides a baseline or foundation with which we can build advocacy and accountability for narrowing disparities in opportunity and achievement.
Or not. While many on the ideological Right fulminate about the federal role, especially the fictional one, many teachers and equity advocates are steadily moving down a path that starts with concern, anxiety, and kvetching, but soon leads to protest, outrage and bare-knuckled politics.
Some rhetoric aside, their concerns are pretty clear: Teachers won’t get the necessary professional development and other support to deliver CCSS well. High stakes for kids and teachers will start too soon, be too severe, and violate tenets of psychometrics. Poor scores will demotivate and stigmatize, even if lack of resources and support are the chief villains. Teachers and public education as a whole will be trashed by so-called privatizers.
Finally, most important and certainly familiar, the worst of all this will play out for the districts, schools, and kids who are most aggrieved by the current state of affairs.
Hearing all this, many CCSS advocates have been dismissive, attributing the barbs and lamentations to a combination of crassly self-interested trade unionism and, insultingly, lack of commitment to excellence. Other CCSS advocates acknowledge the concerns but, deflecting, treat them as mere details of implementation to be worked out over time, rather than vital and urgent matters at the absolute core of implementing the Common Core effectively. Which they are.
These largely unaddressed implementation questions can quickly become an existential threat to CCSS; beware the backlash. I am reminded of the Clinton-era controversy over the president’s proposed Voluntary National Test (VNT). As usual, the Right fulminated. Many progressives, including civil rights groups and the minority caucuses in Congress, urged that protections be included against using the test for high stakes consequences directed at students (as opposed to people with real power to change what happens in schools and classrooms). The reaction of VNT proponents? Dismissive, insulting, deflecting. The result? A Left-Right political combination killed the proposal.
I am a strong proponent of the Common Core for several reasons. Among them is my belief that CCSS is indispensable to bringing about excellence for each and every child—a vision which places equity among the goals at the center of the work we must all do in the years ahead. However, the Common Core, even where it survives politically, will fail if the implementation fails. Implementation must be judged a failure if it reinforces rather than narrows our system’s great divides. In particular, if education leaders and advocates are impatient, incautious and cheap, then we will know that they have subordinated excellence-for-all to some other agenda—in effect, if not also by intent.
Christopher Edley, Jr. is a professor and former dean at the University of California-Berkeley Law School. He is a member of the Alliance for Excellent Education’s board of directors, and was co-chair of the National Commission on Education Equity and Excellence.
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