Letter on common core from Laurence Peters – Associate Faculty, School of Education

A recent Wall Street Journal article provides some the most comprehensive reporting yet of the various ways Common Core (CCSS) is being reshaped as the initiative begins to rolled out in the states. The article reconfirms the inescapable fact that most reform efforts in education are “works in progress.” Sixty years after the Brown decision for example many school districts are still struggling to accommodate themselves to that decision.

As McLendon and others have pointed out, “scholarly understanding of the forces shaping educational policy change in the American states remains woefully underdeveloped.” We find it difficult to answer such simple questions as,

“What factors propel states to undertake the policy reforms they do, when they do? Is it variation in the sociodemographic or economic development patterns of the states that accounts for across-state differences in state education policies? Or does “politics,” in the sense of institutional political actors, such as interest groups, legislative leadership and design, partisanship, and election cycles, more fully explain patterns in state policy change for education? ” ( McClendon, “Education Policy Making and Policy Change,” 2015, p. 87).

A review of the WSJ article would allow for a whole variety of explanations as to why we have such patchwork adoption of CCSS.

Why does John Engler the former Michigan Governor and Head of the Business Roundtable) who agreed that 50 different state standards did not make much sense now want to distance himself from Common Core and call it by the anodyne label “higher standards”? Why did so many states in the south in particular buckle to right wing pressure groups opposition to the Common Core. Why did a state like Tennessee for example spent $18 million of the grant training teachers. “Then, besieged by complaints from parents and other CCSS opponents, the governor and state lawmakers..(agree to) replace the standards with a more state-specific version in 2017?

Why did so few states set aside so little funds for professional development and better tests when most informed people could have told them these were crucial investments if you wanted CCSS to raise student achievement ? Surely these fractional amounts cannot all be explained by the states fiscal crisis? Why did the voice of the business community become so muffled during the debates that went on across state capitals last year? Why did their best argument that the states standards and tests are lower than our global competitors, somehow also get lost in the ether?

Is there a single unifying theory to explain the rapid adoption by 45 states and and then the climb down by seven who have either repealed or amended them ? Clearly no but there are themes –one is that elites cannot expect that large scale reform plans made in the hallways of Washington DC away from TV’s klieg lights will have any kind of smooth sailing in a turbulent electoral season in which one of the key issues is the role and size of the federal government in people’s lives. Without a more robust defense from the groups most responsible for putting CCSS in place it is no wonder that some will perpetuate the counter narrative that Common Core represents some sinister federal takeover of schools. A more hopeful sign is that so far the collapse of support has not been total, but the initiative is still without doubt, still a work in progress.

About JHU School of Ed

SOETalk is an outlet for news, information, commentary and debate on the world of education with a focus on what affects students, prospective students and alumni of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education.
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