Where are we on the Common Core State Standards? Right now I’m working on a chapter on elementary school nonfiction for a textbook. In the original draft, my co-author linked the new emphasis on nonfiction reading to the Common Core initiative (CCSS). We were told by our editor that the CCSS should not be mentioned, as it may date the textbook—as if the standards might fade away. That echoes sentiments I often hear, and the hope, expressed as an expectation, that the standards are about to disappear. Certainly we have seen strong objections to them from the Tea-Party right, the Bill-Gates-averse left, and the not-necessarily-political parents that have led several states to review, rename, “repackage,” or cut back on the standards, and/or delay or replace the Common Core assessments. For my part, I am convinced that this-too-shall-pass attitude is entirely misguided.
In a recent Education Week article Andrew Ujifusa (“Common Core May Persist, Even In Opposition States”; July 30, 2014) discussed the Common Core standards and what reassessment means in states that have chosen to go that way. The article’s conclusion matches my own impressionistic sense; political opposition left or right may peck at aspects of the CCSS, and mistakes, limitations, weaknesses in the rollout and/or the assessments may cause states to make valid adjustments and corrections, but the heart of the Common Core is here to stay.
From the start I have thought that as an educational framework the standards were excellent, while linking student testing to assessment of librarians, teachers, and administrators was a mistake—at least until the entire system had time to catch up and adjust. Of course, every aspect of the standards should be evaluated, measured, considered, and calibrated—that’s a Common Core approach. But all of this shifting, whether merely political or based in sound educational practice, is the reality check that comes with real change.
The fundamental pressure for the Common Core comes from the world into which our students graduate. You may not agree with the views explored in Eduardo Porter’s “Income Inequality and the Ills Behind It” (The New York Times, July 29, 2014), but the article should give you pause. Two well-regarded professors argue that the problem is not income inequality, but educational inequality. They believe the gap between those who have the skills and training to fill the new jobs in the new economy and those who don’t is unavoidable. We can do something here and there to ease the pain of these divisions in our society, but ultimately, finally, the gap divides those who do and those who do not know how to use the tools or have the skills (whether specific techniques or problem solving) that will earn a decent living. There is no middle space.
We can argue about our social obligations, but from an educational point of view what the article does is focus us once again on the impetus behind the standards. The reality is we have not done enough to prepare our students for life after high school. The CCSS are a very clear and smart effort to help fix that. Until someone offers a better program that can be rolled out in any full, scaled-up way, our job is to learn the standards, to work with them, to see where they and their implementation can be improved, and get on with it. Waiting for the CCSS to blow over does not help students, schools, teachers, parents, or librarians. It is a passive strategy in an era of change.
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