How to Save Common Core

August 15, 2013

Those who believe the Common Core Standards are a good thing should take notice. The next year or two will probably make or break them, and the criticism is already starting to mount.

This matters. Reforms only work when the people who have to implement them on the ground—teachers and, to a lesser extent, administrators—buy in. And thanks to a history of bungee reforms that are undone five years after they’re implemented, teachers who aren’t convinced by the reforms can ignore them and be decently sure they’ll go away. It’s tough to win people over in this situation.

So here’s how you can save it, policy people:

  1. Devote the time and resources to training teachers in the new standards, and how to use them.Thanks to the sequester, our district has had to scale back training programs in Common Core. Meanwhile, most teachers I talk to haven’t begun to unpack the Common Core Math Practices, which are the lifeblood of the reform as far as math is concerned: the through-line of mathematical habits of mind from K-12 that allows everything else to fall into place. There needs to be professional development that actually helps teachers see how these standards work, why they’re better, how they help, and why the teachers should bother learning them. Because we said so isn’t good enough.
  2. Don’t rush to judgment.To change deeply-held habits and beliefs, you need time to experiment and reflect where you won’t be judged. By linking high-stakes tests to the new standards so early, we’re  undermining the entire process of reform. I know you like to talk about accountability and getting the data right away, but if you want a major reform to work, you need a three to five year transition period where people won’t hear that they’ve failed.

Of course, the reason I believe in the Common Core is that I think they’re an improvement over what we had before, and that it will make ultimately make life better for teachers, and give students a better education. Properly implemented, they give teachers more freedom, and at the same time allow students to change schools without getting so lost. They encourage a study that is deeper and more focused (though less broad). The new Math Practices are excellent, and the NextGen Science Standards look to be even better.

I’d like to see this work. But to have a chance, we’re going to need to take a breath and actually put the time in.

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