Core: Will the Center Hold? by Steve Peha

Core: Will the Center Hold?

by Steve Peha from Teaching That Makes Sense

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre; The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; The centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,...” More and more the Common Core seems like one of my favorite Yeats poems. The graphic in this article tells a graphic tale, I think, of just how poorly the Core is holding together.

And in this devastating piece a few days ago in The Washington Post, Bill Gates andThe Gates Foundation are taken to task for providing much of the funding for the creation of the Common Core. Yes, the foundation spent over $200 million to get the Core up and running and out into the world. And even though the foundation's actions were public knowledge, it seems, all of a sudden, that many people are bothered by things we have known for six or seven years.

The strange thing is, even the The Washington Post article points out things like the following: "The math standards require students to learn multiple ways to solve problems and explain how they got their answers, while the English standards emphasize nonfiction and expect students to use evidence to back up oral and written arguments." Most existing state standards already required this (thought not nearly as clearly or as rigorously) and, frankly, do these really seem like bad things to ask kids to do?

And then there's this: "The standards are not a curriculum but skills that students should acquire at each grade. How they are taught and materials used are decisions left to states and school districts." I don't see anything scary or out of the ordinary here, do you? Once again, this is how education standards have been in all 50 states for the last 15 years. But without the same level of clarity and rigor the Core provides.

Finally, the article says, this: "Referring to opinion polls, he [Gates] noted that most teachers like the Common Core standards and that those who are most familiar with them are the most positive." This is demonstrably true. It has also been my anecdotal experience as well.

The standards haven't changed what I do in my professional development work but they have made explaining the importance of certain key academic skills easier for me to explain and for teachers to understand—exactly the goal of good educational standards. 

So, in part, Mr. Gates and his foundation seem to be accused of having orchestrated something of high quality, get utility, and great potential benefit to our teachers and our students. And yet, Diane Ravitch, reform opposition icon, has called for a congressional investigation into the creation of the Core.

This saddens me. I’m a Core supporter, provided teachers get the training and tools they need to be successful. To me, and to most of the other education professionals I know and work with, it makes sense to have well-articulated and rigorous college- and career-oriented academic standards for all kids. In my experience, we have always had "standards" but, in general, affluent white suburban students have been taught to much higher ones than poor and minority students in urban and rural areas. This has never been even remotely equitable, and it's just one of many important issues that the Common Core addresses well.

But it looks like mere anarchy has been loosed upon the educational world in the form of anti-Core folks aggressively disseminating myths and misunderstandings to move people away from this important work. As a result, many states are pulling back or dropping out entirely—and we haven’t even started official testing yet.

If the Core goes down simply because otherwise intelligent people insist on asserting their ignorance about what the Common Core is, what it isn’t, and how it is perhaps the best vehicle we have ever had for improving education for all children, I think this will tell us more about how well educated Americans are than any set of standards and tests we could ever dream up.

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