On Warring Dwarves, Common Core, and Terrible Medication

Prepare yourselves.  It’s time to take your medicine, and I don’t mean that delicious purple Dimetapp treat; I’m talking Triaminic.  The yellow type.  Or, maybe even NyQuil.  I left many a spoon with remnant pools of the god-awful stuff, and just prayed my mother didn’t notice.

She did.  She always did.

By medicine, I mean it’s time to put on the brakes in regards to the Common Core hysteria and clarify some dry but critical points.  As battle lines have been drawn and wars waged, the battlefield has become confused, congested, and you can’t tell the Orcs from the Elves from the Humans from the Dwarves.

(Score one for me for successfully inserting a Lord of the Rings reference.  That Geek Credibility Score just keeps going up.)

But seriously, it’s somewhat dry, but so is that wine you’re enjoying while struggling through this post. Refill; you’ll probably need it.

Here are some key points and cautions, as I see them, as you wade into the debate.  Open your mouth, and close your eyes.  Here comes the airplane…

Dry Point One:  The Enemy of Your Enemy is Not Necessarily Your Friend

It pains me to see a conspiracy theorist cite Diane Ravitch, as if she believes the standards are an attempt at a United Nations takeover of the American education system.  Ravitch’s primary concern is that the standards and ensuing assessments beg debate about the vetting of the benchmarks, the process in which they’ve been implemented, and whether or not high-stakes standardized tests are the best way to measure the learning.  Others in the field are not concerned with the standards themselves, but worry that the assessments will ultimately do a deservice to students and schools.  Have they been properly field tested?  Should a delay be instituted before rating schools?  Have the teachers received enough quality professional development? These are the types of questions being posed, and they are valid policy and process concerns that should be discussed.

The opposition group that is garnering much of the attention questions whether or not Common Core is an attempt by the federal government to exert control beyond the power explicitly granted in the Consitution.  Others see an even more nefarious motive: an international attempt to control the learning of American school children.  So, although from a distance they are all characterized as part of the “growing “Anti-Common Core Movement,” these individuals all represent entirely different positions. It’s imperative for the public to understand the varying perspectives and nuances.

I told you it would be dry.  How about another glass of Cabernet?

Dry Point Number Two: No, it doesn’t make sense.

Does everyone realize that we are teaching Common Core Standards this year, and then testing the kids on….wait for it….the old Arizona Standards?  Now you do.  Essentially, schools will report test scores that show how well students did on content that was not explicitly taught.  But, the good news is that we’ll know how well they didn’t learn what we didn’t teach.  Confused?

Dry Point Number Three: Will we stay the course?

Nobody likes failing.  And, when every indication is that our students are going to struggle with the new assessments, causing a potentially significant decline in the number of learners meeting expectations, the question must be asked: Will we be willing to stay the course?  Or, will we trudge through two years and then change the game?  It’s too soon to tell, but I think it’s a concerning question.  We have committed to the Common Core, for better or worse, and abandoning them would mean teachers wasted hundreds of hours and many sleepless nights for absolutely nothing. Sometimes it is better to try to improve and build upon a faulty product, rather than simply throwing it out.

Quickly rejecting Common Core would be another serious kick in the teeth, especially for those who have been good soldiers, implemented with fidelity, and tried to support the charge given to them by their leaders, our lawmakers.  No matter what side you’re on; this would be unacceptable, especially when we will then lament the teachers who later refuse to embrace a change initiative because they’ve “seen it all before,” and believe, “This too shall pass.”

It would be hard to argue with that perspective after such a colossal collapse of a major inititiative.

In the end, we are knee deep in this implementation, and it’s a mess.  Most major transitions go through this stage and the disorientation should be expected.  Successful initiatives emerge for the better and become the new norm.  Unsuccessful attempts now reside on the Island of Misfit Toys. That said, this isn’t “New Math” or “Open Classrooms.”  It’s much bigger, and far more consequential.

There is a lot riding on this initiative, and if you’re going to take up the sword, know the facts, prepare for the consequences, and be sure to know who is standing beside you.


Mike Lee

Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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