Common Core Is Dead, Long Live Common Core

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We live in a remarkable age.  Even when Florence Foster Jenkins sang in a packed Carnegie Hall decades ago, music critics were able to say that she did not have the voice of an authentic opera singer.  Few in the musical world really cared how Jenkins spent her own money. Perhaps if she had offered to give some of her money to the nation’s music schools or departments on condition that they teach voice students to sing as she did in the recordings of the arias she had paid record companies to make, music critics would have expressed some concern.

Jenkins did show what someone with a lot of money to spend as she wished and a deep self-confidence in her own ill-formed judgments could do; after all, she did fill up Carnegie Hall.  But no one believed that Jenkins had any musical authority.  Jenkins didn’t entice music educators in the country to change the academic programs in their music schools or adopt her views on what high-quality singing sounded like. The quality of singing at the Metropolitan Opera House was untouched. 

On the other hand, when our Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos famously declared in a speech last week to an audience at that bastion of free market thinking (American Enterprise Institute, or AEI) that Common Core is dead, almost everyone seems to have believed her.  (We have not seen skeptical reports from AEI or contradictory reviews.)  No one at AEI apparently challenged her to provide evidence that Common Core was dead. Why the media, usually hyper-critical of anything DeVos says or does, seems to have given her a complete pass is a deep mystery.

She uttered a few statements that could be rationally accepted by the AEI audience because the results of national tests, especially National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, have already made the case:  “The bottom line is simple:  federal education reform efforts have not worked as hoped.”  

That “federal education reform efforts have not worked …” did not mean, it seems, a rethinking of the effort to award more federal, state, and local money to low-income school districts despite the fact no one knows how to use the extra money to raise the academic achievement of low achievers. That federal education reform efforts have failed certainly hasn’t led state boards, commissioners, or departments of education to stop rewarding high technology companies with policies requiring computer-based teaching, learning, and testing, or holding the nation’s teachers responsible for the “gaps” in academic achievement.  After all, who else can be blamed for unclosed “gaps”?  Nor did Betsy DeVos propose changes to the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, a bill sponsored by U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Patti Murray.

That federal education reform efforts have not worked clearly didn’t bother members of Congress who voted unanimously a couple of years ago for a 1,000-page bill (ESSA) whose authorship is still unknown.

Four-year state education plans are still in place in all 50 states despite the fact that none was approved by a state’s own legislature. All states now have K-12 standards aligned to Common Core’s original standards. And all states are now required to give tests aligned to Common Core’s standards, no matter what the standards or tests are called.

Only parents of the mis-educated students in our public schools will know first-hand that the spirit animating Common Core — the centralization of ineffective education policies to satisfy the nation’s civil rights organizations — is alive and well.  


Sandra Stotsky, former senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is professor of education emerita at the University of Arkansas. Read her past columns here.