Why Did the Core Have a Bad Year?
Support for the Core among teachers dropped like a stone, from 76% in 2013 to 46% in 2014. That's a lot of love lost. Now, as we move from the "Holy schneikies!" phase into the "Got some splainin' to do" phase, we'll start to ask the big question.
Here is what one teacher wrote:
Let's think back to May of 2013. Personally, I'm a fine example of what teachers were like at that point. I didn't know a lot about the Core, and what I did know didn't sound all that bad. As far as I'd heard, a bunch of important people had called together a bunch of teachers to write some standards that could be used across the country to bring a little coherence to the higgledy-piggledy crazy-quilt that is US education. I'm not really a fan of national standards, but as long as they came from educational experts and were largely voluntary, it couldn't hurt to look at them. Heck, if you had asked me in May of 2013 if I supported the Common Core standards, I might very well have said yes. And though there were teachers out there who had already caught on, there were plenty of teachers like me who were perfectly willing to give the whole business a shot.
So how did the reformsters lose all those hearts and minds?
I think it's a measure of how detailed and painstaking and inch-by-inch this massive debate has been that it's easy to lose track of the big picture, the many massively boneheaded things that CCSS supporters did along the way. Let's reminisce about how so many teachers were turned off.
Remember how supporters of the Core used to tell us all the time that these standards were written by teachers? All. The. Time. Do you know why they've stopped saying that? Because it's a lie, and at this point, most everybody knows it's a lie. The "significant" teacher input, the basis in solid research-- all lies. When someone is trying to sell you medicine and they tell you that it was developed by top doctors and researchers and you find out it wasn't and they have to switch to, "Well, it was developed by some guys who are really interested in mediciney stuff who once were in a doctor's office"-- it just reduces your faith in the product.
In many places, it took a while for it to sink in-- "You mean we're not actually allowed to change ANY of it, and we can only add 15%??!!"
It quickly became clear-- this was not a reform where we would all sit around a table at our own schools and decide how to best to adapt and implement to suit our own students. Session by session, we were sent off to trainings where some combination of state bureaucrats and hired consultants would tell us how it was going to be. We were not being sent off to discuss or contribute our own professional expertise; we were being sent to get our marching orders, which very often even our own administrators were not "important" enough to give us (or understand).
Particularly in the latter half of 2013, we all heard this a lot. Phrased in diplomatic language, of course, but on the state and federal level we were told repeatedly that this was not a discussion, that our input was neither needed nor wanted, and that if we were going to raise any sorts of questions, we should just forget about it.
This was particularly true for public schools. After all, the narrative went, public schools were failing and covering it up by lying to students and their parents about how well they were doing. It became increasingly clear that the Common Core were not meant to help us, but to rescue America's children from us. "Just shut up and sit down," said CCSS boosters with a sneer. "You've done enough damage already."
Arne Duncan told newspaper editors to paint core opponents as misguided and misinformed. Then he portrayed objectors as whiny white suburban moms. Opposition to CCSS was repeatedly portrayed as coming strictly from the tin hat wing of the Tea Party. If you opened your mouth to say something bad about the Core, you were immediately tagged a right-wing crank. There was no recognition that any complaint about any portion of the Core could possibly be legitimate. It had to be politically motivated or the result of ignorance.
The longer the year went on, the more it seemed that every single advocate for the Core was being paid for it. I've been wading into this for a while, and I'll be damned if I can name a single solitary actual grass-roots group advocating for the Core. Instead, we find a sea of groups all swimming in the same money from the same sources.
And at the school level, we also see lots of money-- all of it outbound. Suddenly, with Common Core, there's a long list of things that have to be bought. Can't get new books-- we have to buy computers to take the PARCC. And let's watch a parade of consultants, all making more money than we are, come in and tell us how to do our jobs.
The child abuse.
Many of us just finished our first year of Core-aligned curriculum, and in many cases it was awful. We were required to force students to operate at or beyond frustration level day after day. We watched school stamp out the spirit of the smallest students, whose defining characteristic is that they love everything, including school. While CCSS boosters were off sipping lattes in nice offices, we were there at ground zero watching 180 days of exactly how this reform affected real, live students.
You keep saying that the tests are separate from the CCSS. We keep telling you that there is no daylight visible between them here on the ground.
The plan for failure.
There was a moment, even a day for the strong-hearted, where it looked like the Obama administration was going to release us from the educational malpractice that is NCLB. But no-- it soon became clear that we were still trapped in the same terrible movie. Our fates would still be linked to high stakes tests, just in more complicated and stupid ways. You did not have to be terribly cynical to conclude that the goal was for public schools to fail, so that reformsters could "rescue" the students "trapped" in "failing schools."
As support has crumbled, Core boosters have retracted some of their pronouncements. "We have to build the airplane as we fly it" becomes "we have to take our time and fix these implementation problems." This has the effect of confirming what we suspected-- that they didn't really know what they were doing in the first place.
The implementation dodge was particularly telling. Teachers have heard "That resource/program/widget will work great. You're just using it wrong" a gazillion times. It translates roughly as "This won't help you complete that task, but if you do some other task, it might be useful."
But the thing about CCSS implementation is that Core boosters got to everything that they said they wanted to. So if the implementation messed things up that either means 1) they don't know what they're talking about or 2) the Core really are that bad.
Location location location.
Politicians have understood for at least several decades that you can convince people if you lie deliberately and sincerely, but sometimes (like this one) they forget an important detail. It is easy to lie to people about what is happening in a faraway place like Iran or Siberia. It is much harder to pull off lies about what is going on right in front of their faces.
Core boosters can tell stories all day about what's happening on the business end of their pride and joy, but teachers are actually at ground zero, and they have eyes and ears and brains and professional judgment.
This was a big field test year for CCSS as it spread into more schools than ever before. The drop in teacher support is one more clear indicator that, in the latest phase of rollout, the Core is failing. And as more and more teachers become entangled in this mess of botched national standards, things are only going to get worse. The Core lost support for the same reason that liver seems like a great thing to eat until you actually take a bite of it.
In short, I believe the Core lost teacher support because so many teachers spent the year face to face with it, looking it right in its beady little eyes. They don't love it because they know it so well. I'm willing to bet that by next May, when it's survey time again, the Core is not going to be awash in a new wave of teacher love.