Thursday, January 8, 2015

Will 2015 Be Another Rough Year For the Core?

We've had ample time to collect the education predictions for the coming year, and it's an interesting batch. Most of them follow a fairly simple format:

"I love hammers. I predict that in 2015, everything will be a nail!"

Arne Duncan's list is modest-- more kids in pre-school, more graduates from high school, more students with internet access, more students getting pulled into college. It all boils down to, "I predict that our more modest policy initiatives will actually work."

NPR ran an entire list of people predicting that in 2015, those people would turn out to be right. People who like data think there will be data in abundance. People who like school choice think there will be school choice. People who run corporations devoted to certain initiatives such as game-based learning or "snackable" learning predict those things will be doing great.

Of course, with ESEA renewal on the line, people are lining up to make predictions about Common Core. Foes of CCSS are belatedly coming to grips with ESEA's roles in standards adoption. No Child Left Behind (the current version of ESEA) is still the law of the land, and it's a law that virtually every state is currently violating. Only the magic power of Duncan's Magical Waivers is keeping the hammer of NCLB from falling on 50 scofflaw states, and Common Core is one of the ingredients needed to make the magical waiver potion. Take away the hammer and you can arrange it so that nobody actually needs Common Core any more. Add this to the people who want to take a bite out of the Core on the state level, and it becomes clear that the legislation will be worked on this year. Probably.

Anthony Rebora and Ross Brenneman did their own tea leaf meta-analysis this week, and came up with what is undoubtedly the safest summation:

So, in 2015, something is definitely going to happen with the common core ... but it's hard figure out what that might be.

The fate of Common Core is becoming harder to track because the actual words "Common Core" are being abandoned by supporters. Jeb Bush and Arne Duncan have both stopped using brand name publicly, and in general "Common Core" is joining the ranks of "politically correct" as a term that is always used to smear someone else, and never claimed as a brag ("I am proud to be just as politically correct as possible," said nobody ever in the last decade).

Yet some supporters still have hope. In the NPR round-up, Carmel Martin of the Center for American Progress allows that this is the year that legislators lose their interest in CCSS and simply let it be. And while many politicians have abandoned the brand, they will still be pushing a no-name version, calling for high college-and-career-ready standards.

The Common Core battle is further confused by the fact that nobody can tell which side is which. Both political parties are fractured between Pro-Core and Anti-Core, and when you drill down it gets even more confusing (some people hate the Core because they love public education and some people hate the Core because they hate "government schools").

I agree with Andy Smarick's prediction of rough waters ahead, though I think he misses some of the opposition. He points out that many schools of conservatives still feel little love for the standards. Some resent distant technocrats who have pushed aside time-tested standards and approaches on a local scale. Free-market conservatives dislike a one-size-fits-all imposed single system. And small government conservatives are Very Unhappy about the federal overreach involved in CCSS.

And Smarick doesn't even get to the people on the Left who, well, hate many of the same things, including the substitution of government control for democracy while imposing unproven standards. Go figure.

And this is all just the frontal assault on Common Core. There is a huge storm a-brewin' for High Stakes Testing, despite the attempt to mollify critics. From the mockery of Rick Hess's own predictions list ("In a stunning development, the researchers will discover that much school time is not devoted to reading or math--and that many parents aren't even all that focused on reading and math scores") to scathing testimony by local parents like Sarah Blaine, the full court press is on for testing. While folks may like to pretend that tests like the PARCC and SBA are separate issues from the core, these test are the Core's teeth, spine and testicles. Without the tests, the Core standards are suggestions that have to win compliance based on their actual educational merit, and few people are ready to take that bet. Without The Big Test, CCSS is a paper tiger, and not even a good heavy glossy bond, but more like a thin recycled tissue paper.

The Core still has rich and powerful supporters. It also has attackers who undermine the opposition to the Core with crazy-pants "this incomprehensible common core math is trying to turn my son into a communist dupe" arguments. And the "let's just re-name the damn thing" approach has been, so far, pretty successful.

So I'm not going to predict 2015 as the Year That Common Core Goes To That Great Filing Cabinet In The Sky. But I do believe that those supporters who imagine the bumpiest waters are behind are kidding themselves, and should probably grab an oar, because win or lose, they are about to have a very bumpy ride.

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