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Common Core Needs a Czar

Well, one of my favorite Southern sayings may be even truer as it relates to those implementing Common Core State Standards: "A bureaucrat can screw up a two-car funeral procession!"

Who would have thought the "powers that be" could make such a mess of what started out as a powerful and game-changing idea? The Secretary of Education is insulting suburban moms for challenging the misuse of tests. The Commissioner of Education in New York has dug in so deeply that he risks the political future of his governor. The Department of Education is forcing the largest state to waste precious funds to meet irrelevant policies that could easily be waived. Little children in K-2 classrooms are being given tests that are developmentally inappropriate. In many state and local agencies, too many students, teachers, and parents are being tormented, threatened, and robbed of quality education in the name of implementing these new standards. The intractable bureaucrats are risking the survival of Common Core.

I am a supporter of the Common Core State Standards. It is important that a student in California gain the same basic knowledge and skills as a student in Arkansas. We live in a global and mobile community; we owe it to future generations to prepare them for this new world. Plus, many of my teacher friends say these standards are strong and provide new challenges for excellence for their students. I trust their judgment.

The problem is not the standards; it is the implementation and the bureaucratic desire to standardize everything about the education process from lesson plans to testing. This must stop. Policy needs to change. Administrators must adjust practices. Teachers must be respected. The accountability system has to be overhauled or Common Core State Standards are doomed for failure.

To deal with the chaos, we desperately need a single authority to oversee the implementation, call out bad practices, and recommend policy changes to the politicians. We need a Common Core Czar. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association need jointly to select this person and fully empower him or her. This individual must have excellent education credentials including teaching experience, understand a systems approach to education, and have the trust of teachers and parents. The czar should also have the respect of both political parties in order to advocate successfully for the changes needed in federal, state, and local laws and regulations--regulations that are currently undermining the implementation of the standards. Every day of delay is putting this joint effort of CCSSO and NGA at risk.

Further, the czar should be able to offer a new vision of American education that is rooted in shared standards, an understanding of local and state authority over curriculum, and empowerment of teachers to select lesson plans that assure all their students learn. Most important of all, the czar should offer a new vision of testing that differentiates between accountability and instruction. All students need diagnostic tests that drive instruction. Testing for accountability should be limited to a scientific sampling. High-stakes tests have poisoned the system and need to be eliminated. The czar must be able to communicate this vision to the public.

Time is precious. A new year is around the corner. Let's reboot this effort for 2014 and build new hope and a new plan for implementation of Common Core.

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