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Common Core Challenges our Unity

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In recent weeks controversy over the Common Core standards has heated up. As we get closer to the decision point at the state level across the country, it has become clearer what a massive overhaul the Common Core represents. New curriculum, new professional development and most controversial of all, new assessments, with no relief in sight from the heavy-handed accountability systems that are the legacy of NCLB,

I have been outspoken in my own views about the Common Core, since I first heard about them three years ago. I think any system that is designed to make NCLB more efficient is unlikely to do much good. More recently I have carried more detailed critiques, from Stephen Krashen and Susan Ohanian, Jack Hassard, Jeffery Golub, myself, Alfie Kohn and Yong Zhao. I am categorically opposed to the federal armtwisting that has led states to adopt the Common Core, and I am deeply concerned about the plans to significantly expand high stakes tests in connection with the Common Core.

As Yong Zhao pointed out here yesterday, this is reminiscent of the early days of NCLB, when all sorts of programs and curricula were revamped to align with the push for higher test scores. As states move forward with plans to adopt the Common Core, many of us will be using curriculum aligned with CCS, attending or even leading workshops aligned with CCS, and ultimately giving standardized tests to our students drawn from the CCS.


Recently I have heard some of my colleagues in the movement against high stakes testing calling out people who have been associated, in some way, with the development or implementation of the Common Core. I have mixed feelings about this. I think we all have a duty to make informed ethical choices in our work. But I also am concerned that we maintain a spirit of unity, and build the broadest coalition we possibly can to turn around the standardized testing machine that is consuming our schools. I am convinced that the Common Core is a part of that machine. That is why I have posted numerous essays and interviews on this subject in recent weeks, as this has become clearer and clearer to me. But everyone does not arrive at these realizations at the same moment. And we need to be careful that we do not turn allies into enemies simply because they do not think the same way we do at every step on this journey.

Unless those of us raising concerns around the Common Core are dramatically successful in a very short time frame, we are likely to see the Common Core become the new standards in many, if not all states. Like it or not - and I do not -- it will become, like NCLB has, a part of the air that we breathe. This is what it means to be a part of the public education system in the USA. We, the educators, do not have control over our work. That means we often find ourselves in positions that are compromised. If we require everyone to be free of any association with the Common Core, we may find ourselves in a circle that is shrinking rather than growing.

Last year I was part of organizing what was the nation's largest protest against high stakes testing, the Save Our Schools March. We brought more than 5,000 people together from all over the country to march in protest around the White House. We heard from a wide range of speakers. But those speakers were not all as critical of the Obama administration as some of us were. Our speakers included people whose organization had recently endorsed President Obama for re-election. We had someone speak who sat on the board of a charter school. One of our other speakers had contributed to the Common Core. The reason we were able to bring the five thousand people out was because we had a broad coalition. And we chose our core principles carefully. The speakers had to embrace them when they agreed to join us on the podium, and that was a big deal as far as I am concerned. Holding that rally created an event where people had a chance to take a stand in relation to the testing madness, and they did so. We shifted the center, and established a loose coalition among all who participated.

As we move forward, we have some big choices to make. The idea that we cannot be critical of our allies is wrong. When the NEA endorsed President Obama last spring, prior to the SOS rally, I wrote a critical post here. And more recently I criticized NEA president Dennis Van Roekel when he co-authored an editorial with Teach For America CEO Wendy Kopp. But I did not attempt to demonize Van Roekel or turn him into an enemy, nor does it mean I would not work with the NEA in an area where we can agree action is needed.

The movement against high stakes testing is building momentum. School boards and community organizations across the country are joining the hundreds in Texas in signing a petition against the over-use of standardized tests. Remember that one of the biggest boosts to this movement was when a Republican education commissioner blew the lid off the system with a strong public letter. But we have a big fight on our hands. And we need everyone we can gather at our side.

It is important that we understand what the Common Core really is all about. And we should be outspoken with our critique, and do our best to educate others, and build awareness among the public at large of the dangers of building a whole system based on tightly aligned standards and tests. But being outspoken and even angry about what is happening is not the same thing as deciding that active opposition to the Common Core is some kind of test of virtue, or core principle everyone must embrace immediately. So personally, I intend to continue to be critical of the Common Core. I hope my friends and allies who have been involved with it take a sharper look at how this new system will be used, and reexamine their support. We should all be willing to reappraise our positions in light of new evidence. But I also hope they will remain allies in the areas where we can agree - especially on our clear opposition to the continued over-use of standardized tests.

What do you think? Can those of us in the movement maintain ties with allies who have been associated with the Common Core in some way?

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