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The Common Core's 'Image Problem' and Your Bad Boyfriend


Peter Greene

The common core has an "image" problem in the same way that bad boyfriends have "image" problems. The image's problem is that it can't stand up to reality.

The crying kids. When your boyfriend makes your kids miserable, that's a sign that he's toxic. When your educational reform problem sucks the joy of learning out of children, something is wrong.

The addictions. If bad boyfriend is an alcoholic, you can argue that he's not the problem—it's just the alcohol. But the truth is you can't separate the two. The common core has a bad addiction to high-stakes testing, lesson micro-management, and invalid teacher evaluations. It's technically true that CCSS and these other reform ideas are separate, but they come as a package.

The lies. If you catch bad boyfriend lying about his job, his age, and his family, all the charm in the world can't keep you from wondering what else he has lied about. Common-core boosters claimed it was written by teachers, internationally benchmarked, and research based. Turns out none of that is true. (Pro tip: Telling lies about yourself makes it easier for others to lie about you, which a few anti-Core folks are certainly doing.)

The money. Money is not inherently evil. But when it turns out bad boyfriend has been taking money out of your purse, that doesn't help the romance. Common-core-based reform keeps revealing new ways to suck money out of schools and deliver it to corporate interests.

The blaming. Bad boyfriend is sorry that he yells at you, but you shouldn't have made it necessary. The common-core narrative asked teachers to see themselves as failures, regardless of what they could see with their own eyes. Eventually you go back to believing your own eyes.

The not-working. Bad boyfriend keeps promising to get a job and fix up your place, but he never delivers on his promise. Hope for the promise of the future gets harder and harder as you accumulate more bad past. Reform boosters have had ample opportunity to produce clear successes they can point to, but they've got nothing.

The delusional idealism. Yes, bad boyfriend has all these issues, but if you really look deep down, you can see that he's really a great guy. But you can only blame your friends for saying mean things about him for so long. Common-core boosters keep insisting that the standards have qualities that aren't really there, and that techniques which good teachers have always used are somehow a result of common-core use, and that people don't like it because they just don't know. Time and reality only erode these illusions.

We can say that the standards has a growing image problem, or we could say that teachers and parents are having a growing problem with the reality of the Core. The trend of the surveys is clear—the more time people spend immersed in the Core, the less they like it. (Note that the Education Week survey, which shows slightly more positive numbers, is from Oct. 2013).

This fall has seen a renewed push on common core messaging (most notably the multi-million dollar Education Post), so clearly Important People are trying to address an image problem. But marketing won't fix everything (New Coke, anyone?). When you're having trouble selling people a second helping of poop salad, your problem is not marketing—it's that you're trying to sell poop salad. And buying your bad boyfriend a new outfit will not fix your relationship.

Read all the entries in our latest Teaching Ahead roundtable discussion.

Peter Greene is a veteran high school teacher and writer in Northwest Pennsylvania. He is author of the Education Week Teacher blog View From the Cheap Seats: A Teacher's Notes on Policy, as well as Curmudgucation.

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