Even if you are a standards and test-based accountability person, you are better off not seeking total victory as the Common Core people have. Yes, some states had lousy standards. And yes, some tests were poorly designed or had low thresholds for passing. But trying to fix all standards and tests, everywhere, all at once is the wrong approach. Seeking this total victory has more fully mobilized the opponents of all standards and testing. In response to a more heavy-handed and top-down national effort, more previously un-involved people have flocked to the anti-testing side. Not only will these folks undermine effective implementation of Common Core, but in their counter-effort to roll back national standards, they will destroy much of what was good about state standards and tests. The whole idea of standards and test-based accountability is being undermined by the imprudent over-reach of Common Core.
But in the rush to a clear and total victory, supporters of Common Core failed to consider how the more than 10,000 school districts, more than 3 million teachers, and the parents of almost 50 million students would react. For standards to actually change practice, you need a lot of these folks on board. Otherwise Common Core, like most past standards, will just be a bunch of empty words in a document.
These millions of local officials, educators, and parents often have reasons for holding educational preferences that are different than those dictated by Common Core. Common Core may call for things like more focus on “informational texts” and delaying Algebra until 9th grade, but there are reasons why that is not already universal practice. It’s not as if local officials, educators, and parents are unaware of the existence of informational texts or just waiting to be told by national elites about when they should start teaching Algebra. They have interests and values that drove them to the arrangements that were in place prior to Common Core.
Having the Secretary of Education, state boards, and a bunch of DC advocacy groups declare a particular approach to be best and cram it into place in the middle of a financial crisis with virtually no public debate or input from educators or parents did not convince local officials, educators, and parents to change their minds. These are the folks who need to be on board to make the implementation of Common Core real. And these are the folks who are organizing a political backlash that will undo or neuter Common Core. A direct path to victory by Common Core supporters sowed the seeds of its own defeat.
The unraveling of Common Core makes this flop the most obviously ill-conceived and doomed-to-fail reform effort since the Annenberg Foundation threw $500 million away in the 1990s. I assure you that while the money was flowing from Annenberg that effort had plenty of defenders, just as Common Core does today. After Common Core fails, everyone will say how they knew it was flawed, just as they currently do with Annenberg. Victory has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan.
The unraveling of the bipartisan coalition supporting the informational benefits of standardized testing became inevitable as soon as a a new crop of reformers arose afflicted with PLDD who were determined to use those tests to identify the right ways of teaching, the right ways to hire/fire/compensate teachers, and the right ways to authorize and close schools of choice. This over-reach wasn’t a bridge too far; it was a thousand bridges too far. And in a perfectly predictable fashion it has failed and begun to take down the reasonable use of tests along with it.
Complaining about the destruction of reasonable uses of testing is like complaining about the heat in Phoenix in July. The problem isn’t that it’s a hot day. The problem is having decided to move to Phoenix in the first place. At this point there is nothing really to do about it except learn from this error to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.