Common Core and the Era of Good Behavior

By 09/12/2014

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We seemed to have welcomed good manners back to the Common Core debate. That doesn’t mean we’ve seen more advocacy either on behalf of the standards or knocking them, only that the tenor appears to have changed for the better. At least for the time being, detractors are no longer paranoid Neanderthals, and supporters have ceased to be communists on the federal or Gates Foundation dole.

Whether this détente will prove to be ephemeral or lasting is anyone’s guess, but some credit should go to one CCSS advocate and one foe. In a Washington Times op-ed, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Neal McCluskey of Cato, hoping to tamp down the “raucous debate,” sought to re-ground the conversation in a number of facts.

Their piece argues, among other things, that both sides have good intentions; that much Common Core activity began before President Obama was elected, that much of that activity has been led by non-government bodies; and that federal policy—stretching from 1994 to this administration’s Race to the Top and ESEA waivers—has played a meaningful role in the standards’ adoption and implementation.

There are other clear signs of restraint. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee recently told a crowd that the Common Core fight should be dialed back. Though her union is still frustrated with implementation, AFT head Randi Weingarten penned an op-ed lauding the promise of the standards. Common Core co-author David Coleman recently denounced insulting language directed at opponents, and Glenn Beck scaled back his own invective. And Education Post, a new organization committed to supporting a “respectful” and “fact-based” debate on reform issues, including Common Core, just opened for business.

The moderating of the discussion seems to be mirroring the field’s increased focus on implementation. PARCC, one of the Common Core–aligned testing consortia, recently shortened its assessment in response to feedback from educators. America Achieves has made available a series of videos highlighting the pedagogical shifts required by the standards. Even an AP-produced state-by-state catalogue of Common Core developments gave the impression that politics were giving way to practice.

This doesn’t mean, however, that commentary has turned to pablum. American RadioWorks just published a long, largely laudatory, and highly informed piece about implementation. On the other side, The Weekly Standard recently published a hard-hitting, but highly erudite critique of the technocratic impulses behind the standards.

Maybe the best example of the new debate is the recent back-and-forth between Rick Hess and Petrilli. Hess took to the pages of National Review Online not to disparage Common Core or its supporters but to methodically rebut five common arguments in favor. Petrilli responded with a point-by-point counter and offered a few questions and thoughts that hit the ball back into Hess’s court.

I won’t be surprised if the heat gets turned up again in the months to come. State legislatures will be returning to work, and many will debate rescinding the standards. With the school year now underway, we should expect a number of stories about teachers frustrated with the standards and the associated tests.

But for the moment, we seem to have settled into, if not an era of good feeling, then at least one of good behavior.

– Andy Smarick

This first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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