Common Core Quality Debated

By 02/17/2012

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Last fall Rick Hess complained about his inability to find anyone to participate in an Education Next debate about the quality of Common Core standards who would argue in their favor.  As Rick put it:

Rather, I think the reluctance to contribute [to a debate in support of Common Core] is due to hubris, impatience to focus on implementation, political naivete, and disdain for what they see as mean-spirited carping….

There are long rows of argument and persuasion still to be hoed. And, if you’re eager to overhaul what gets taught in forty-odd states serving forty million or more students, that’s probably as it should be. If Common Core-ites don’t have the patience or stomach for that task, they should let us know now–and save everyone a whole lot of grief.

The notion that Common Core proponents needn’t make their case is an affront to democratic values.

Well, Ed Next managed to find someone to argue for and against the quality of Common Core standards, producing a really excellent and illuminating exchange.  W. Stephen Wilson took the pro side and Ze’ev Wurman was on the con side.  I would encourage you to read the entire debate yourself, but here is my takeaway:  They were mostly in agreement about the quality of Common Core.  Both seemed to agree that Common Core was better than the standards previously in place in most states but worse than in a non-trivial number of other states.  They also agreed that Common Core standards are significantly weaker than the ones in most high-achieving countries.

So if they agree that Common Core is sort of mediocre, why does Wilson support them while Wurman oppose them?  Wilson sees the improvement on the standards of 30 or more states to be substantial progress.  He sees this as a first step toward developing stronger national standards that would be comparable to those of our overseas competitors and better than all previously existing state standards.

Wurman sees Common Core as significantly lowering the bar relative to several previously existing state standards, including very large states like California.  More importantly, he sees Common Core as the end of progress in improving standards rather than the beginning.  Once put in place, he sees no incentive for anyone to toughen national standards since no state will be competing to offer a more rigorous education in order to attract residents and businesses.  He also sees national standards as more easily captured and dummied-down by teachers unions and other entrenched interests who would prefer to have their members (and students) jump over a lower bar.

-Jay P. Greene

UPDATE — Stephen Wilson contacted me over at the Jay P. Greene blog to object to the description of his views as supporting the adoption of Common Core. He thinks Common Core math standards are much better than those that previously existed in 30 states but still lagging those in other states and high achieving countries. And he generally has no opinion on whether universal adoption of Common Core would represent progress or not or is desirable or not.

It appears that I was wrong. The Ed Next forum was more a discussion among critics than a debate between a supporter and opponent.

So we are back to Rick’s original complaint. We still don’t have anyone who was willing to debate in favor of the national adoption of Common Core based on the quality of the standards.

It’s pretty pathetic that supporters of Common Core couldn’t produce anyone to take the “pro” side of this debate. And it’s even more pathetic that supporters are determined to cram Common Core down our throats without feeling the need to intellectually defend it.

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