Will the Common Core Standards Prove Safe and Effective?

Even though they still haven’t seen the light of day in draft form, much less been joined by any assessments, the evolving “common core” standards project of the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is already being laden with heavier and heavier burdens. This is enormously risky and, frankly, hubristic, since nobody yet has any idea whether these standards will be solid, whether the tests supposed to be aligned with them will be up to the challenge, or whether the “passing scores” on those tests will be high or low, much less how this entire apparatus will be sustained over the long haul. Moreover, every reader of ed-blogs and EdWeek knows that the main reason the long-promised public draft of the K-12 standards is going to be at least two months later than originally intended is because big internal fights are raging over what should be in those standards—and how long and user-friendly they should be. Will they include whole number arithmetic? Advanced algebra? Actual literature? Quality literature? And more.

Everyone knows the early drafts have been the object of much discord. How confident can we be that what will emerge from these tussles and dust-ups will be coherent, complete and sufficiently demanding without being overwrought? If this national standards endeavor were a new drug for fighting swine flu or breast cancer, the FDA would subject it to rigorous long-term “field trials” to determine both its safety and its efficacy before releasing it for widespread use. Yet the Education Department, the White House, the Gates Foundation, the National Center on Education and the Economy and plenty of other parties are sounding and acting as if these standards and assessments had already proven themselves. The high command at Gates seems to assume that all of American K-12 education is going to be reconfigured around them. Secretary Duncan asserts that only states pledging their troth to the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) should be eligible for Race to the Top funding. Yesterday, the President declared that future Title I funding for a state should hinge on whether it has embraced the new standards and assessments. And more.

A little humility would seem to us to be in order. If these standards and assessments end up representing a huge improvement over those in use in most states today, then much that’s good may reasonably follow from their installation and use. But what if they don’t? And even if they do, what about those (few) states that have done a creditable job on their own and for which CCSSI may represent either a lateral move or a step backward? In any case, would it not be prudent to appraise their safety and efficacy before demanding that they become the center of America’s new education universe?

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