Half-baked Common Core

Some believe the Common Core will help improve education in this country; others do not.  Elizabeth Green, in Why Do Americans Stink at Math? falls into the latter category, and so do I.

Even if we could agree that the standards of the Common Core were developmentally appropriate, worthy of implementation, and sensible in every way, it is a given that they will fail when it comes to improving education in this country, because implementing the standards would require effort, money, and careful planning, none of which we have demonstrated the slightest inclination to expend.

In some ways the problem with education in this country is so simple as to be laughable: new initiatives fail because they are half-baked. You can’t simply stand on a soapbox and tell everyone your great idea and think that is enough. Making pronouncements about education is the easy part. The really challenging part of the job of transformation of schools is figuring out how to help initiatives to truly take hold.

Teachers in my district run around with their heads chopped off most of the time trying to help students learn in the midst of the overwhelming demands of the job. There is no way they are going to embrace the Common Core and truly change their curriculums in that environment. Curricular transformation takes sustained energy, training, study, conversation, thought, practice, analysis – and only then implementation.

In the United States we like things to happen easily. Here’s what you do:1. Have an idea.  2.Make a plan. 3. Share the plan with others. 4.Walk away – you’re done!

The problem is that in the case of schools any plan involves many, many people, and we all know that people are really complicated and pretty resistant to change. Think of your family. When was the last time you told everyone to change what they do in a major way, explained how  you thought they should now do things, and they just smiled and did it, right away, just the way you wanted? Well, now imagine that on a really large scale.

Green describes curricular transformation in Japan, and the patience and hard work it took for that system to change the way math is taught. In this country it’s all the rage to talk about grit, and perseverance – at least when it comes to children.

We need grit and perseverance on the adult level too if we are truly going to transform our schools. It takes these traits to not just issue edicts but also figure out the nitty gritty of how implementation will take place.

The Common Core will do nothing of importance unless states and school districts invest time – which also means dollars – in actual implementation of the standards. Without that investment the dog and pony show of the Common Core is just a huge waste of resources and a distraction from efforts to make real, sustained change in our schools.

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Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.