I spent much of last week's radio shows in conversations with proponents and opponents of the "Common Core." (Other topics were covered of course. There is a world wide terror alert, for example, and then there was a long conversation with Davis Gaines on life in the theater, but there was a lot of Common Core talk.)
The last two transcripts of this series of interviews are now posted at the Transcripts page, one with Patricia Levesque, who is the CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and one with Emmett McGroarty, an opponent of the Common Core, who is with the American Principles Project.
Interviews earlier in the week on the subject were with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current Florida Senator Marco Rubio, as well as with Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews and former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, both of whom can fairly be described as neither opponents nor proponents. As noted, those five interviews are also at the Transcripts page.
Ten conclusions, based on these interviews and a ton of email and yet another round of unexpected "Common Core" questions at an unrelated event on another topic with Dennis Prager in Sacramento on Thursday night:
1. Common Core is a well-intended effort at school reform, aimed at building an achievement standard floor on which all American public education is expected to stand.
2. Common Core is perceived as a dumbed-down "ceiling" by some, an ideological imposition of federal standards by others, and an ideological exercise by many.
3. Political momentum against the Common Core is large and growing at an almost exponential rate. Proponents of the Core set out to persuade elites, not parents and activists, and this has created widespread suspicion among groups used to being excluded from policy making and already feeling as though policy makers are insulated from voters.
4. The overreach of the Obama Administration is greatly resented and Common Core is seen as a part of that overreach. Tying adoption of the Common Core to federal education dollars is understood to be blackmail of the standard D.C. type, and not unlike the attempted jam down of Medicaid expansion via Obamacare which the Supreme Court struck down even as it upheld the individual mandate in the summer of 2012.
5. There are "big data" implications of the Common Core, and in this environment of sudden and widespread hostility to the collection of data which could possibly be misused by government in the future, the reality of the vast collection of data on students is hitting at exactly the wrong time for pro-Common Core forces.
6. There is a whole lot of money being made via the adaptation of the Common Core, just as any enormous government program creates wealth among those provided mandated services, testing and supervision. Opponents of the Common Core have begun to "follow the money" and the MSM will not be far behind.
7. There is very little upside and enormous downside for center-right politicians to be pro-Common Core. Education reform is a huge issue on the center-right, and there are many causes to promote such as charter public schools. Candidates seeking to attract pro-reform votes can do so by singling out many reforms other than the Common Core, support for which --fairly or unfairly-- will in fact cost them votes.
8. There is very little political upside for Common Core as teachers' union are at best ambivalent about it. Many fine teachers who have emailed or called me this week strongly support Common Core reform, but the political realities are heavily stacked against the innovation.
9. Local school board members and administrators should be prepared to pause and listen to criticism as the anti-Core movement spreads, and not to react defensively to it, even if the local district is responding to state mandate. Rather, every district that can do so should stress that the Core is a floor, and that its ceiling is going to be much, much higher, and that its children's data will not be shared if it has anything to say about it.
10. Common Core proponents had better huddle quickly and develop a systematic, wide-spread and responsive outreach to Core opponents or the work they have done will be undone, and quickly. It won't be long until "Sweeps Weeks" find the right viewer demographic with "Is the Common Core Dumbing Down Your Kid?" One of the key charges of the anti-Core folks, for example, is that algebra is being moved from the 8th grade to the 9th grade. I don't know if that is true, or if true, if it is a good thing, a bad thing, or a "it depends" thing, but the conflict is going to make for great television, and pro-Core people have to defend a change that has nameless, faceless Washington D.C. bureaucrats dictating via the purse what must be taught, and collecting data on kids.
My last observation is not about the Common Core but about the MSM: It has again largely missed --wholly missed in some places-- a major story from the world of education which their readers and watchers are finding about via new media. Jay Mathews of course was up to speed, but this is front page stuff with great story potential (follow the money, again) and enormous implications or state and local politics and indeed for federal elections in the next cycle.