SADOW: Scrap Common Core, But Only If The Alternatives Aren’t Worse

Oddly relegated to background status in the developing argument among supporters and opponents of the Common Core State Standards is that both viewpoints claim to want a system that spurs better educational quality, so thus this should become the metric by which the evaluate it and bring the sides together.

Louisiana adopted the framework, joining 45 other states in whole or part (for now), in July, 2010 that featured almost no discussion by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and attracted no real notice then. Prompted by governors and put together by representatives of superintendents, teachers, and parents, and including others’ input such as academicians, the initiative involves creating benchmark concepts that should be achieved at various grade levels, with curricula to be determined by states (and Louisiana is one of the few that devolved that to the district level), and in a way where comparative testing across states could be achieved. Opponents argue that the common testing regime creates risk in revealing sensitive personal data and without consent, too little input came from parents and teachers and got crowded out by alleged corporate concerns, despite no federal government input into curriculum the federal government theoretically can find ways to affect curricula through regulation and funding decisions, and that the curricular guidelines impose too little rigor, if not regress on this account.

Several Louisiana legislators have filed bills to address the matter, ranging from minor modification to outright abandonment of the effort. Of them, the ones that focus on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the testing regime, seem to have the most valid underpinnings in terms of ability to ensure maintenance of the privacy of data. Even here, among those who see the nascent PARCC in need of change, debating aligns between those who think this can be done and those who don’t and thereby advocate withdrawal (joining a few states that have or that never signed up in the first place) from it – ironic particularly for Louisiana since the testing model was built largely upon that conducted presently in the state.

This more specific argument actually perhaps is the most consequential of all in the entire contretemps, because a major purpose of CCSS is to be able to make comparisons among states, which cannot be done if there is not an testing regime accepted among participants. If Louisiana rejects PARCC participation, there’s little incentive to have CCSS shape the curriculum as opposed to any other framework, including the present, as long as an argument could be made that alternative frameworks could prompt as much rigor. For example, Texas has rejected CCSS entirely, and if policy-makers could demonstrate that its framework could produce as much or more rigor and thereby improvement, then an off-the-shelf model exists for Louisiana to use outside of CCSS. However, this still would miss out on the benefits of comparability, which in this scenario would be limited only to with Texas.

But, to date, Louisiana opponents of CCSS, in all of their bluster, have distracted debaters of the issue from addressing the crucial point that should drive the conversation: if CCSS (with or without PARCC) has so many warts, then what is their approach to improving educational delivery and attainment? Do they think the current approach is adequate, given Louisiana’s slow comparative rise among states that still leaves it close to the bottom on these accounts? If not, what model better than CCSS do they propose? And, assuming they have one (perhaps borrowing that of Texas), can that be implemented any sooner than CCSS, entailing costs reasonably affordable by the state, that would be better than CCSS including the acknowledgment that any alternative regime would be impaired by an inability to compare achievement across states and nationally?

The sense often conveyed by CCSS opponents replicates of that of believers in significant man-made climate change that would create more negative than positive effects. These faithful, investing themselves in an apocalyptic scenario without changes to policy, launch jeremiads against refusals to follow enormously expensive policies that would cause draconian reductions in quality of life without being able to demonstrate empirically what is wrong with the alternative of doing nothing. Instead, when reminded of the paucity of evidence and horrendous track record of their models of doom, they envision even more fantastical explanations that demand enormous suspension of disbelief. As with CCSS opponents, for they ask to jettison it without being able to definitively and persuasively illuminate its weaknesses, imitating the global warming crowd in spinning unverified and non-verifiable scenarios, perhaps the most disingenuous being that CCSS should not be tried because it hasn’t been proven to “work;” but where is there evidence that is hasn’t been proven not to work? Where is the non-convoluted, empirical, or even historical evidence that CCSS will do some or all of lower standards, force a national curriculum onto states, or is some kind of plot to enrich certain interests?

That certain interests articulate rhetoric opposing CCSS also reduces the credibility of the arguments made by opponents in general. For example, when the head of a teachers’ union that opposes CCSS says, with a straight face, that “we support higher standards for every child,” you don’t have to observe his nose grow suddenly very long to understand already intuitively that this is a bold-faced lie. You don’t have to have been teaching in the classroom for 27 years to know that the more rigor you introduce, the more work as a teacher you must perform, and the primary purpose of a union is to ensure that its members work as little as possible while extracting as much compensation and job security as possible from (in this instance) taxpayers. While some CCSS opponents typify the effort as a plot to enrich or empower this or that interest, one must wonder about the fidelity of these opponents when encountering rhetoric such as this. Leopards don’t change their spots.

Nor can you paint stripes on a horse and call it a zebra. If Louisiana is going to toss four years of preparation to implement CCSS, opponents have to demonstrate conclusively with facts, not speculation, why it’s not going to improve matters and/or why it so definitively imposes a national curriculum in content in place of a state’s. Moreover, they either must defend the present system as superior or explain in detail something better to replace CCSS, and where the resources to improve matters will come from and the timeline involved. Anything less is insufficient to curtail the state’s present plans to implement CCSS, for if all parties genuinely wish for more rigor, to this point there’s no evidence the state can do any better outside of the CCSS framework.

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