Once upon a time, supporters of the Common Core argued passionately that the new math and English standards would, by virtue of their clarity and rigor, substantially improve education in the United States.
In recent weeks, however, supporters - in many cases the very same people - have changed their tone after finding themselves on the defensive about bumps in the road to CCSS implementation.
These days supporters seem to dedicate most of their time to assuring us that the CCSS are not to blame for "fuzzy" math curriculua or "whole language" or questionable history assignments. We are even told that it's just as well if states opt out of the Common Core altogether because they're unlikely to gain much from implementation anyway.
Arguably, all of these defenses of the Common Core are fair. They are also sorely disappointing for at least two reasons.
First, the argument that "standards are not a curriculum" - and therefore cannot be blamed for weak curricula - is essentially a dodge. The point of standards is precisely to motivate and improve curricula, so if bad curricula survive - or even thrive - under the CCSS, so much the worse for the standards.
Second, if the expensive, disruptive Common Core standards are merely "not to blame" for our educational problems, what, precisely, is the point of them?
We are currently in the midst of what may be the most important phase in CCSS implementation: assessment design and field testing. It is the assessments - even as much as the standards themselves - that will drive teachers' day-to-day work and help to realize (or not) whatever promise the standards hold.