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Bruno: Common Core Apathy Unsettling For Both Sides

2854281112_04b9018aedOver the last few months we've seen something of a Common Core paradox.

On the one hand, the Common Core standards appeared to be broadly popular.

At the same time, the new standards have begun experiencing sudden-seeming political collapses in places like New York and Indiana.

CCSS supporters seem surprised by the growing resistance, but they shouldn't be because there is not really a paradox here.

Support for the Common Core was just never that strong to begin with.

It's easy for those of us who spend a lot of time thinking and talking and writing about these things to forget that most people, including most parents and teachers, just don't care that much about education policy.

Even fewer people care much about the content of our education standards.

So while it was never difficult to find surveys indicating that many stakeholders who knew of them were generally supportive of the CCSS, even most public school parents were completely unaware of the new standards.

And even among their backers, support for the CCSS has never seemed very strong. Many reformers and educators alike seem to have based their support only on the vaguest - and most platitudinous - abstractions about what good standards should be. (Realistically, who wouldn't say they support standards everyone claims are "fewer", "clearer", and "deeper"?)

Of course, some people and groups have advocated for adoption of the Common Core standards genuinely, knowledgeably, and passionately. Most people, however, remain indifferent to them and what support there is has been based in large part on a vague feeling that they sound nice, not a longstanding commitment to improving educational standards.

This was never a recipe for consistent political victory, particularly because much of the opposition to the CCSS is so passionate.

So there's not really a need to explain "why support for the Common Core is sinking." Since so much of the original support was so shallow, any hiccup in implementation - however minor - isn't just going to harden opposition, it's going to push a some supporters toward agnosticism and a fair number of agnostics off of the fence.

And hiccups in implementation have been and will continue to be numerous. Unexpected costs, technological glitches, testing and accountability overreach, curricular revisions, and proficiency cut-score debates are all going to pose headaches over and above the built-in cultural and ideological battles about what students should learn in school.

The public - already only vaguely supportive - will often not have the patience to sustain its support in the face of these various, inevitable annoyances.

This is an uncomfortable reality for people who feel strongly on either side of the Common Core debate, because we all like to think that the rest of the voting public cares as much about education - and about our pet educational issues - as we do.

But the reality is that education is not a highly salient political issue for most people, so big, potentially-disruptive education reforms need to have unusually smooth implementations to avoid sudden loss of political will. It's a problem (and a lesson) that probably generalizes well beyond the adoption and implementation of the Common Core standards. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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