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Thompson: The Way to Save Common Core (If It's Worth Saving)

CommoncoreMorgan Polikoff's guest post, To Save the Common Core, Don't Fear the Moratorium, at Rick Hess Straight Up is a must-read for supporters of standards based reforms seeking a way to rescue Common Core from its botched implementation.  

I sometimes hope that advocates for college readiness standards will recognize the mess they created and make common sense adjustments. Other times, I believe that it would be best for them to continue down their doomed path and hope that the debacle will bring down the entire data-driven movement. Then, the next generation of school improvement could heed Polikoff''s advice. 

Polikoff believes that standards based reform and "some modest accountability" can drive school improvement. He makes the strong case that before NCLB they contributed to a decade or two of incremental improvements. 

His narrative gets confusing when he gets to their antithesis - standardized test-driven NCLB-type reform.   In one post, Polikoff endorses "consequential accountability." In another piece, he writes about "the abject failure of standards implementation under No Child Left Behind." 

Polikoff argues that "the major unforced error" of the Obama administration's was pushing Common Core standards and value-added teacher evaluations contemporaneously. This has created "the increasingly real possibility that teacher evaluation will destroy the Common Core in some places."

Polikoff supports some use of student test scores for "some evaluative purposes." He does not support value-added as it is used in most of the teacher evaluation systems being currently implemented. So, he seeks to delay these "questionable teacher evaluation policies for a couple years." That way, they "won't cause massive disruption (indeed, it'll give folks the opportunity to reevaluate and improve these systems)."

Polikoff argues that "policymakers shouldn't be afraid of the high-stakes moratorium for teacher accountability purposes. In fact, I think they should embrace it." He sees what should be obvious to all reformers, "keeping the evaluations and risking the Common Core … would certainly disrupt the great efforts educators have been making to rise to meet the new standards."  

I've got no real beef with standards based reform and the effort to "create aligned assessments and curriculum materials to reinforce the content messages of the standards." For most of my career, rightly or wrongly, it was the dominant approach to school improvement. I am skeptical that they can contribute more than marginally to the improvement of low-income schools. If we had the resources for the supports necessary to systematically teach for mastery in high-challenge schools, urban education wouldn't be so dysfunctional. It is sad that standardized testing undermined standards based efforts, but it was entirely predictable. 

The question is whether teachers and unions should try to save the Common Core standards' bacon. Should we slow the process, help it go back to its roots? If reformers would face facts, we could pull together to save college readiness standards. Or perhaps we should face a reality that I wish weren't true. Regrettably, I'm inclined to believe that school improvement is doomed until we drive a stake through the heart of test-driven accountability. Just as NCLB undermined standards based reforms, value-added evaluations will help kill Common Core. I'm certainly willing to sacrifice the potential benefits of better standards in order to defeat high-stakes testing but, dang it, I hate to think that way.-JT(@drjohnthompson)Image via. 



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