In case you haven’t been paying attention, the arrival of the Common Core apparently means the end of the world as we know it. Below are some of recent apocalyptic warnings from people on the left and the right (with other earlier doomsday predictions interspersed).
My own thoughts are in the final paragraphs.
From Senator Rand Paul (R, KY):
“There are few things more dangerous to our liberty and prosperity than allowing federal bureaucrats and politicians to control our children. Their newest plot is called Common Core – a dangerous new curriculum that will only make public education worse and waste more of our money. … If we want America to once again lead the world in education standards, we need to get rid of top-down federal schemes that put every child into the same box. The first step toward regaining parental control of education is stopping Common Core.”
(“The world will end in 1284” Pope Innocent III, writing in 1213)
From Anthony Cody, a left-leaning blogger and former teacher:
“The tests associated with Common Core are likely to renew the false indictment of our public schools. Proficiency rates are predicted to drop by at least 30%. There will be a significant expansion in the number and frequency of tests, and the technology needed to fully implement to Common Core will divert billions of scarce education dollars.”
(“An epic flood beginning on February 20, 1524 will drown the world’s population and end civilization” Johannes Stoffler, a German scholar)
From Stanley Kurtz in The National Review:
“A thinly veiled attempt to circumvent the legally and constitutionally enshrined principle of state-level control over education.”
(“Yea verily, the world will end in 1697” Cotton Mather, the Puritan preacher. When the earth continued into 1698, he predicted that it would end in 1716. When the world survived again, Dr. Mather made a final doomsday prediction: it would end in 1736. Wrong again.)
From Mr. Cody:
“And what about a democratic process? We are apparently about to be handed a set of standards that will dictate what is taught in millions of classrooms across this nation. How will these have been arrived at? Who, besides the Gates Foundation millionaire’s club and the standardized test companies and the publishing companies will have been engaged in this profoundly civic process?”
(“The seven tails of Halley’s Comet will impregnate the earth’s atmosphere, setting it and the entire world ablaze, destroying the planet” French astronomer Camille Flammarion, writing in 1910.)
From the “The Common Core: Education without Representation” website:
“(Linda Darling-Hammond’s) ideas are being absolutely shoved down the throats of state school boards and legislators nationally. And she is dead set on Common Core being the means to these ends. … To translate: Linda Darling-Hammond pushes for communism in the name of social justice, for a prison-like view of schooling in the name of extended opportunity, and for an increased federal role in education in the name of fairness.”
(“The world will come to an end in 1999” This grim fate was predicted by Nostradamus, language teacher Charles Berlitz, a number of religious cult figures, and Yale President (1795-1817) Timothy Dwight IV. All were mistaken.)
From Diane Ravitch:
“The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.”
Finally, a doomsday prediction from Sheldon Harnick in 1958 (Older readers, please feel free to sing along)
They’re rioting in Africa
They’re starving in Spain
There’s hurricanes in Florida
And Texas needs rain.
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch
And I don’t like anybody very much.
But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud
For man’s been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud
And we know for certain that some lucky day
Someone will set the spark off and we will all be blown away. 
Folks, the world as we know it is not coming to an end. In fact, the Common Core–done right–could make schools a lot more interesting and rewarding for both students and teachers.
The Common Core has four distinct aspects: 1) The State Standards, 2) Curricula, 3) Teacher Retraining (called ‘Professional Development’), and 4) Assessments. Hysteria from right and left, and misinformation of the sort propagated by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus  in the New York Times ‘Review’ on June 8th don’t help. Calming down will.
The Standards themselves could get us out of the box we’re now in– a narrow curriculum–because they call for critical thinking, speaking persuasively, listening, teamwork and some other skills that make sense, in addition to math and English. They raise the academic bar in most places (although Massachusetts believes its current standards are more demanding). Although they were developed by governors and others in the states, the Common Core State Standards do have a Washington connection: the Obama Administration has used Race to the Top grants to get states to sign on. All but 5 states have, although some are now wavering.
States and districts are free to choose whatever Curricula they wish, because this is not a national curriculum created by ‘pointy-headed bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Education.’ Instead, the curriculum part of the Common Core is likely to be a free-for-all, with publishers and hucksters alike stamping all their materials “Aligned with the Common Core.” Buyer beware! On the plus side, classroom teachers are developing units and sharing them when they proved to be effective. New York State and New York City are encouraging teachers to share, and I hope there will be a lot of that going on.
Many teachers will need retraining, because the Common Core requires new ways of teaching. Because the Common Core assumes that students will have a lot more responsibility, many teachers will have to learn to give up control. So far I haven’t heard of any states or districts ponying up the dollars that the retraining will cost, and that could be a problem.
The Assessments, however, are a bigger problem and may turn out to be the soft underbelly of the whole enterprise. The Feds are paying two consortia to develop the tests, and the government contracts specify that the tests must produce data that can be used to evaluate teachers and principals!
Moreover, the test developers envision computer-based tests, where kids wearing headphones are sitting in front of desktop computers, clicking and writing short responses (which may be graded by machines). They’re thinking this way, one consortium representative told me, because “We don’t trust teachers.”
Here’s what I believe: The Common Core will fail miserably unless we trust teachers. Computers cannot assess speaking and listening skills, nor teamwork, nor about half of the skill set the Common Core values. That requires well-trained professionals.
So we have a choice: Rely upon computers to test that narrow band (of same-old, same-old stuff). If we do that, many teachers will teach to that test because they know they’re being evaluated on those scores, and that in turn means that nothing important will change. Say goodbye to the spirit and essence of Common Core.
Or we can learn to trust teachers, teachers who will be better trained because we will, of course, get smart and invest in Professional Development.
So the advent of the Common Core is not the end of the world, dire predictions to the contrary notwithstanding. It’s an incredible opportunity for teachers to reclaim their profession.
- 1. The Kingston Trio made that song very popular in the mid-1960’s.↵
- 2. For openers, “Who’s Minding the Schools?” manages to conflate the Common Core State Standards and curriculum. The Standards are NOT curriculum; what is taught and how it’s taught are left to states and districts, but the authors call it ‘a radical curriculum.’↵