07/27/20010

Over half the states have now agreed to implement the Common Core standards as their own. I think it is now time to think about how quickly we can expect these standards to be met.

We are told that Common Core is a high quality, rigorous set of standards for K-12 education, far more challenging and explicit than what most states have been using as their own standards. I am going to accept that that is true.

If states could immediately begin to implement Common Core in the classroom (i.e. if we had the curriculum, unit plans, materials and lesson plans ready for September), there would still be problems. There is no way that today’s students are ready for those more rigorous standards. Today’s 12th graders obviously are not up to the high bar that Common Core sets for 11th grade work, because last year they were only operating at the level set by their states’ lower standards. So, next year’s graduates will not be up to the level of Common Core.

Similarly, next year’s 11th graders are not ready for Common Core’s highly rigorous 11th grade work, because their 10th grade work was only at the level of their states’ less rigorous old standards. And if they can’t do 11th grade Common Core level work this year, then they will not be able to do Common Core 12th grade work the following year. So, the high school graduating cohort of 2012 will not be up to Common Core’s standards.

By induction — yes, even we former ELA teachers can resort to math and logic every now and then — this means that it will be 13 years until we get Common Core graduates. After all, how can 4th graders do Common Core level work without having been prepared up through Common Core’s highly rigorous grade 3 standards?

And let’s be honest. This work can’t begin until we have curricula based on the Common Core standards. And then we will need unit plans, materials and lesson plans. That’s going to take a couple of years at least, especially if we consider that teachers themselves will need to get used to their new curriculum, units, materials and lessons. That means it will be more like 15 or more years before we get Common Core level high school graduates.

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Some might argue (i.e. some surely will argue) that it won’t take 13 years for everyone to catch up. They will argue that given a few years, we can raise everyone to the Common Core level — a level on which they can then proceed at Common Core’s pace.

This means that people think that for the next few years, students and educators will work extra-hard to get up to the Common Core standard. Sure, they may be well behind this year, but next year they will be less behind, and the year after that a bit less behind Common Core’s levels. And eventually, they will catch up.

In other words, for the next few years, we would expect all students to do more than a full year of learning — as Common Core defines it. This means that September’s 8th graders (i.e. students and educators, both) will have to work especially hard, because these kids and their teachers have been slacking for 8 years already (i.e. kindergarten and then grades one through seven). And we probably expect those who are not even in high school next year to be able to graduate from high school passing the Common Core aligned tests in five years.

I am sorry, but I think that this is crap. Total crap. Here’s why:

* If students and educators truly are capable of working at such a pace as to be able to catch up like that, then Common Core is not that rigorous. If they are capable of working at such a pace then Common Core coddles them, allowing them to engage in far less learning per year than they are capable of achieving. If we can get next year’s 8th graders to meet Common Core’s complete high school standards in just five years, either Common Core’s K-7 standards are irrelevant or its high school standards are far too simplistic. I have yet to hear anyone make that claim, even defenders of the most rigorous preexisting state standards.

• If today’s 8th graders can learn the 60-75% more per year through high school that catching up to a Common Core would require (assuming that Common Core demands 25% more learning each year), why would our rigorous new standards not demand that greater amount of learning? If students and educators can work at the pace for the years we need to catch up to Common Core, shouldn’t they be able to work at that pace even after everyone has caught up?

* Some might argue that most students are already quite close to Common Core’s grade-by-grade standards. But those people would be saying that Common Core is really just a tweak, and not really a big reform that does not ask for very much to be changed. Or…

* Some might argue that most students perform well above their state’s current standards, and Common Core is just aimed at those few students, schools or districts who do not. These people would be granting that state standards are irrelevant to most students and educators, who already operate well above them.

And yet, Race to the Top is being used to strong-arm states into adopting Common Core. Lots of money is going into developing Common Core aligned assessments (i.e. tests). And both politicians and the public expect these tests to be passed soon, and will have no tolerance for talk of waiting fifteen years for high passing rates. But if it will be possible for students to catch up to Common Core’s standards in just a few years, then Common Core’s standards do not push students and educators nearly as hard as they could take, meaning the standards are not really that rigorous – certainly not much more rigorous than existing standards.

What do you think is going to happen? Assuming that you try to adopt a more thoughtful approach to examining Common Core as a powerful lever for school reform, what do you expect?

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