Common Core

Common Core confusion: Why a misunderstood reform needs crisis management

The Common Core needs a public relations makeover—quickly.

In the last few days, the new set of tougher math and English language standards for grades K-12 has suffered a spate of bad publicity that could undermine its very purpose—and turn off an already skeptical public.

(Photo: Sarah Garland)

Never mind that there is still plenty of confusion about the Common Core with its uniform set of skills and knowledge aimed at elevating teaching and learning, already adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Instead, as is often the case in education, a bad combination of politics, protest and pontification is obscuring the Core’s laudable purpose, which is to increase critical thinking and problem-solving skills, better prepare students for colleges and careers—and keep the United States globally competitive.

On Monday, parents in several states mounted a protest against the Common Core that kept children home from school.

New York State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. finds himself shouted down at forums throughout New York and has become a lightning rod for parents and teachers angry about linking the standards to tougher tests without better training, materials and time to prepare.

And U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is on the defensive, backtracking for “clumsy phrasing” that appeared to criticize parents who worry about their children’s lower test scores.

None of this helps further public understanding, and it’s bad news for Common Core supporters, an eclectic group that includes governors, CEOs, educators and President Barack Obama.

In his own words, Duncan said he believed push-back against the standards was coming from “sort of, white suburban moms,’’ worried that their children aren’t “as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary.”

The comments are getting as much publicity as the Common Core itself, and are doing little to further public understanding.

At The Hechinger Reportin partnership with the Education Writers Association—we’ve spent nearly a year examining how the Common Core is playing out across the country. We are listening to lessons and talking to parents about helping their kids with homework under the new standards.

We’ve put together a great deal of resources anyone can access that help explain, for example, how instruction is changing under the Common Core.

We’d like to think that these are the issues that really matter, and we will continue to gather information impartially, ask questions and report on what we see and hear and learn.

Unfortunately, it seems many in the public are beyond trying to learn and will first hear about the Common Core in the highly charged atmosphere that is now emerging.

Expect more shouting and perhaps more backing down.

“Whichever side you fall on regarding the Core’s academic value, there is no question that their implementation in many areas has been miserable,” Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post Answer Sheet wrote recently.

Strauss noted that American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, a Core supporter, recently compared it to another particularly troubled rollout—the Affordable Care Act—remarking that the rollout of the Common Core has been “far worse.”

As for Duncan, he’s backtracking a bit but staying the course.

Without apologizing for his controversial remarks, Duncan conceded that he regrets some of his phrasing. The most ironic line of his non-apology? “Good communication matters, because the transition to higher standards isn’t easy.”

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Liz Willen

Liz Willen, a longtime education reporter, has been proud to lead an award-winning staff of The Hechinger Report since 2011. She was recently honored for… See Archive

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