Virtual Voices
Fifth grade teacher Kristine Nannini points to her Common Core wall charts she created for her class at McGrath Elementary in Grand Blanc, Mich.
Associated Press/Photo by Carlos Osorio
Fifth grade teacher Kristine Nannini points to her Common Core wall charts she created for her class at McGrath Elementary in Grand Blanc, Mich.

Common Core: Reform or fad?


The jury is still out on the Common Core education standards.

Some impressive education reformers stand behind them, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and his State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. In a sweeping set of reforms, they gave Indiana merit pay for teachers, more charter schools, and vouchers for low-income parents to send their children to private schools. From another perspective has come support from E.D. Hirsch, the neo-conservative advocate of cultural literacy.

The Common Core establishes English and math standards for K-12 schools and came from the National Governors Association, not the federal government. Yet the Obama administration has used the standards to determine who gets some federal aid.

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The critics of Common Core keep bringing up some good questions.

One is the cost of the new test to replace the state’s ISTEP. Taxpayers will pay billions of dollars. Two researchers, Patrick J. Murphy and Elliot M. Regenstein, put a $12 billion price tag on the tests for the 46 states joining the Common Core. They think they can bring the price down to $5 billion. Either price will be hard to swallow with a coming federal budget crisis over the deficit.

Add to the costs the teacher training for new approaches to math and language arts. Parents will need to be sold on new ideas.

The national Council of the Great City Schools is offering road maps in 10 languages for urban school districts. “This really represents a sea change for instruction in the cities,” council executive director Michael Casserly told Education Week. “We don’t think this kind of change could rightfully be done without informing parents about what we’re trying to do.”

Common Core critics are skeptical. “Never underestimate the power of a slick marketing campaign, when a proper explanation would elicit skepticism, or even outrage,” said Alfie Kohn, who writes about education.

The debate may get more heated as parents and teachers engage in the details.

Recall earlier waves of some education reform.

New math was the 1960s fad, with its abstract emphasis. Educators told parents they couldn’t help their children with the new and more sophisticated approach.

The whole language movement hurt some students, not because the concept was wrong, but because the movement created a false choice between phonics and whole language.

Then President George W. Bush gave us No Child Left Be hind. Now it is getting left behind, through waivers to the standards provided by the federal government.

What is hard to tell is whether Common Core is real education reform—or is it another fad?

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.


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