Common versus higher: From the standpoint of messaging, an advocate can never go wrong calling for “higher standards.”
That sounds like something a person would want! Who could possibly stand opposed to “higher standards?”
This messaging drives the campaign in support of the Common Core. That said, the Common Core is often supported in a different way.
Often, advocates praise the Common Core because it creates a common set of “standards.” If every state signs on to the program, all the states will be teaching the same skills in each grade!
At first glance, that seems to make perfect sense. We live in a highly mobile world. Under this theory, a student who moved from one state to another would encounter the same set of “standards” at his new school.
That said, the Common Core is often praised on that other basis. It’s praised because its “standards” are higher than those which have obtained in many states in the past.
Which is it? Is the Common Core a good idea because it creates a common set of “standards?” Or is it good because the standards in question are higher?
The two rationales often appear interchangeably. Consider a passage from Lyndsey Layton’s detailed report in Sunday’s Washington Post.
In the following passage, Layton describes the way Arne Duncan got states to adopt the Common Core through the use of stimulus money. In the process, Layton cites both rationales for the program:
LAYTON (6/8/14): As secretary [of education], Duncan named as his chief of staff Margot Rogers, a top Gates official he got to know through that grant. He also hired James Shelton, a program officer at the foundation, to serve first as his head of innovation and most recently as the deputy secretary, responsible for a wide array of federal policy decisions.First, we’re told that Duncan offered money to states which adopted common standards. Then, we’re told that the standards in question had to be high.
Duncan and his team leveraged stimulus money to reward states that adopted common standards.
They created Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion contest for education grants. Under the contest rules, states that adopted high standards stood the best chance of winning. It was a clever way around federal laws that prohibit Washington from interfering in what takes place in classrooms. It was also a tantalizing incentive for cash-strapped states.
The point is simple. You'll see two different rationales used in support of the Common Core. Sometimes, we’re told the program is good because the states will have common standards. We’re also told the program is good because the standards are high—in effect, because instruction will be more challenging than before.
At least on the surface, uniformity across the states makes an obvious type of sense. Beyond that, many kids would presumably benefit from more challenging instruction.
That said, our basic question remains:
Given our large achievement gaps, how can any set of “standards” make sense for all kids in a single grade? The gaps are very large in our schools. How can any set of “standards” be appropriate for all students?
This is the world’s most obvious question. Through twenty years of the “standards movement,” we’ve never seen it asked.