The Common Core Just Celebrated a Big Birthday...and Nobody Came to the Party

Man, there's nothing quite as sad as having a birthday that everybody ignores. Nobody throws you a party, nobody sings you a song, nobody even plunks a candy in a store-bought cupcake.


You may have missed it, but June 2 was technically the Common Core State Standards' fifth birthday.

You may have missed it because nobody threw the Core a party. The closest we got was a piece in Huffington Post in which Rebecca Klein did a listicle of five of the sillier arguments made against the Core. It was an odd piece, a nostalgic call-back to the days when Core opponents could be broad-brushed with the image of tin-hat reactionaries.


Mercedes Schneider responded with her own birthday piece, reminding us of such highlights as Common Core's enthusiastic adoption by states before it was even actually written. Schneider's piece also recaps the various bogus claims (it will emphasize critical thinking!), its tortured creation by a small group of not-teachers, and its odd ownership and copyright by a pair of lobbying groups. Oh, and its sponsorship by Bill Gates and super-but-totally-not-illegal support from the feds.

This is not the sort of valedictory salute that we'd expect for a five-year-old piece of policy that was going to revitalize public education in this country. But it's not exactly a surprise.

First of all, in order to have that kind of celebration, you need to be able to point to your big successes. And as we survey the five-plus years of Common Core, we can see... well, nothing. The CCSS advocates can't point to a single damn accomplishment. Nothing.

Yes, we get the periodic pieces from classroom teachers lauding the standards. These pieces follow a simple outline:

1) It used to be that I didn't know what the heck I was doing in the classroom, but then
2) I discovered Common Core and so I
3) Began doing [insert teaching techniques that any competent teacher already knew about long before the Core ever happened]

These aren't convincing a soul, and other than these various testimonials, we have been treated to exactly zero evidence that US education has been improved in any way by the Core.

Second, it's hard to throw a party for someone who has no friends. The game has tilted against the Core, and the same "friends" who embraced it when such embraces served a political purpose have now dis-embraced it for the same reason. In fact, the Core has been pierced repeatedly by the same swords it once wielded; for example, having used politics to get the Core installed, supporters now routinely complain that politics are being used against it. So yeah, some of the complaints against the Core are, in fact, crazy and unfounded and even bizarre (CCSS has been created by the One World Order to turn everyone into a gay atheist Commie, etc)-- but the Core boosters created a playing field where that kind of foolishness was fair game, and now they get to pay the price.


Even the Core's reformy allies have dumped it. The Core was going to be useful to push charters, but they no longer need it. Test manufacturers are getting more traction from civil rights rhetoric and the "college and career ready" line. Data overlords have been thwarted by direct opposition and the collapse of the National Test Dream; though they aren't giving up any time soon, the Core is no longer as useful a tool for them.

With the exception of Jeb Bush who, God bless him, may not be right, but at least he's loyal, the Core is out of high profile friends who will so much as speak its name in public.

We come not to praise the Core, but to bury it

As I noted back in March, the term "Common Core" is now essentially meaningless. It means whatever people in a particular place and time want it to mean, and because its creators have moved on to other profitable jobs, there isn't anybody to keep an eye on how the term is used.

We have multiple tests all claiming to be CCSS aligned, none of which are able to assess all the standards. Except for the ones that are aligned to state standards that are kind of the same as Common Core and kind of not. We have a mountain of textbooks claiming to be Common Core aligned with varying degrees of accuracy. We have a whole host of people who have fuzzied up the question of whether it is standards or curriculum. We have tens of thousands of local versions of the Core and programs allegedly aligned. And we have the Core itself swathed in lies like "internationally benchmarked."

Ze'ev Wurman, from the Bush administration, pointed out in Breitbart that the Core is dead because states have slowly but surely reclaimed their right to local control, effectively ending the dream of having every state on the same educational page. He's right in particular because the real driver of curriculum and standards is the Big Standardized Test, and states have been slowly but surely stepping away from the Big National Test dream and installing their own version of a large pointless standardized test that gathers no real useful data but does waste lots of time and money (because all the cool kids want one). Since the test is the curriculum and standards guide, different tests means different standards and curriculum.

So happy fifth birthday and/or wake, Common Core. I could say we never knew you, but the truth is, the better we got to know you, the less we liked you (and we didn't like you very much to begin with). There will be a variety of educational initiatives floating around that take your name in vain, but as a national policy uniting the country behind a single set of clear standards, you are dead as a month-old smear of roadkill.

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