Many politicians want to appear to be for higher academic standards but at the same time polish their political prospects with critics of change. Thus, they are in favor of higher standards but argue it is the fault of school administrators that the changes are poorly implemented.
That’s the line of attack often in this era of Common Core, the new and higher academic standards developed by the states and implemented — sometimes well, and sometimes poorly — in Louisiana schools over the past few years.
In a new report on education improvements in recent years, the Council for a Better Louisiana takes aim at the notion of “poor implementation” during the tumultuous debate over Common Core.
The large scale of changes that were begun several years ago — Common Core was officially adopted in 2010 — required years of planning, training and other changes at the district and school levels.
“Challenges were many,” CABL said. “Local school boards and districts are primarily responsible for implementing these changes through planning and professional development with principals and teachers, choosing and upgrading curricula and technology, analyzing data, informing parents and ensuring strong school leaders.”
That’s a lot, and the state Department of Education also had a role in implementation, CABL pointed out. The state stepped up its role by working with systems on these changes.
What the state could not do was implement the new standards on its own. To hear critics of Common Core argue that it’s the state’s fault that districts didn’t do their jobs is a profound distortion of what CABL called the legitimate problem of implementation: “Some schools and district have shown extraordinary leadership for their students and teachers, acted quickly and have moved ahead — making achievement gains and offering state-of-the-art high school programs. Some districts, for a variety of reasons, fell behind but are now catching up.”
We agree with CABL that the state as a whole cannot step back from what is inevitably going to be a process of several years of moving to higher standards.
But during the heat of an election season, it’s easy to criticize implementation, instead of trying to make the logically untenable arguments against Common Core standards directly. These range from teacher unions against testing and accountability in general to the far-right fantasy of Common Core as a national plot against local control of education.
It’s easy to blame the state for failing implementation. That’s convenient, but it dodges the fact that it is local districts and schools who were in charge of implementation, and got years of notice that new standards would be required.
In this debate, issues of direct responsibility are fudged, so that Common Core can be criticized when the real target of the critics is accountability, requiring schools to be responsible for improving academic performance in the classroom.
Remember that the next time “poor implementation” comes up.