No Commonality: Supporters and Opponents of Common Core Talking Past Each Other

In talking with supporters of Common Core last week in Nashville, what came across is that they are sincere in their belief that we have to raise standards in our schools. No argument there.

But convinced of the rightness of their cause, they tend to see any opposition as uninformed, or to suspect ulterior motives. There are certainly many opponents of Common Core who are ill-informed and there are educators who really don't want to be evaluated based on test scores.

But refusing to listen to any criticism, or seek compromise, has both sides talking past each other.

I was told a few months ago that any unfairness in the teacher evaluation would be "fixed" this session. That hasn't happened. I heard one idea that the comptroller's office would conduct a study to see if the "metrics" of the evaluation process using test scores was valid. Wonder how many years that will take?

I think it's fair for teachers to object to being evaluated, judged, and have their license to teach threatened based on test scores over which they have no control. Scores for students they don't teach.

I also think it is possible to use appropriate scores to remove a teacher not doing a good job. But that means firing them—not taking away their license. A teacher may not be a good fit at a particular school or teaching a particular subject. A bad science teacher might be a good history teacher somewhere else. So you remove them, but you don't forbid them the credentials necessary to go try someplace else.

If you have a system in which a teacher can lose the credential that allows them to have a career, how do you expect to get good teachers to go to an inner-city school that has had bad scores for a variety of factors (poverty, lack of parental support, etc.) and is likely to continue to have them? Would you take on a hard job with little likelihood of success knowing that your bosses could take away your license to pursue your profession?

But Common Core supporters perceive any criticism of the evaluation process as just an argument to decouple test scores from evaluations. So rather than fix the unfairness of the evaluation process, they hold firm.

Rather than have legislative committees hold hearings and have testimony on subjects, like the evaluation process, an effort was made to bottle up any changes in the Common Core plan. This led to a revolt in the House, where almost 90 members wrote a bill on the floor, in the form of amendments, and delayed Common Core for two years. The effort was stalled in the Senate and a compromise was in the offing this week: a one-year delay and putting out the testing program for bids.

Common Core supporters still don't get it.

You cannot assume that your program was just being attacked by ill-informed conservatives on the right and efforts to decouple testing from evaluations from the left. When you get hammered by 88 votes from across the political spectrum, something is seriously wrong.

When hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying money for Common Core and the support of Gov. Bill Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, and House Speaker Beth Harwell results in a debacle, yes, something is seriously wrong.

It should give you pause. The expected one-year delay provides an opportunity for both sides to work out a compromise. With teachers or their representatives at the table. And some serious research on the new test.

Nashville schools did a trial run of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College or Career (PARCC) test. Teacher e-mails to the Rocky Top Politics blog describe an experience similar to the roll-out of Frozen computers, reboots, long waits to log in, stressed-out students and stressed-out teachers running out of testing time. Students being timed-out in the middle of a problem. Would you want to be evaluated based on the scores produced by this test?

It's the kind of nightmare that thoughtful critics of Common Core have feared.

Somebody needs to listen.

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