Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why almost nobody is writing about the Common Core.

A think tanky pal of mine wrote me today to ask why adoption of the Common Core standards is not getting more press. Fair question; I think when it comes to national ed reform right now, 89 percent of the attention is going to teacher quality, 9 percent to turnarounds and 2 percent to everything else.

I told him that ... standards are boring. I don’t mean to be glib. Among policy people, the question of state standards vs. common standards is and always has been interesting. But for beat reporters, far less so. Perhaps that is because on a day-to-day level, standards are wallpaper. What’s on the benchmark test, what’s in the district curriculum (if there is any), what’s in the Open Court book: This is what determines what happens in classrooms each day. Yes, state standards influence all that, but they are not on educators’ minds as much as policy makers think they are.

Maybe it is just too removed, the question of whether and how much the Common Core standards will change curriculum, teaching and testing. Maybe it’s only interesting in the states that have the toughest, or easiest and vaguest, standards now—which is why we have seen a little coverage out of Massachusetts and Virginia. (Don’t assume, though, that just because a state’s standards don’t explicitly say third-graders should count by 10s, districts don’t make their teachers teach that. Don’t assume they do, either.)

I think where journalists can conclude that the Common Core will really mean a change in the way a state’s schools do business, they should write about it—though that is easier said than done. I don’t, however, sit around wishing we had more coverage of the politics of standards. What do you think? What kind of stories would you like to see, if any? Why haven’t you written about the Common Core?


  1. I wrote a story about the common core standards and English-language learners, and my colleagues have written tons of stories about the common core standards. I guess you're not really counting EdWeek as "beat reporters."


    Mary Ann Zehr
    Education Week

  2. Yeah, the "almost" in my headline refers to EdWeek, which does thorough coverage of ALL elements of reform, and a couple other national reporters who have dabbled.

  3. Linda,

    You're missing the big meta-story.

    Policy attention is focused on matter that don't produce results. I agree with you that Common Core, even if widely adopted, matters far far far far less than actually curriculum, tests and teaching. So, policy-maker focus on Common Core, even though the theory of action there is incredibly weak.

    We see over and over again that charters are generally not much (if at all) better than public schools. But they get a ton of policy attention.

    Merit pay? It doesn't really work, we see again and again, and yet it still gets a ton of policy attention.

    The public and policy debates about education simply are not focused on ideas that have any real chance of improving education. They are focused on ideas that have already been shown not to work (over and over again) and ideas who theory of action makes any substantial impact exceedingly unlikely.

    Why is that? What is the value of the public and policy debates if they never discuss the things that might help? And what is the role of the press in attending to that?

  4. what i would like to know is why so many education stories focus only on policy makers, think tankers, reformers, and never on teachers.

    you are absolutely right that 89% is on teacher quality, and by that i mean the idea that there are all these terrible teachers that need to be fired.

    perhaps that is why the teacher voice is missing in so much coverage...is it because all writers assume we are idiots? that we have nothing valid to add to the debate? that we must be part of the problem and therefore cannot be part of the solution?

    to be honest, reading education coverage is mostly infuriating because most of it seems so disconnected from the reality. for realism, i would suggest writers try speaking to educators.

  5. I'm baaaaack, having contributed to another Hechinger Report story written by Sarah Butrymowicz. This time the story has to do with the mixed reactions from the states further to the release of common standards. Thanks for asking!