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Harnessing Public Opinion to Support the Common Core State Standards

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By William Bushaw, Executive Director, PDK International

Being a policy maker is a tough balancing act of both leading and listening. Get too far ahead of the public, and they won’t follow; listen too much and you may not make necessary progress. We see some of that tension in this year’s findings of the 45th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

Results of the poll come in a time of turmoil in the American education franchise. Recent major reform efforts, such as the Common Core State Standards and the new, more challenging student assessments that accompany the standards, face an uncertain future as the poll lays bare a significant rift between policy makers and American citizens and parents.

The Common Core State Standards are the result of an initiative launched in June 2009 as a bipartisan partnership between the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It is a significant education initiative with the potential to dramatically change instruction in U.S. classrooms, but most Americans don’t know about it, and those who do don’t always understand or embrace it. How far can such an ambitious plan go when the American public is not on board to support and promote it? Our teachers and principals are the answer to addressing this challenge.

We know that almost 3 out of 4 Americans trust teachers and principals. And given that the 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher shows that many teachers and principals support the Common Core, it is clear that these education professionals are best positioned to rally support for the initiative. It’s critical that policy makers seize this opportunity and ask teachers and principals to talk with their communities about the value of these new standards and associated assessments, highlighting how they will increase student learning.

But here’s the problem. Teachers and principals have reservations about the accountability proposals that coincide with the implementation of the new standards, including requirements to use student test scores when evaluating teachers and principals. Most agree that these rigorous standards must be paired with superior tests that assess student problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. However, as students and teachers adjust to the new standards and assessments, it is likely that test scores will initially decline, making it appear as though students are learning less in school. When test scores decline as anticipated, will teachers’ jobs be threatened?

To make matters worse, most Americans believe the significant increase in testing in the last decade has either hurt or made no difference in improving schools, and a majority of Americans don’t support using student standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. This convergence of public opinion about testing threatens to sharpen the pushback that policy makers will feel if they insist on staying the course and making high-stakes accountability decisions, including employment, based on the initial testing data when these new standards and assessments are implemented.

Americans overwhelmingly have trust and confidence in public school teachers and principals – one of our strongest poll indicators each year – and it’s time for our policy makers to leverage this public confidence. During implementation of the Common Core, policy makers would be wise to invest in systems that focus on improving teachers’ skills rather than focusing on accountability. Shifting course in this direction will deliver the necessary support to our public education professionals, which in turn could lead to greater support for the new standards and assessments by educators and the American public.  


Views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

It seems the wise is

It seems the wise is confounded and the simple must lead. Until CHARACTER EDUCATION is a major factor in our public schools, I'm afraid if education is involved at all; it is to graduate educated fools.

Is anyone paying attention to the lack of character we are seeing in schools today? How on earth can we talk standard without talking about keeping in check our moral compass. We are living in a time when individuals are calling right wrong and wrong right to suit their personal gratification. Where is the standard? Teachers are tempted to bring guns to schools rather than books. Boys want to use girls restrooms and vice versa.

Standards bring absolute to the human factor in a civilization.

We need respect and discipline for a productive learning environment, not a circus.

I think test scores are

I think test scores are vastly overemphasized. I always made high scores,and my high scores opened doors for me. But other students learn music or dancing or a vocation or a sport or drama or any number of other things. I think students should learn many things that may or may not be assessed by tests. Gauss's father wanted him to be a bricklayer. I think students should be able to study whatever they want, although they should be aware of the importance of learning something that someone will pay them to do. I think we should make sure that children are exposed to a wide variety of experiences from an early age, should be healthy and well cared for.

If teachers are lacking in anything, it is that they have no free time to read.

Lower test results on the

Lower test results on the horizon with parents not understanding why could prove to be a significant challenge for educators. But it also poses a unique opportunity to close the communication gap. Educators can, and must, engage and involve parents in the transition, give them ways to help their children with the new curricula schools are developing to reflect the new standards and let them know how and why the standards are being implemented. This knowledge and understanding will lead to successful implementation of the standards, improved student achievement, increased parent involvement and help to avoid panic among parents when their child's scores are lower on the standardized tests.

Principals and teachers are in the best position to help parents understand the standards but often don't have the time to identify what parents don't know and create a communication plan. Schools need to let parents know that the expectations for students have been raised and to explain to parents what that will mean in terms of putting their child on a trajectory to make sure they are ready for college and career. The Parent Institute has done that work for educators with their new resource kit, Supporting Common Core State Standards: Family Engagement for Student Success.

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