My View: The looming ‘classroom cliff’
August 8th, 2012
06:04 AM ET

My View: The looming ‘classroom cliff’

Courtesy Reginald GallowayBy Adam Frankel, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Adam Frankel, a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama, is executive director of Digital Promise, a national initiative chartered by Congress to advance innovation in education.

At a time when the country is focused on the “fiscal cliff” that will come when huge tax increases and spending cuts kick in at the end of the year, America is also heading toward a “classroom cliff” in our nation’s schools.

In 2014 and 2015, the first tests will be administered to assess how students are measuring up to the Common Core State Standards – new college and career-ready standards that have been adopted by 45 states and three territories. The result of those tests, many educators believe, will be a disaster.

First, a little background: Historically, one of the biggest barriers to achievement in our schools has been a patchwork of state standards, some much higher than others. For example, states have had different standards for algebra, even though algebra is the same everywhere. That makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of where our students stand or make sure they are getting the best possible education.

The Common Core State Standards, known as “the Common Core,” were developed to change that status quo. The Common Core – a bottom-up, states-driven approach to establishing better, clearer standards – is one of the most significant steps we’ve taken to regain the global lead in education. For the first time, a majority of states have come together to develop and adopt common standards for math and English language arts, putting America on the path to greater educational achievement.

But standards, of course, are one thing. Preparing students to meet them is quite another. School district leaders from across the country say that their states are woefully behind when it comes to preparing students for the Common Core. Many places are not even sure what they should be doing, much less taking steps to do it.

Despite the efforts of some education entrepreneurs and industry leaders, educators are warning about a lack of textbooks and other educational materials that are aligned to the Common Core. Even where those materials are available, educators worry about the resources to purchase them and prepare staff to use them.

Right now, the gap between the Common Core and student performance is largely invisible for a simple reason: you can’t see how much (or how little) progress you’re making if you don’t have a way to measure it. That will change in 2014 and 2015 when the first Common Core assessments come on line. The result, many expect, will be a wake-up call for the country.

Such a wake-up call could help galvanize public support for education reform. But many school district leaders don’t see it that way, recognizing that they will be the ones held accountable if the assessments reveal poor test scores. The larger threat, however, is not only bad test scores.

At a time when even innovative school district leaders feel like they are under attack from some for-profit charter schools and virtual institutions, educators worry that poor test scores will be used to accelerate the demise of public education itself, one of the last great democratizing forces in America.

The good news is that it’s not too late to do something about this.

One place to start is a national public-private Common Core Readiness Initiative to not only help schools and states identify what they need to do, but help them do it. Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools, a partnership of 26 school districts in 18 states that collectively serve roughly 2.5 million students, stands ready to lead the way with willing partners.

Ultimately, this is not just about preparing our kids for a test - it’s about preparing them for the world they will enter when they graduate and making sure our country can prosper in the 21st century.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Adam Frankel.

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Filed under: Common Core • Policy • Voices
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. grandma

    i in total agreement with your article about the future of our educational system. i am very proud of you and applaud for all your efforts to make our country a better place to live. keep up your excellent work

    August 9, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  2. India B.

    As soon as the public understands that education is 33% part student, 33% part parent, and 33% teacher responsibility, then AND only then will we see true change. Right now, it's all put on the teachers. A large portion of students do not see any relevance to making serious effort on any standardized test because there is no consequence if a student does poorly. We also place all kids into the same type of school that promotes conformity; kids can be just as productive, if not more successful, were they in schools that allowed them to more choices in what they learn. Everyone doesn't want or need to go to college. There are so many kids who would thrive if only they were allowed to take basic core classes and focus on languages, art, machinist studies, etc. I've worked on state committees, and while I'm glad we have common standards, we still don't include all the necessary people on such committees. Often times, groups like Race to the Top, amongst others, are often held during the school day, when teachers can't attend. Luckily, I have great administrators who allow me to take curriculum time to work on such teams, but few teachers are allowed such a privilege.
    I ask you, to please consider more trade programs, and assessment tools that are differentiated for the myriad students we educate. All we hear about is 'differentiation', yet standardized tests and traditional programs don't allow for differentiation, and ask teachers with 100-150 students each day to differentiate for all types of learners. Are you able to or have the time to explain something 10 different ways 17 times per day? I doubt it, or you'd work a 24-7. You ask teachers to do it, but then fail to do it when we assess our children. Do we assess parents for their amount of involvement and hold them or the student responsible in any way, shape, or form, if they don't produce at a specific level? No, we do not.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  3. msp

    A bigger problem than core curriculum I see in education is the view too many parents hold that their precious darlings simply cannot be measured/compared to anybody else, much less statistics. Testing itself is a bad idea, standardization is horrible when it comes to my speical snowflake. How can anyone who don't know him/her possibly evaluate him/her?! How can the federal/state/county government or teacher possibly know how smart/creative my kids are?! Too subjective, too objective, too unfair, too anything.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • India B.

      ha ha! You are right in that many parents do not want to admit that their child is 'average'. Everyone thinks their kid is a genius. If a kid is really so talented, then they would be listed as Gifted, and score in the 99th percentile, and their IQ would be far above the average of 100. This is the problem in America–everyone thinks they deserve a trophy because they 'tried' or worked really 'hard'. Bloody sad state of affairs!

      August 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  4. Elliot1982

    Adam Frankel's well-crafted case in support for common standards is loaded with ideological positions that deserve discussion, not wholesale acceptance. 1) How can somebody in the Federal government be worried about "our schools" when education is the states' responsibility? 2) How are Common Core Standards tests any different from ECLB's testing burden, which they replace? 3) Why should we protect public education against charter schools, which are free to students and in some cases deliver better student outcomes? 4) Why should we be worried about paying for new textbooks when information-delivery technology has made paper media almost completely obsolete for most adults?

    August 8, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Elliot1982

      Correction: NCLB for No Child Left Behind, not ECLB (Every Child Left Behind? Even children love books?)

      August 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  5. Gisele Huff

    Since the Common Core standards will be assessed on line, this is the perfect opportunity to transform the learning experience for America's children so that they will be prepared to meet those standards. But as Adam Frankel points out, we can't expect the current education system to magically make the kind of changes in two years that have been impossible for the last 30 years when "A Nation at Risk" was published. That, too, was seen as a wake-up call but unfortunately, everyone is still sleeping. So we have to introduce technology as an integral part of the curriculum by establishing blended learning and allowing teachers to take advantage of the tools every other professional in this country is using to increase productivity and effectiveness. This will dovetail with the use of technology for Common Core assessments and will eventually lead to the elimination of testing as we know it. As in blended models currently in use, students will be assessed on an ongoing basis, interventions will be triggered in real time as needed and learning iwill be competency based. That's what the 21st century is about.

    August 8, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  6. aupham33

    And all of this is true even more for the adult basic education world, and for those who still need a GED to work or to enter post-secondary. At a time when the US birth rate in the 1980s and 1990s means that there won't be enough working age adults for the labor market, we need to reclaim every one we have; it won't be pretty indeed for those who have been out of school.

    August 8, 2012 at 4:06 pm |