Common Core: A Platform for Achievement & Innovation

We’ve tried to avoid presidential politics here, but some comments about the federal role in education this week (covered well by K-12 Politics ) suggested the need to reiterate the importance of common standards and the constructive role that the federal government and national organizations can play.
For three years some prominent folks have suggested that the Race to the Top (RttT) program was coersive. But you may recall that it was just five percent of the education investment made as part of the stimulus bill. It was a completely voluntary grant program for which states could apply.
I’ve argued that RttT had the biggest impact of any grant program in history even before a dime was spent. It was a well-structured package of reforms that produced an amazing amount of mobilization and big advances in policy reform. It was basically the performance incentives for the reforms that Governor Jeb Bush and President George Bush pioneered including school accountability, data driven teacher evaluation and school choice. That makes it ironic that some Republicans are still carping about it.
If anything, more of the stimulus bill should have been structured as incentive, not less. And more of the federal budget should be structured as incentives rather than automatic formulas that become entitlements.
The RttT program was timely for the effort to build and adopt common national standards. Governors like Jim Hunt and business executives like Lou Gerstner have worked toward national standards for 20 years. RttT added a turbocharger to the common standards movement championed by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
The Common Core State Standards, what I called the iPhone for Edu, has brought up the rear in 30 states with low standards and launched an avalanche of innovation, including adaptive learning platforms like i-Ready and fully digital Common Core-aligned curriculums like the Pearson 1:1 launched at Huntsville this August.
MasteryConnect and LearnZillion are some of the scrappy startups banking on Common Core (as noted in a review of Bob Rothman’s book on the Common Core). Every week we see new engaging Common Core-aligned content, apps, and platforms -including lots of open educational resources (OER). The improved ability to share resources across state lines is a huge benefit.
The most important benefit is high common college and career ready standards–the holy grail of educational equality. We can finally say that nearly every state is committed to preparing every student for viable life options.
Let’s clear up some misconceptions: The Common Core is a project of governors and chiefs, not a federal program. It is a set of standards, not a national curriculum. And, the Common Core will save, not cost billions.
The feds can play a productive role in education by creating incentives for better performance, by promoting educational equality, and by supporting primary research. All three roles deserve bipartisan support.
This bog first appeared on EdWeek.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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