THE BLOG

No Moratorium, No Common Core

02/24/2014 09:00 am ET | Updated Apr 26, 2014

No Moratorium, No Common Core. That's not a political slogan. It is reality.

Real world, there are only so many hours in a day, and time is running out on the opportunity to supply materials, training and, above all, the supports that low-income students will need to meet Common Core standards. Soon, we will face the logistical, political, and legal consequences of denying high school diplomas to students because they failed Common Core and "Common Core-type" graduation examinations, without having an opportunity to be taught Common Core or "Common Core-type" material.

Rightly or wrongly, and long ago, many states passed laws requiring that students pass minimum competency tests in order to graduate. It was not anticipated, however, that unelected corporate reformers would pressure states into turning those high-stakes exams into college readiness tests. Award-winning principal Carol Burris explains that if last year's Common Core test had been in effect, the state's graduation rate would have dropped from 74 percent to 34 percent. Only 20 percent of low-income students and 5 percent of disabled students passed.

This means that the clock is rapidly running out on states that face no good options. Lawmakers can open themselves to charges that they "dummied down" standards by rewriting their laws. They can create a system of dual high school diplomas -- a prestigious college readiness degree and one for second-class graduates. Or they can drive an unconscionable number of students out of school.

Hopefully, the courts will not look kindly on the extension of hurried and ill-conceived testing regimes onto students. But, the crisis is coming rapidly. I have already had to console students who dropped out of school because they could not pass the first "Common Core-type" tests over material they weren't taught, and the numbers will increase this spring. Next year comes the deluge.

In theory, there is another option. States could raise taxes and invest the additional billions of dollars that would be required to transform schools so that all children could learn for mastery. But, even if such a political miracle occurred, and if every penny was spent masterfully, it would still take years before schools could be transformed to the point where Common Core testing wouldn't threaten a disaster in high-poverty schools.

Even as many reformers remain oblivious to what it would really take to properly implement Common Core, and why a moratorium on high-stakes Common Core testing of students is essential, there is a growing awareness that adults are fighting back. Parents who see their third graders vomit in dread of rigorous new tests are pushing back. Teachers, who once saw the potential of Common Core standards, are now realizing that they can't just use the lessons that they see as beneficial. They have to accept an entire regime of bubble-in accountability on steroids.

Morgan Polikoff is one of several reformers who has broken ranks with the no child and no teacher left untested mentality of corporate reform. Polikoff enthusiastically supports standards based reform and the "modest accountability" that once accompanied it. He mourns "the abject failure of standards implementation under No Child Left Behind."

Polikoff also argues that "the major unforced error" of the Obama administration's was pushing Common Core standards and value-added teacher evaluations contemporaneously. This has created "the increasingly real possibility that teacher evaluation will destroy the Common Core in some places."

Polikoff supports some use of student test scores for "some evaluative purposes." He does not support value-added as it is used in most of the teacher evaluation systems being currently implemented. So, he seeks to delay these "questionable teacher evaluation policies for a couple years." That way, they "won't cause massive disruption (indeed, it'll give folks the opportunity to reevaluate and improve these systems)."

Polikoff argues that "policymakers shouldn't be afraid of the high-stakes moratorium for teacher accountability purposes. In fact, I think they should embrace it." He sees what should be obvious to all reformers, "keeping the evaluations and risking the Common Core ... would certainly disrupt the great efforts educators have been making to rise to meet the new standards."

Like AFT President Randi Weingarten, I supported Common Core standards as a corrective for the bubble-in malpractice of test-driven reform. I have seen firsthand the achievement that comes in high-poverty classrooms when poor children of color are provided challenging instruction for mastery. I also worry about how many huge policy failures can be endured by our public education system. But, without a moratorium on high-stakes testing, Common Core is dead.

I sometimes hope that advocates for college readiness standards will recognize the mess they created and make common sense adjustments. Other times, I believe that it would be best for them to continue down their doomed path and hope that the debacle will bring down the entire data-driven movement. Sadly, if reformers will not agree to even a delay in imposing high-stakes Common Core testing, we have to defeat it before we can move on to realistic solutions.