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Opinion: Christie’s Common Core Flip-Flop Leaves Teachers, Students in Lurch

After several years of intensive preparation for standards, governor adds injury to insult for school districts across the state

mark weber (use)
Mark Weber

Let me get this straight.

For the past several years, we New Jersey public school teachers have been told over and over how important it is for us to adopt the Common Core State Standards.

Former education commissioner Chris Cerf insisted that New Jersey needed to transition to the CCSS because they “… focus on critical thinking skills and challenge students to reason and apply their knowledge to the real world.”

Current commissioner David Hespe told us the CCSS “are good for kids.”

The state Board of Education said “…the Common Core represents exactly what we should be looking for.”

Back in 2013, the state Department of Education, with much fanfare, set up a website to allow educators to share resources aligned with the CCSS.

Districts rewrote their curricula to align with the CCSS, and spent significantly on training and materials to comply with the new standards.

But now…

Now Gov. Chris Christie has had a change of heart. In a fit of shameless political expediency, Christie has decided that New Jersey ought to abandon the CCSS and instead embrace standards that “… come directly from our own communities.”

These would be the same communities that spent the past four years working to implement CCSS, only to have their efforts brushed aside casually by Christie. The same communities whose schools had to buy new Common Core-aligned textbooks and digital materials, and had to train staff on how to use them.

The same communities who’ve watched this governor ignore the state’s own funding laws while implementing the enormous unfunded mandate that was the Common Core.

Christie’s blatant flip-flop on CCSS doesn’t come as a surprise to us teachers. Spend a few years in the profession and you’ll live through plenty of “reforms” that come and go faster than your growing students.

Politicians love to mess around with education policy, pushing their own agendas on schools without the slightest care as to whether their laws are practical or helpful.

When the latest think-tank report comes out bemoaning the “failure” of American education, too many pols on both sides of the aisle will quickly embrace the newest flavor-of-the-month school policy, never stopping to ask anyone who actually works in a school whether their latest law or regulation will improve things, let alone make them worse.

So we now have a bizarre patchwork of education policies that are incoherent and untenable. How, for example, can Christie think it’s a good idea for students to continue to take the PARCC exams when they are aligned with the CCSS? How does it make any sense to continue to use the PARCC test scores in teacher evaluations when he wants to abandon the standards to which they are tied?

And how can any student meet any standard when too many of New Jersey’s districts remain underfunded and intensely segregated?

These questions could have been avoided -- if only Christie had decided to work with teachers, rather than wage war on us. Had he spent less time equating us with drug dealers, and more time talking to us, he would have long ago heard the legitimate concerns many educators have about CCSS.

But education policy has always been a political tool for this governor. Four years of work and uncounted dollars later, his abandonment of the CCSS is yet another cynical ploy designed not to improve schools, but to improve his chances of obtaining national office.

I’m all for a serious debate about the Common Core. But let’s not pretend for one second that Christie is engaged in one. His naked ambition and cynical disregard for the consequences of his turnaround make it painfully clear that he has little to add to this state’s discussions of education policy.

Mark Weber is a public school music teacher in Warren Township; a doctoral student at Rutgers University in Education Theory, Organization, and Policy; an NJEA member; and a New Jersey public school parent. He blogs at Jersey Jazzman His opinions are his own and are not necessarily those of his employers, Rutgers, the NJEA, or NJ Spotlight.

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