The Common Core: Assimilation is Not an Option

Speaking with independent schools and others that have a choice about whether to adopt the Common Core, I thought I would point out the obvious.  If your school functions in a largely traditional format, then you will be using the Common Core, whether you like it or recognize it. Why?

Consider that the for-profit education industry loves the Common Core. If more schools adopt a common set of standards, then that makes it easier to produce educational resources they can sell to a larger audience. More customized products costs more money. If they can mass produce the same product and it meets the requests or needs of a larger group of schools, then that means more potential profit for these companies.  Visit conferences like the Education Innovation Summit, and you will see and hear this in action. Look at the way education products are being advertised. “Aligned with the Common Core!” is highlighted in the same way that “50% Discount!” shows up on your favorite department store ads.

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 8.27.34 AMThis is why traditional independent schools do not have much of a choice in the matter. If they plan to use textbooks and resources from any of the major K-12 education publishers, they are going to get content and resources aligned to the Common Core. If they want to make use of new and emerging educational apps and software, that too will be aligned to the Common Core. If they want to tap into the exciting products that promise adaptive and personalized math instruction, yes, they will be aligned to the Common Core. Few businesses, especially the innovative startups, will choose to ignore the Common Core, as that means ignoring the requests of the largest number of potential customers.

Of course, a textbook, software, and educational apps are not the curriculum; but if we use those resources, they will influence what students learn.  They will guide people toward learning targets that align with the Common Core. Unless a teacher intentionally created lessons and plans to use the resources in a way that avoided the Common Core, it would influence the learning experiences.

What about professional development? Go to education conferences, look at online webinars and free online resources about math and language arts. You see more about the Common Core. Soon it will be assumed, except when a contrarian person or group boasts of professional development that is in contrast to the Common Core (as an example, try a Google search for things like “the uncommon core”, “common core alternatives”, or “the Common Core is evil”). As always, niche businesses often appear that focus on the outlier schools. Nonetheless, most conferences, webinars and college courses on math and language arts instruction will assume the Common Core as we move forward. Yes, if your school is hiring teachers from licensed education programs, expect that they will be teaching with a Common Core mindset.

I hate to be a fatalist about it, but unless your school intentionally opts for a different direction, specifically identifying the resources and professional development focused upon fostering that alternative, your school will soon, by default, become a Common Core school. Teacher education programs, educational apps, education software, free online education resources, webinars and conferences, and textbooks are all going in the direction of the Common Core. For some this is welcome. For others, not so much.

You may notice that I used a picture of a borg as the image attached to this article. However, the quote associated with the image does not seem to fit. In fact, the borg were known for a very different statement, “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” That is one way to read the message in this article, but my point is quite different from that.

As far as I am concerned, for schools interested in maintaining a distinct mission, thoughtless assimilation is not an option. Especially based upon my recent posts about school design, my advice for independent schools and others with a choice about Common Core is to take this opportunity to reconsider your school-shaping concept, mission, vision, values and goals. Use those to determine what will drive your curricular and hiring decisions. If, after such a careful review, the Common Core supports your school mission and vision, embrace it. If not, boldly embrace an alternative, creating a place for resources and professional development to support that alternative. However, you really don’t have the choice of ignoring the Common Core, continuing to participate in the existing and emerging education ecosystem and then pretending that your school is not a Common Core school.

By the way, I’ve written other takes on the common core as well. If you are interested, you might want to check out:

Which Rules in Your School? The Common Core or the Unique Potential of Each Child?

Put Away the Strawman