As my Common Core blog series comes to a close, I’d like to go back to the beginning.
Anybody who studies public policy would be well served to read Jeffrey Pressman and Aaron Wildvasky’s 1973 classic of political science Implementation. The subtitle tells you all you need to know:
How great expectations in Washington are dashed in Oakland; or, why it’s amazing that federal programs work at all, this being the saga of the Economic Development Administration as told by two sympathetic observers who seek to build morals on a foundation of ruined hopes
In that book, the authors meticulously detail a public works project designed to renovate the port of Oakland, California, and all of the hurdles that eventually prevented it from delivering on the product (and the jobs) that it promised.
The takeaway from their book is pretty straightforward: It is really difficult to coordinate projects that involve various levels of government and competing interests.
That isn’t to say that these projects are inherently “good” or “bad” ideas, just that they are tough to pull off, and people should understand and accept that.
One quotation, taken from their conclusion, rings particularly true, especially when I hear talk of much-vaunted projects (like the Common Core):
Particular facts may vary but the general story is the same: a sensational announcement from Washington on page 1, temporary local jubilation, permanent difficulties, and perhaps years later, a small blurb on the back page signaling the end (pg. 135)
I hope that doesn’t become the case with the Common Core. While I’m no great Common Core apologist, if we’re going to do it, we should do it as best we can.
How can folks prevent this disappointment from happening? Well, when programs fail, folks sit around and say “gee, why didn’t we think of that?” “Why didn’t we think about x, y, or z implementation issue?” “If we had only realized that ahead of time…” If you want the Common Core to succeed, you should try and anticipate these issues and do something to blunt them.
The bright side to all of this is that it is not at all too late for the Common Core. While things like NCLB waivers have set some aspects of accountability and teacher quality in stone (at least for the next several years), there is still much work to be done regarding technology and infrastructure, governance, professional development, and instructional materials. There are serious political problems plaguing the effort, but some of those wounds can be healed. In order to solve the problems, we need to name them, wrestle with them, and be honest about the very real tradeoffs that need to be made in order to try to solve them. The Common Core can compliment current efforts to improve schools.
Will it? Who knows.
The purpose of this series was simply to point out some of the spots of friction, the kinks in the garden hose, that run the risk of stifling the endeavor. Politics, governance, accountability policy, teacher preparation, and professional development, technology — all of these need to work together with the Common Core if it is going to be successful.
Here’s to hoping they will.