Sketching Out a Common Core Endgame

The backlash against the Common Core continues to advance, the latest evidence being the New York Times‘ decision to publish a relatively silly anti-CCSS piece in the Sunday opinion pages. Though it’s easy to dismiss the backlash as a bunch of loonies who believe the Common Core is literally a federal project, what’s driving the opposition is the relatively saner perception that Common Core is figuratively a federal project. Some people want a smaller federal role and more state flexibility relative to the status quo. That’s what the ruckus is about, and attempting to teach people the facts won’t stop it.

The bad news for Common Core opponents is that their political position probably isn’t strong enough to get what they want. That’s because reform-minded Common Core supporters will ultimately be willing to give up on tying the new tests to high-stakes teacher evaluations in order to save the Standards. If it looks like Common Core is truly at risk of falling apart its powerful backers will give Randi Weingarten all the moratoriums in the world in order to regain labor’s forceful backing. The restored center-right/center/labor coalition will then be too much to overcome.

It’s possible that the pockets of opposition are deeper than they appear, and that Common Core isn’t merely being used as a filter through which every person who’s unhappy with the education system can air their grievances. (The New York Times Op-Ed, which was penned by two professors whose previous major work was a critique of the higher education system, is merely the latest example of this.) It’s also possible that there’s no moratorium deal to be made.

But ultimately when you look at the ordered preferences of various stakeholders and play out the game theoretical situations, it seems clear that Common Core will live on, and that the most obvious endgame is a swap of high-stakes moratoriums for full-fledged union support. Thus the question isn’t whether Common Core will be killed, but whether it comes close enough to being killed that the unions get their moratorium.


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