Stockholm Syndrome – The Only Reason Any Teachers Still Support Common Core

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Common Core is dying a well-deserved death.

The very idea that we need the same academic standards in public schools from coast-to-coast is unpopular, expensive, ineffective and politically suicidal.

The Wall Street Journal reports at least $7 billion taxpayer dollars have been wasted implementing this plan, and it would cost significantly more to finish the job.

“Five years into the biggest transformation of U.S. public education in recent history, Common Core is far from common. Though 45 states initially adopted the shared academic standards in English and math, seven have since repealed or amended them. Among the remaining 38, big disparities remain in what and how students are taught, the materials and technology they use, the preparation of teachers and the tests they are given. A dozen more states are considering revising or abandoning Common Core.”

Meanwhile public support drops precipitously with each passing year. Less than half of all Americans – 49% – and only 40% of teachers now favor the policy. That’s a drop of 16% among the general population since 2013. But even more surprising is the plummeting backing from teachers. Advocacy has dropped 36 points from two years ago when three quarters of educators approved of the change. This is especially damning because of all social groups, teachers know the Core the best.

In political circles lawmakers who used to champion these standards now take pains to distance themselves from them. Politicians as diverse as Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton now claim they either never supported the policy in the first place or that it’s a good idea that has been badly implemented. Support among Republicans – who initially favored the plan much more than Democrats – has practically vanished.

The writing is on the wall. Common Core is sinking fast.

Yet there remains a minority of real live educators who will cheerfully direct you away from the lifeboats even as the ship of our public schools lists dangerously to port. Despite everything going on around them, they cling to this disastrous policy blunder despite the harshest criticisms.

It’s strange.

By and large, Common Core wasn’t created by teachers. It was forced on us by policymakers, functionaries and corporations. It usurps our autonomy. It overrides our judgment. And it ties us to practices that almost all of us think are detrimental to our students. But some of us still think it’s the bees knees.

The only explanation I can come up with is Stockholm syndrome. The phenomena, also called capture-bonding, occurs when hostages empathize with their captors. Kidnapping victims sometimes feel sorry for the very people who abducted them. Something similar seems to be happening with the few hardcore supporters of Common Core that are left.

For instance, regardless of the public relations efforts being spewed by corporate America, Common Core was not created by teachers. It’s shocking that this fact is still disputed. It is easily verifiable.

Here it is from the National Governors Associationthese 24 people wrote the first draft of the standards. And these 101 people revised them. None of these people were currently employed as a K-12 classroom teacher. Moreover, very few of them even had K-12 classroom experience at some distant point in their careers. Even less had experience at the middle school or elementary level. Less than that had experience in special education or with English Language Learners.

Therefore saying Common Core was created by teachers is incredibly disingenuous. It’s like taking a single speck from a beef bullion cube and calling it a filet mignon. Something resembling a cow may have been present at one point, but add water and you couldn’t exactly call the flavor beefy.

The overwhelming majority of Common Core authors are identified as working for the testing industry – specifically the College Board and ACT. The second largest group worked for Achieve, a Washington think tank. Others worked exclusively at the college or university level.

Yet there remain a small cadre of real life K-12 teachers who still champion this product. Think about what that means.

They prefer a prepackaged set of academic standards to what they would come up with on their own or with their colleagues. They prefer to give up their own professional judgment based on years of experience, degree certifications and professional development in favor of something handed down to them from the testing corporations and policy wonks. They would rather be told what to do by people with far less experience than to make their own decisions about how to do their own jobs.

Even if everything in the Core was hunky dory, I’d have a problem with that. Call it self-respect. Call it professional pride. I did not get into this field to become anyone’s worker drone. Being a teacher is not on par with being a greeter at Walmart. We need to make complex decisions about how best to educate children every moment of every day. That’s not a mcjob.

This doesn’t mean all the standards contained in the Core are garbage. There are certainly some things in there that promote learning. However, as educators have become more familiar with the contents, glaring mistakes have become apparent – standards that are age inappropriate, too specific, not specific enough, unduly restrictive, and just plain weird. If only there were some objective means of telling the wheat from the chaff.

But there is.

We could have tested the standards to see if they actually aided in comprehension. We could have field tested the product – tried it out in a small scale and then assessed its effectiveness. You would expect any new commodity to go through rigorous research and development. Only a fool would just throw new merchandise out there without any idea if it would work.

Welcome to Fool Nation – population you. That’s where your tax dollars went. Your government spent billions on something completely untried and unproven. And guess what!? It didn’t work.

I have a major problem with that. As a teacher, I am appalled that I am being forced to institute something so careless into my classroom. If the legislature suddenly thought all children should be forced to pour lemon juice on their heads before reading a book, I’d jolly well need a good reason to do it before I started squeezing citrus on top of my classes. But that’s kind of what they did, and they even charged the taxpayers for all the lemons!

However, the strangest part of this whole concern is standardized testing. Here at least we have agreement. Almost everyone says its out of control. We give too many tests. But many teachers go even further questioning these tests effectiveness at all.

High stakes assessments do not promote learning. They narrow the curriculum and punish the neediest students for – in fact – being needy. It’s a proven fact: rich children generally score well and poor children score badly. These are terrible measurements of children’s academic success.

And most folks left on the dwindling bench of Common Core cheerleaders agree! They don’t like testing either! Yet so many times I’ve heard these people say, “I hate the testing but I love the Common Core!”

What!? They’re intimately connected.

Common Core was designed to be assessed by standardized tests. In fact, the standards attempt to make what is taught more representative of what is tested. For instance, most passages on Reading assessments are nonfiction. Therefore, Common Core says most of the reading done in school should be nonfiction. The tests emphasize cold reads. Therefore, the Core says teachers should make their students do more cold reads.

And yet Core advocates only find fault with the tests!? How can you say ‘I don’t like the tests but I like teaching to the tests I don’t like’?

It’s absurd.

And speaking of cognitive dissonance, why are we designing our curriculum backwards from the tests in the first place? Shouldn’t we be designing the tests based on the curriculum? Shouldn’t our assessments be made to prove that students are prepared for real life and not simply that they’re prepared to take the tests?

Bizarrely, all this remains a mystery to the few Common Core standard-bearers left in our classrooms. They want their Common Core. Yes, it was forced on them by bureaucrats. Yes, it’s never been proven to work. Yes, it’s intimately connected to the same standardized testing they hate. But they just can’t get enough of that Core.

Still, don’t be too hard on them. Everyday more of these folks are waking up. Every day more of them discover they are living in The Matrix. Reality is not as it seemed.

Perhaps it will just take more time. Or a strict regime of psychoanalysis, mediation and special pharmaceuticals.

But one day the Common Core will breath its last, and we’ll need everyone to help undo the damage.

NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.


33 thoughts on “Stockholm Syndrome – The Only Reason Any Teachers Still Support Common Core

  1. I’m not surprised.

    After all, the United States still has a Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan

    According to, 42% of Americans believe God created the Earth 10,000 years ago

    Discover Magazine reports that 1 in 4 Americans believe the sun revolves around the Earth

    Some people still think the earth is flat

    And the 10 dumbest states in America are dominated by Republicans and it is strongly arguable the GOP rules through fear by keeping as many people ignorant as possible

    Hence, the reason for the corporate demolition derby to destroy the public schools and even liberal arts as a major in universities.


  2. There probably are elements of Stockholm syndrome at play here, but I don’t think that’s the significant problem. In the two decades leading up to NCLB, cognitive research had made a convincing case for a constructivist approach to teaching. Great pedagogy was being developed. Unfortunately, these advancements were stopped by the test and punish era ushered in by Bill Clinton and George Bush. For example, here in California, excellent programs like College Preparatory Math from UC Davis were no longer acceptable because they did not focus enough on preparation for the state exams. The cunning people who wrote the Common Core Standards plagiarized many of these ideas and wrote them into the standards.

    Now I hear this kind of teaching that teachers developed referred to as Common Core math or Common Core English. However, many high school teachers are thrilled to be let loose from the binds of NCLB and allowed to use constructivist approaches. Of course, not only did the testing companies who wrote the Common Core plagiarize good ideas, they also got a lot of it wrong. Even professional educators would need to pilot their program to discover the flaws. Without piloting, testing company executives had no prayer of writing standards that were appropriately aligned and consistent. And they did not. The Common Core is not just a poor product; it is harming children.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Teachers, and particularly those with more than ten years of experience, should be the ones designing the curriculum in all subject areas; testing does NOT HAVE TO COST MONEY, nor does it have to be conducted with outside oversight to be sound. This lucrative “test empire” in place today is no more necessary than other for-profit schemes, such as Super PACs. Teachers (especially in my state of WI) have been asked to jump through flaming hoops in order to satisfy a Governor, who himself lacks a college degree. Diminishing pay, stagnant funding for operations, steeply rising healthcare premiums—-these very real factors only add injury to teachers, who have long put up with false, divisive politics that blame teachers for a mismanaged state’s economic woes. Frankly, teachers deserve to be left alone to do their job; using the conceptual hook of psychological illness, “whatever syndrome” doesn’t help matters.


  4. I totally agree with everything about this. The one major value that I see with common core is that children who need to frequently switch schools have a better chance of not getting behind than when teachers are all on their own agenda. Especially given that children in lower socioeconomic households often end up switching schools a lot. Given that they already typically achieve less for a myriad of reasons, eliminating, or at least lowering the extent to which they get behind academically due to having to switch schools, would be greatly beneficial. Nonetheless, not allowing teachers, who clearly know their students and how to teach best to teach these students outweighs this benefit. In her book “Reign of Error,” Diane Ravitch who was the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education 1991-1993, argues that school teachers, principals, and superintendents should all have experience in the classroom and be professional educators. While many of her views are very controversial, I feel that this point is indisputable. There are no better people to make policies, run schools, and teach children than the people who do it everyday. It is shocking to think that people without much experience with education in the first place would try to nationalize such an untested concept as the common core. Again, while Ravitch has many strong and controversial opinions, it is admirable that she can admit that she has made major mistakes and try her best to mend them. If only every politician could do this, maybe we would be able to avoid mistakes like the common core in the future.


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