Over 18 months ago, I projected that the Common Core movement could become a public relations train wreck if school leaders did not get out front to explain the changes that were coming by 2014 in most of the states participating in their state-driven programs. I noted that school leaders needed to get to the public first or our critics would easily fill the void with their own definition of what Common Core really is. They would twist the conversation to point out that it is just another education reform initiative that will waste money and fail. I also noted that commercial privatization advocates will seize the opportunity to promote their brand of reform and expand the charter and voucher movement.
Whether I was right or wrong really doesn’t matter. What matters is that public education is almost falling into the trap of losing the early public opinion war on the merits of the Common Core. Once again, school leaders have worked on the important and critical staff development and assessment process, but did not pave the way for successfully launching the Common Core Standards through strategic and proactive communication. Communication planning and strategies must be embedded in all phases of major initiatives. Historically we have failed by giving a little more than lip service to communication until it may be too late.
For the Common Core, it is not too late.
Tap NSPRA’s Newest Resource
Now is a great time to begin planning and implementing your communication strategies and tactics. Start with NSPRA’s newest resource, The Common Core Communication Network, which you can find at www.nspra.org/commoncore/index. It is a treasure of articles and opinion pieces that discuss what critics are saying, how others are answering the critics, a listing of “myth busters,” plus sample letters, FAQs, and a suggested plan to help you communicate about the Common Core in your system. You’ll also find examples of what some leading systems have already completed to communicate about the Common Core. In addition, NSPRA has started an online discussion group which is open to all who are interested in sharing and learning more about communicating about the Common Core.
Just last week I attended the Learning First Alliance’s (LFA) Council Meeting in D.C., along with NSPRA President-elect Nora Carr, APR; Past President Jim Dunn, APR, who is serving as senior consultant on our Common Core project; and NSPRA Associate Director Karen Kleinz, APR. Panels were held on implementing Common Core. We learned of some new successful communication and engagement programs that school districts in Kentucky, Illinois, and Ohio are practicing. A special tip of our NSPRA hat goes to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) for its innovation grant program offered to the Quincy Public Schools (Illinois); it can serve as a model for many of us. We will post more on their Commit to the Core! program shortly on our network website.
Delaying Testing Will Make the Program Stronger
Another outtake of that LFA meeting (most major education associations belong to the LFA) was the consensus that to implement and measure results of the new common core standards, it would be beneficial to delay testing by another year or so. Many systems — through no fault of their own — have started later than expected and need extra time to thoroughly prepare their instructional efforts and their students for the new high-stakes testing. We must fully explain the rationale for the delay because we do not want to give the impression of shirking the accountability factor to our community and stakeholders.
Do take advantage of the communication resource for the Common Core offered by NSPRA. It will help jump start your Common Core communication effort. The time is now!
Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director