School districts and cities and towns in Massachusetts and across the nation are wrestling with how to make sure that Common Core – the set of standards developed to improve U.S. students’ achievements–can be integrated into the curriculum. Recently, the Boston Globe Magazine had a story about what teachers are doing to get ready for implementation of those standards.  On top of that, cities and towns are trying to ensure the standards don’t become a lightning rod for conservative opponents who have characterized the initiative as “anti-Christian” and an “evil secular plot designed to starve children’s souls.” Many communities have to do all this with little additional resources.  It’s a challenge.

I was privileged to be part of a program organized by Governing Magazine’s publisher Mark Funkhouser, together with the Mass. Business Alliance for Education (MBAE), Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and MassINC, to discuss: “The Common Core and a Whole Lot More: Connecting Education to Economic Development in Your Community.”

Among those in attendance were the mayors of Newton, Fitchburg, and Melrose, as well as a number of state representatives, state senators and school board representatives from Boston and Newton.

My role, along with Shaun Adamec from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, was to help the assembled group deal with the communications challenges that they are or will face.  It was fascinating!

It also struck me there were real parallels between Common Core and the Affordable Care Act in Massachusetts.  In both cases – education and healthcare – Massachusetts wasn’t broken.  In fact, Massachusetts was leading the way for the rest of the nation – with MCAS on the education side and with the Connector and Payment Reform on the healthcare side of the ledger.  Then came the federal government and said – here is a new way of doing things.  You have to conform to our rules and regulations.  In both instances, it stirred up a bit of a backlash from those who saw this as the federal government telling the states what to do.

In both cases, states had the choice – either they could say we will adapt the federal standards in our states or in the case of the ACA, let the federal government take it over altogether.

Watching both from the sidelines, it’s clear that neither is easy – change never is.  But making sure that there is good information delivered to key audiences in a way they can understand is absolutely critical! 

Changing public policy has costs, no question.  But ultimately the decision has to be made whether the changes – on the education side –will improve our children’s achievements and ability to compete in a global economy; and on the healthcare side – will give the most consumers access to affordable, quality care. 

In both cases the jury is still out.