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Five Questions For … CEP’s Diane Rentner, on State Education Officials’ Support for Common Core

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The Center on Education Progress, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., surveyed education officials in states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards and found the majority said it was unlikely their state would reverse, limit or change the decision to participate in the nationwide initiative. EWA spoke with Diane Rentner, CEP’s deputy director and the report’s author, about the results, and how the public controversy over common core might be out of step with state-level realities.

1. The survey shows that common core remains strong among education officials in a majority of the states that have signed on to the national initiative. Is there a disconnect between the politicians who are currently opposing it and the on-the-ground education officials actually tasked with implementing it?

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a very telling table. Overwhelmingly, it was state boards of education that adopted the common core. Only one or two states actually had a legislative debate on it. State boards and state education departments are committed; they’re pretty solid. But on the political side of it, the right and the left, folks are just waking up to what all of this means and that they weren’t exactly consulted on these decisions.

2. But even when it was a state board of education making the decision, it was a public process. There were open meetings, opportunities for input. Were lawmakers not paying attention or distracted by other issues that seemed more critical at the time?

There are a few things at work. To some extent they might not have been paying attention. A lot of the pushback is coming from lawmakers who haven’t served on education committees. I also don’t know how much of these movements (to abandon the Common Core) are organic from within states and how much of them are being fostered by external groups. We did our survey in February through May—a time when all of the controversy was swirling—and  the support among state education officials remained strong.

3. From a practical standpoint, could states just abandon the common core ship midstream?

We’d just go back to individual states having varying levels of standards. We could conceivably see 25 to 30 states stick with common core and the others implementing their own visions. But the people running it at the state level feel strongly committed to it; they don’t think they can turn around now. They’ve started professional development, invested in curriculum. The next CEP report is expected to show they think these standards are more rigorous and will result in better student outcomes, which is similar to the findings in our prior survey.

4. Is there a misconception about common core you’re seeing in the public debate that you’d like to see corrected?

The Republican National Committee’s stance is that it’s anti-localism. I find that unusual because there were state standards in place before. Just like with that situation, with the common core it’s up to the school and the school district to interpret how to carry out those standards. There’s no national curriculum and no federal tests for common core. There are still a lot of local decisions on how to teach these goals and what they embody. It’s not top-down as some people are alleging.

5. At EWA’s National Seminar at Stanford in May, Arne Duncan said he had to explain to the governor of a common core state that the new standards didn’t mean mandated curriculum and that the federal government wasn’t telling teachers how to teach. Does that surprise you?

It’s a little surprising, especially since the National Governors Association helped craft the Common Core State Standards. It’s a good example of how tough things are right from a public perception standpoint for common core. If the people who have these misconceptions aren’t willing to listen, they’re not going to hear the correct information.


This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.

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