Is Common Core Support Waxing or Waning? (Depends on Whom You Ask)
Last month’s election spells trouble for the Common Core State Standards, a set of expectations for what students should know in English and math by the end of each grade. With the standards increasingly being assailed as an unwanted federal intrusion into public education by conservatives, the Republican sweep of state legislatures – the party is now in control of over two-thirds of state lawmaking bodies – will likely lead to a new round of scrutiny of the standards and the tests tied to them.
At an EWA seminar for reporters earlier this week at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. — moderated by Education Week’s state education policy reporter Andrew Ujifusa – the Common Core’s future momentum was the subject of a lively debate.
“To be clear there will be bills in some states,” said Michael Brickman, national policy director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and member of the ever-shrinking chorus of conservative Common Core supporters. “But once you get passed the politics, once you get passed the history of the Common Core, there is near universal support for high college and career ready standards.”
Thus far, anti-Common Core politicians have chosen from a few paths in their efforts to undermine the influence of the standards: some states have formally dropped the standards but replaced them with standards that are not a great departure from the Common Core, others have put the standards under review or convened committees to write new standards, and some have kept the standards but dropped the tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced – the two federally funded state-led groups that created Common Core tests.
While the standards originally enjoyed broad bipartisan support from education reform communities on both sides of the aisle, elected officials across the country are lining up to demand changes ahead of legislative sessions starting in January.
In many states, party leaders are placing vocal Common Core opponents in key positions.
In West Virginia, for example, the incoming vice chairwoman of the state senate education committee, Republican Donna Boley, has promised to push a bill that would delay testing students on the new standards. Last session, when Democrats controlled the chamber, she unsuccessfully attempted to put the standards under review.
To the southeast, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Tennessee, a Republican, isn’t mincing words; he told local media, “Common Core is going to be replaced. It’s just a matter of what we replace it with.”
After years of support, the state’s Republican governor has been backing away from Common Core in recent months, calling for a review of the standards.
Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress and a Common Core supporter, doesn’t think that many states will move too far from away from the standards, however.
“There is nothing wrong with a review process, standards should be reviewed,” Martin told the EWA audience. “Except Oklahoma [which repealed the standards last summer], at the end of the day when conservatives have asked themselves what is the best thing for our students, they have kept the standards or something very close to them.”
While three states have repealed the standards, only Oklahoma has adopted standards that are substantially different from the Common Core, says Martin.
After dropping Common Core, Oklahoma lost its waiver from federal requirements that all students be proficient in math and English by 2014 – putting some federal funding in jeopardy. The U.S. Department of Education has since granted the state a new waiver, after the state’s higher education system deemed the state’s decade-old standards, which are currently in place, sufficient. The state’s education department is currently in the process of writing yet another set of standards to take effect in 2016. Oklahoma’s waiver may embolden more states to move away from the Common Core.
“All states need is to get their higher ed system to say yes these kids will be ready,” said Brickman, who spoke on a panel with Martin at the conference. “There is no Common Core policeman.”
The opposition isn’t just limited to Republicans in red states.
“There is not only conservative pushback but liberal pushback as well,” said Carol Burris, principal at South Side High School in Rockville Center, New York and a frequent Common Core critic, at the same event. “Look what happened in the New York [Democratic] primary with Zephyr Teachout. The group she most courted was teachers, she made a big deal about teacher evaluations and Common Core, and she got 35 percent of the vote.”
Toward the end of his reelection campaign this fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, called for a moratorium on using scores from Common Core tests in decisions about whether to promote students to the next grade after opponents attempted to link him to the controversial standards.
Burris is hopeful that elections will force politicians to review problems with the standards.
“I think it will be an issue in close races,” said Burris. “And I think over time there will be revisions especially around making sure the standards are developmentally appropriate for the younger grades and around calculus readiness in the higher grades.”
Even before the onslaught of anti-Common Core rhetoric in the recent election cycle, the original promise of the standards’ commonness had already been compromised says Michael McShane, an education policy researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, speaking at the EWA seminar.
“Forty-three states and D.C. nominally say they are part of the Common Core, but only 27 are using [PARCC or Smarter Balanced] tests. That’s a big change from a couple of years ago,” said McShane. “If a state is using its own tests, setting its own [pass] scores, and using its own materials, to my view that is not common.”
A version of this post also appeared at The Hechinger Report.