by Sen. Doug Whitsett
By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the controversial national education initiative known as Common Core.
The stated goal of Common Core is to unify the standards used by school districts throughout the country and better prepare students for post-secondary education and the workplace.
However, the American public, politicians and educators are fractured in their feelings about Common Core. Many proponents believe that it will help reverse the course of our failing K-12 system, create more accountability and improve education outcomes.
Opponents are convinced that it’s another top-down, federally-driven attempt to purchase the control of what we teach our kids. Parents are increasingly concerned about the potential for dangerous propaganda, indoctrination, and crony capitalism, and education professionals are starting to speak up about their particular objections.
This newsletter is intended to provide an objective look at the various perspectives on Common Core, as well as its history and the ways that other states have responded to it.
History and Background
Much valuable information about Common Core can be found in “Building the Machine: The Common Core Documentary.”
While Common Core was officially adopted in 2010, its roots go back to at least 1996.
Achieve, Incorporated was founded that year by governors and corporate leaders as part of the American Diploma Project, and was funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Cooperating entities included the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Governor’s Association, the Fordham Institute and the Hunt Institute. Opponents of Common Core characterize those groups’ involvement as being largely for the purpose of providing political cover for the initiative.
In July 2009, President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arnie Duncan announced the Race to the Top competitive grant program. Under it, states were awarded extra points in their applications if they agreed to adopt Common Core standards by August 2010.
States were given two months to write grants to become eligible for that funding, which was part of federal stimulus dollars awarded in the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse.
The U.S. Department of Education confirms on its website that Race to the Top was included as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Consequentially, it is reasonable to conclude that many of the 41 states who agreed to adopt Common Core standards likely did so under duress.
The Common Core State Standards Initiatives (CCSSI) website contains much information intended to counter public concerns about the initiatives.
A specific section of the website addresses what CCSSI refers to as “myths” about Common Core.
CCSSI disputes the contention that the state standards will be catering to the lowest common denominator, stating instead that “since this work began, there has been an explicit agreement that no state would lower its standards.” Those standards, CCSSI states, “will result in moving even the best state standards to the next level.”
CCSSI states that the standards for English and Language Arts include “critical content,” including America’s founding documents, foundational American literature and Shakespeare.
“Appropriately, the remaining crucial decisions about what content should be taught are made at the state and local levels,” CCSSI states.
Standards for math are described by CCSSI as having a “greater focus on fewer topics.”
“These standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards,” CCSSI states. “The Common Core is a state-led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. The federal government played no role in the development of the Common Core. State adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory. States began the work to create clear, consistent standards before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided funding for the Race to the Top grant program.”
CCSSI emphasizes that Common Core is not a curriculum and that standards will not be governed at the federal level. It also denies that data collection is part of the program.
“There are no data collection requirements for states adopting the standards,” CCSSI states. “Implementing the Common Core State Standards does not require data collection.”
Despite CCSSI’s support for Common Core, it acknowledges that the initiative will create costs for local school districts.
“Costs for implementing the standards will vary from state to state and territory,” CCSSI states. “While states already spend significant amounts of money on professional development, curriculum materials and assessments, there will be some additional costs associated with the Common Core, such as training teachers to teach the standards, developing and purchasing new materials and other aspects of implementation.”
Concerns about Undue Influence
Many articles about Common Core, including this one, have expressed concerns about Bill Gates’ influence and motives. They mostly pertain to the technology that will have to be utilized in order to implement the required testing. For example, PCs would work for the testing but Macs will not.
Information on Microsoft’s website would seem to support those concerns.
“For Smarter Balanced, a 1GHz processor is recommended for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux; a Chrome OS for Chromebook; iOS6 for iPads; and Android 4.0 for Smarter Balanced–certified Android-based tablets. PARCC will accept any processor for Windows, Chromebooks, and iPads, or an Intel-based processor for Windows tablets and Macs (Power Macs are not supported). It has yet to announce a recommendation for Linux products (look for an announcement in the summer of 2014).”
“In a report issued by Smarter Balanced in 2012, it found that 56.1 percent of K–12 schools reporting were still running on aging Windows XP, which had an end of service (EOS) date of April 8, 2014. In the face of this looming cutoff of support, it’s recommended by IT professionals to migrate to the new Windows as soon as possible.”
Individual States Push Back in Response
The website www.truthinamericaneducation.com is a good clearinghouse for articles about the ways in which specific states are responding to the pushback they are getting about Common Core from parents, teachers and other concerned groups.
Out of all 50 states, several have already taken action against Common Core’s implementation. Texas has opted out of it, and the state governments of Oklahoma, Indiana and South Carolina have adopted legislation to repeal it. Virginia, Nebraska and Alaska have not adopted the standards, and Minnesota has adopted the English standards but not those for mathematics.
Implementation of Common Core was paused by law for one year in May 2013 in Indiana and was put under public review. The state formally withdrew in March 2014 but retained many of the standards.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order to withdraw the state from the assessment program in June. Massachusetts delayed testing for two years in November 2013. The Missouri Legislature voted to delay testing for two years this summer, but work groups have been created to develop new standards and could ultimately result in Common Core’s re-adoption.
The full implementation of assessments has been delayed in New York until 2022. In North Carolina, the state House voted on June 4 to dismantle the standards.
Pennsylvania legislators voted in May 2013 to pause Common Core implementation.
On July 15, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed House Bill 1490, which will keep the standards in place while educators and parents give recommendations for improvement.
Oregon Perspectives—The OEA Reacts
An informational hearing regarding Common Core was held in the Oregon House Education Committee during the most recent interim committee meetings.
During the May 28 hearing, representatives from the Oregon Education Association provided a PowerPoint presentation to legislators.
The presentation included the results of a survey that OEA did among its members, which found that 40 percent do not support Common Core, 11 percent do and 49 percent support it “with reservations.” Respondents replied that it has “too much emphasis on standardized testing,” and are concerned that it was rushed and will take more time and money to properly do assessments.
“States and the federal government rushed into Common Core implementation without field testing in classrooms or time to review,” the OEA PowerPoint stated. “Common Core siphons more of our time and money for assessments that schools could use for other things.”
Half of the survey’s respondents gave their schools and districts failing grades on implementation, and indicated that as teachers, they were not able to give input. Very few responded that their concerns are being heard.
Another concern of survey respondents was that testing programs should originate or be approved by educators instead of from the “for-profit testing industry.”
OEA’s representatives indicated to committee members that they want a moratorium of the Smarter Balanced assessment, but a continuation of field tests for the 2014-15 school year.
Oregon Perspectives—Potential Impacts on Homeschoolers
The National Home Educational Research Institute is based in Salem. Its president, Brian Ray, has testified in past legislative committee hearings on issues affecting homeschool parents and students.
In a July telephone interview, Ray described Common Core as the “antithesis” of local control and as a “waste of time.”
“You can’t properly and effectively control education through a national program,” he said.
Ray said that education experts are in “disarray” over Common Core and that there is no consensus about it among those groups.
Common Core is already starting to have an impact on the curriculum used by homeschool families, he said. Its long-term effects will become more obvious in the next few years if it starts to influence the contents of college entrance examinations.
Ray said that there is a wide variety of approaches taken by homeschoolers. Some have no set curriculum and “let the children lead,” some choose their own books and curriculum and others use a combination of their own materials and those provided by suppliers.
But Ray’s main objection is essentially that if the homeschool system isn’t broken, there is no sense in trying to fix it. He said that there is “no empirical evidence” that Common Core will do well for children, whether government schooled or homeschooled.
“If homeschoolers score above average on tests, and they do, without Common Core and with more flexibility than public school students, why would you want Common Core standards?” he asked.
As you can see, Common Core is a complicated issue that affects many different aspects of the American education system. There is a variety of opinions on it, and its future is uncertain at this point.
My job in the Legislature is to represent you. So I want to know, what do you think of Common Core? What steps should Oregon take with regards to the initiative? What are your particular concerns? Please let me know. I fully expect this issue to continue coming up, and it’s important that my constituents’ voices be heard on this matter.
Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls