WASHINGTON, August 12, 2013 — Advocates and opponents of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the state-led effort that establishes a single set of clear educational standards, have grown increasingly vocal. Forty-five states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories have already adopted CCSS, which sets standards for grades K through 12 in English, language arts and mathematics.
The genesis of CCSS was three-fold. First was the desire to create a set of common standards that more effectively measured both teaching and learning and would hold both teachers and students accountable for learning outcomes. This would make possible interventions to ensure that teachers were teaching effectively and to ensure that students effectively understood what they were taught.
Second was cost efficiency. Creating a set of curriculum standards that all states could afford and adopt would create a bigger marketplace for all states involved, as opposed to a system of assessment designed by each individual state which might measure different areas differently.
Third was the desire to de-politicize education reform efforts by putting the design and implementation in the hands of parents and educators. This would take these decisions out of the hands of legislators, who might support or oppose measures based on influence from special interest groups in their particular geographic areas. This also would prevent states from creating rubrics that could potentially cover up deficiencies in teaching or learning.
Opponents of CCSS voiced concerns about increased costs, a federal takeover of state education systems, and lowering the bar on current educational standards. Supporters cited the benefits of common benchmarks and higher curriculum standards and long-term savings to the current cost of remedial courses taken by students who enter college unprepared for college-level coursework.
The Common Core State Standards curriculum was developed by the national Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) with input from parents, teachers, education experts and school administrators from across the country. The CCSS website clarifies that adopting the CCSS is an independent choice that individual state boards of education make with no intervention from the U.S. Department of Education:
“States across the country collaborated with teachers, researchers, and leading experts to design and develop the Common Core State Standards. Each state independently made the decision to adopt the Common Core State Standards.”
One critic of CCSS, Emmett McGroarty with the American Principles Project, said ”The Common Core is highly defective. In short, with English Language Arts what you have is a greater emphasis on dry informational text in place of classic literature. In math it ushers in fuzzy math which delays the learning progression, causes the Common Core to jettison important concepts like prime factorization and conversions among fractions, decimals and percents. It delays the learning progression so that by 8th grade, according to Professor James Milgram of Stanford, Common Core students would be about 2 years behind their peers in high performing countries. He says it only gets worst after that.”
Offering a response in defense of CCSS, Patricia Levesque a former deputy Chief of Staff for Education to Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said in a recent radio interview, “what is coming is a set of state adopted, because states individually adopted through their constitutional or legislative or executive branch process, these academic standards and they have been adopted in most states for a couple of years.
“Parents needs to understand how fantastic these standards are going to be for their children, because for the first time we actually started by looking at college and career readiness. In many states across the country, including mine, the old kindergarten math standard was students needed to be able to count from 1-10. And the new math standard is kids need to count from 1 to 100 starting at any number and from 36-0 backwards.
“That puts my child on a better playing field so that when he graduates in the future, he will be able to be competitive with kids with China and Hong Kong and it finally gives us a standard where we will not have … of the students right now in our country who earn a high school diploma, only 25 percent are ready for college course work. Every year families and taxpayers spend $3 billion on remediation.”
U.S. Department of Education spokesperson Elaine Quesinberry says that some confusion has arisen from the Department’s support for state curriculum standards that emphasized college- and career-readiness as part of their respective applications for federal grants, and quoted Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:
”I believe the Common Core State Standards may prove to be the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown versus Board of Education — and the federal government had nothing to do with creating them. The federal government didn’t write them, didn’t approve them, and doesn’t mandate them. And we never will. Anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed or willfully misleading.”
Secretary Duncan further said:
“Now, I will tell you what we did do, and then you can do your job by confirming it and by questioning anyone who says otherwise — because all kinds of people are saying all kinds of things that are simply not true … Race to the Top, awarded points — 40 points out of 500 — to states that were collaborating to create common college- and career-ready standards. It was voluntary — we didn’t mandate it — but we absolutely encouraged this state-led work because it is good for kids and good for the country.”
The debate over which CCSS assessments will be available for the 2014-2015 school year is on-going. Two organizations won the federal Race To The Top assessment competition, and each is offering differing perspectives on single-subject exams versus general knowledge exams.
One of these organizations is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). PARCC is developing an annual exam that is expected to assess how students are tracking for college- and career-readiness and mastery of the CCSS. The exam is expected to cost $29.50 per student. The other is Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which focuses on formative and summative assessments which identify gaps in teaching or learning performance. It will cost $22.50 per student.
Skeptics continue to suggest that these two groups are funded at the behest of the Obama Administration as a circuitous way of nationalizing education and limiting states’ rights, without the federal government having to actually violate state statutes that prevent the it from controlling state boards of education.
Disagreement also continues as to whether the standards will match up to the high standards of Massachusetts and other states with high-performing school systems and whether states can amend the standards once adopted. As it stands now, states that voluntarily adopt the CCSS can add 15 percent to them but cannot reduce any of the standards.
Interestingly, the push-back is not coming from the states that have adopted the standards, but from groups like www.stopcommoncore.com. CCSS proponents like www.highercorestandards.org are responding to their claims. Most states that have adopted the CCSS have already begun implementation, and other states like Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Michigan are now holding hearings to move forward with implementation and decide which assessment exam the states will use.
Some state legislatures have passed bills to withdraw from CCSS, but so far only Texas, Virginia, Nebraska, and Alaska have withdrawn from CCSS. They are considering going with C-Scope. C-Scope is a K-12 educational curriculum designed by the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC). Texas quickly learned that some C-Scope lesson plans contained controversial lessons that depicted the Boston Tea Party as an act of terrorism, advocated a communist form of government, and denigrated Christianity while seemingly promoting Islam, according to the Daily Caller. The last day of the Texas contact with C-Scope is August 31, 2013 and it is still unknown whether or not Texas will rejoin the CCSS.
The one area of this national conversation everyone agrees on is that the U.S. lags behind countries like Finland, South Korea, Canada, and eleven other nations whose students consistently outrank American students year after year, according to the Program for international Student Assessment (PISA). Everyone also agrees that improved student learning outcomes are necessary for the U.S. to remain competitive both domestically and internationally in decades to come.
About the author: Rich Valdes is a weekly columnist for The Washington Times Communities and a former official in New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Administration. Prior to that Rich served as Director of Admissions, Marketing, and Communications at Pillar College, and is a founder and trustee of the BelovED Community Charter School in Jersey City, N.J. Follow Rich Valdes on Twitter: @RichValdes
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