By Teachers, For Teachers
Earlier this year, Indiana did the unthinkable: It abandoned the Common Core State Standards. It had been among the first states to adopt the standards with enthusiasm, but the Indiana State Board of Education voted overwhelmingly to ditch the Common Core State Standards and devise their own replacement standards.
Now, two more states have followed Indiana’s lead. This June, South Carolina’s and Oklahoma’s state boards have also voted to abandon the Common Core State Standards. What’s more is that there are about a dozen additional states contemplating some form of a CCSS repeal.
So what’s going on? Why are these states suddenly repealing the Common Core State Standards? Why did they adopt them in the first place? What happens from here?
At the beginning of 2014, 46 states had adopted the Common Core. Only four states – Texas, Nebraska, Alaska and Virginia – were skeptical enough of the uniform standards to remain abstinent from them. Minnesota had adopted only the reading standards but bypassed the math standards. Originally, so many states adopted the Common Core out of a wave of enthusiasm for leveling the educational playing field, having nationally comparative assessments, and receiving the generous funding incentives offered by the federal government.
The national standards offered an opportunity for an across-the-board, agreed-upon set of college and career readiness standards. Ideally, this would allow for more data-driven educational changes that ultimately could improve student performance in a number of academic areas. The standards also focus on not simply providing content to students, but helping students become more solution-oriented and able to apply concepts to real world situations.
The National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) led the charge in developing the Common Core, and solicited input from administrators, boards and teachers. When you look at it, the Common Core is idealistic and lofty in its objectives, and rightfully so. As national educational trends indicate to many a need for a shift, the Common Core is a potential solution for helping American children achieve at a higher level.
It’s interesting to note that the National Governor’s Association played a large role initializing the Common Core development, yet now many governors find themselves opposed to the standards. In early 2013, Indiana’s governor Michael Pence (whose predecessor had championed the CCSS) signed a “Pause” bill that suspended implementation of the Common Core Standards. Similar bills were proposed though failed in a series of states, including Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Alabama and South Carolina. Intense debates and roaring criticisms filled these chambers, bringing to light the fact that many states only adopted the Common Core Standards with lukewarm enthusiasm. In fact, more than 100 pieces of legislation were proposed across the country designed to stop or slow Common Core implementation.
It’s no secret that the Common Core has had more than its fair share of critics since the beginning. These critics have largely arisen from a peculiar conglomeration of crescendoing voices from parents, teachers, unions and conservatives. There is a convincing array of reasons for states’ opposition.
Mary Fallin – the governor of Oklahoma – had originally been a part of the NGA and pushed for the standards to be written. But as her state backs out of the national standards, she cites “federal overreach” as tainting the standards, identifying that these standards were originally designed to be state-led initiatives. Michael Pence from Indiana stated after signing the repeal bill that Indiana is now moving in a direction of creating academic standards “for Hoosiers, by Hoosiers” and gives Indiana more local control. Similarly, North Carolina, in the midst of passing legislation that would revoke the Common Core, has opponents claiming that the standards are an intrusion into what should be determined at the state and local level.
But federal intrusion into state matters is not the only reason states are now turning away. States also note – as teachers, unions and administrators have claimed for several years – that the development and implementation of Common Core-based assessments is questionable at best. Plus, the standards for younger students are developmentally inappropriate. When standards require more testing, questionable testing, and awkward objectives, it’s not hard to see why those at the ground level of education have had difficulties accepting it with the same enthusiasm as those in legislative or policy making positions.
The truth is that no one is quite sure what is going to happen as states back away from these standards. They were never supposed to go backwards – “We’re not retreating,” New York’s Education Commissioner recently proclaimed. There are a few courses of action that states are taking, and a few details that are yet to be ironed out.
Indiana, who led the charge earlier this year, passed legislation that simply requires the state board of education to adopt new college and career readiness standards that align with federal standards and international benchmarks. This, some criticize, means that Indiana might just end up with “common core” standards under a different name. South Carolina opted to actually keep the Common Core standards in place for the 2014-2015 school year to allow it time to develop its own unique set of standards. Oklahoma simply chose to revert to their pre-Common Core standards, at least until 2016, when it can replace its reading and math standards. And North Carolina’s proposed legislation may require its Academic Standards Review Commission to draft new standards for the Board of Education to adopt.
But unanswered questions linger out there, like the smell of wet pavement after a storm. For example, since the Common Core is a set of college and career readiness standards, is it possible for states to lose their Race to the Top eligibility or No Child Left Behind waivers should the states adopt standards deemed inferior by the federal government? The Common Core standards are not required as part of Race to the Top, but North Carolina received $400 million from the federal government for its participation in the competition, and future funds may be jeopardized.
Additionally, states have slowly conformed a range of educational areas – from assessment schedules to teacher evaluations – around the Common Core. Once those standards are repealed, what students will be tested on, how they will be assessed, how they will need to be instructed, and how teacher curriculums and evaluations are constructed are now precipitously juggled.
We’ll see a variety of responses from across the nation to the Common Core and the new fallout. Many states have legislation passed from one or both houses that approves repeals. Other states have ardent opponents to the Common Core who are gaining strength. It is likely that Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma will be joined by several others by the end of the year.
Still, other states, like New York and Illinois, are committed to the Common Core and are considering the next steps of implementation. As the PARCC and SBAC assessments are finalized and adopted, such states will present their students with new tests and their teachers with new requirements for instruction.
Decisions about what kind of funding non-Common Core states may receive are expected by the end of June from the US Department of Education. States may need to brace themselves to expend millions of extra dollars for the hiring of new staff and other educational needs that might have been assisted by federal aid. Title I funds – which could be around $27 million – used for high-poverty students may end up being set aside for transportation and tutoring, which could result in layoffs of staff funded through federal grants.
Since the adoption of the Common Core State Standards is relatively new, and the abandoning of these standards is newer, there are lots of moving parts that will fall into place in coming months. Funding, standards, state sovereignty, curriculums, assessments, legislation, and evaluations are all part of the mix. Of course – as we tend to forget from time to time – the most crucial component of all of this is the students and their futures.
What are your thoughts on the future of the Common Core? Tell us your thoughts and feelings in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.