Monday, July 01, 2013

Common-Core 'Development': When Did It Begin?

  • In 1996 the National Governor’s Association and corporate leaders created Achieve, Inc. Achieve is an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit education reform organization.
  • In 2005, Achieve launched the American Diploma Project (in partnership with the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and Education Trust). ADP has network districts in 35 states and includes 85% of public school students; seeks to align high school standards, assessments and graduation requirements with college and career demands. Kentucky signs on as one of five partner states that identify English and mathematics knowledge and skills.
  • At the 2005 National Education Summit on high schools, governors from 45 states joined with business leaders and education officials to address a critical problem in American education: Too few students graduate from high school prepared to meet the demands of college an careers in an increasingly competitive global economy.
  • Achieve partners with National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers on CCSS initiative.
  • November 2007 - CCSSO policy forum discussed the need for one set of shared academic standards
  • December 2008 - NGA and Achieve report urges states to create internationally benchmarked standards
  • April 2009 - NGA & CCSSO Summit in Chicago called for states to support shared standards
  • June 2009 - 46 states publicly proclaimed support
  • July 2009 - Writing panels were announced
  • July 24, 2009 - Race to the Top competitive grants announced. To be eligible, states had to adopt "internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the work place.
  • March 2010 - First draft officially released 
  • June 2010 - Final draft released (English Language Arts and Math)
  • April 2013 - Common Core Science Standards released
  • April 2013 - Common Core opposed by Republican National Committee

Remember the other day when Arne Duncan recounted common-standards development for a gathering of news editors?

Here at EdWeek, a couple of us questioned his timeline. He said that when the Obama administration came aboard (January 2009), the common standards were already "in development."

That caught my eye, and it also caught the eye of my colleague Michele McNeil, who covered the startup of the common-standards initiative in 2009.

Blogging about Duncan's speech on Politics K-12, Michele said that it was "iffy" that the standards were in development then, because support was still being lined up.

When I wrote about the secretary's speech here on Curriculum Matters, I wondered whether perhaps the writers had gotten an earlier start than we'd originally thought.

Turns out those questions caused a bit of a kerfuffle. While I was circling back to my sources, double-checking the points in the development timeline, folks at the education department were doing the same thing.

Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which co-led the common-standards initiative with the National Governors Association, heard about all this and called me up to go over it. By the time I talked to him, I had concluded that what Michele and I mean when we say "in development" isn't the same thing Duncan means when he says it.

When we think of standards being "in development," we think of people sitting down to write them. What the secretary apparently means is folks talking seriously about making them happen.

Minnich dates the roots of the Common Core State Standards back to November of 2007, when state education chiefs, gathered for a CCSSO policy forum, discussed the need for one set of shared academic standards. (David Coleman, a chief architect of the English/language arts standards, dates those early conversations about the common standards to November 2007 as well.)

The next key step on the CCSSO's development timeline are the December 2008 release, with the NGA and Achieve, of a report urging states to create a common set of internationally benchmarked standards.

After that, the timeline moves to the April 2009 summit of governors and chiefs in Chicago, where they called for states to support the concept of shared standards. By June 2009, 46 states had publicly proclaimed that support.

The writing panels were announced in July of 2009, the first draft officially released for public comment in March 2010 (although an earlier draft slipped out many months prior), and the final released in June 2010.
This muddled issue only became "an issue" because the Republican National Committee, pushed by elements on the far right, decided that the Republican idea of a common national curriculum was really a socialist/Marxist/communist plot.

KSN&C wrote,
Pro CCSS folks are correct to say that the standards were not a federal government effort. They were developed by state teams of teachers who submitted their work along with 45 other state teams of teachers. The individual state draft standards were melded into one set of standards through much discussion and negotiation. The fact that they may have met in Washington, where the Chief State School Officers reside, does not make them a federal effort, and [Bluegrass Institute's Richard] Innes is incorrect to suggest otherwise. States control education and if they want to throw in together to develop standards, they can.

On the other hand, it is perhaps disingenuous of CCSS supporters to continue to ignore the fact that once the Obama administration bought into the concept of common standards (a Republican idea, BTW) and made them a part of Race to the Top, it placed the president's imprimatur on the effort and became red meat for the anti-Obama folks. To say that CCSS is in no way associated with the feds used to be true, but that would no longer be exactly correct. It was co-opted to some degree. Do you want federal RTTT dollars? better support CCSS.
 Diane Ravitch correctly remembers the history as well, but more colorfully.
[Arne Duncan's] insistence that the federal government had no role in the Common Core is less than honest. He didn’t mention that his Race to the Top told states that they had to adopt something that looked just like the Common Core if they wanted to be eligible to win a share of the $5 billion prize. But since it is illegal for the federal government to attempt to influence curriculum and instruction in the nation’s schools, Duncan must stick with his fiction about non-interference and having no role at all. The gentleman doth protest too much.
Other than treating critics of the Common Core as an assortment of rightwing nut-jobs, Duncan never explains how adoption of a common set of standards and tests will assure America’s future prosperity. How does he know? What is his evidence? Or is it only extremists who demand evidence before spending billions of dollars and leaping into new practices?


Richard Innes said...


Excuse me, but I never claimed the CCSS were created by a federal effort. I have consistently pointed out that the standards were created by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors’ Association (NGA).

To be sure, plenty of people are concerned by the federalization issues you mention:

“To say that CCSS is in no way associated with the feds used to be true, but that would no longer be exactly correct. It was co-opted to some degree.”

Those US Dept. of Ed. Core-related activities include Race to the Top inducements and NCLB waiver inducements for states to buy into and (RTTT Round 3) stay in the CCSS.

Such US Ed. co-opt activities certainly have led others to claim this is becoming a federalization effort. However, I have seen no hard evidence that the federal government was directly involved with the actual creation of the CCSS, and I have not said that it was. If you heard otherwise, I would appreciate you pointing out where you got that information.

While we are at it, your readers deserve a more complete picture of the genesis of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics, which come from and the entirely different process of creating the Next Generation Science Standards. Some of key events your timeline is missing include:

May 2007 - CCSSO discusses common national academic standards at their annual legislative meeting. Education Week reports, “The subject of what shape national standards could take—a common curriculum or a common exam, for example—arose several times during a session on the subject.”( This predates the November 2007 policy forum that was mentioned in the EdWeek blog you mentioned. Clearly, there is still a lot of confusion, even on the part of people at the NGA and CCSSO, about what happened when.

February 2009 - NGA “members approved a policy statement that could lead to a set of national standards” (

Arguably, this vote in late February 2009 marks the true start of the formal effort that created the CCSS. It is interesting that this vote by the NGA members followed the December 19, 2008 announcement you mentioned by more than two months. On what authority did the NGA put its weight behind the effort in that previous, December 2008 meeting? Who is really in control of that organization?

(Continued in Next Post)

Richard Innes said...

(Continued from Previous Post)

May 7, 2009 - Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signs a MOA (obtained by open records request to KDE) with CCSSO and NGA for CCSS involvement that includes a key restriction that the state agrees to make CCSS no less than 85 percent of the entire state standards in English language arts and mathematics. The MOA also makes clear that the CCSSO and the NGA were actively seeking for the federal government to play a role in the process in 2009. (

Why would Kentucky agree to limit itself in this way? What if our teachers and college professors discover we need more than 15% above the Core (whatever that actually means)? How does this mesh with the incorrect notion that Kentucky teachers had a lot of control over this process?

July 1, 2009 - Members of the CCSS Work Groups announced. The press release from the NGA says: “Additionally, CCSSO and the NGA Center have selected an independent facilitator and an independent writer as well as resource advisors to support each content area work group throughout the standards development process. The Work Group's deliberations will be confidential throughout the process.” (

This very important news release makes it clear that the decision making about CCSS was not going to come from the states at all. The final call was going to be made in two Work Groups (NOT “Writing Panels”). They were the “Mathematics Work Group” and the “English Language Arts Work Group.” There were also two Feedback Groups, one for ELA and one for math. But, those feedback groups were only advisory. Equally important, it was announced that all the efforts of the work groups were going to be conducted under conditions of confidentially.

Thus, from the beginning, it was clear the major decisions about the CCSS would be made behind closed doors not open to the public, reporters, or our teachers, either. While our teachers did make input, we have no way to determine if those inputs were reasonably and fairly considered.

June 2010 - The final work group that would look at the standards before release was the CCSS Validation Committee. That committee released its final report in June 2010. (

Of the 29 members on the Validation Committee, five refused to sign the certification page that the CCSS met stated goals such as international benchmarking.

(Continued in Next Post)

Richard Innes said...

(Final Section)

One last point: Your timeline refers to the “Common Core Science Standards.” There is no such creation.

The Next Generation Science Standards, which are going through the adoption process now in Kentucky, were created solely by Achieve and partnering states. The NGA and the CCSSO did not work on this.

If your readers want more, they can go to and search for “Common Core State Standards” and “Next Generation Science Standards.” I have also posted an informational Wiki item on CCSS here:

Richard, I think we share a desire to provide the most accurate and factual information available about this important area. I hope the comments above help with that process.

Richard Day said...

Richard: Thanks for comment.

I suspect the reason Rep Graham, and I, took your comments as we did, has to do with your use of “Washington” as synonymous with the federal government.

From Ronnie Ellis’ article in the Daily Independent:

“I don’t see why anyone in Washington has any business” developing what is taught in Kentucky, Innes told the committee.

Committee Co-Chair Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, a retired teacher, took Innes to task on that contention.

“Those standards were not developed by the federal government,” Graham said, adding their development was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and developed by representatives from the states.

“It’s not coming from the federal government,” Graham said. “That’s really playing to political fears.”

If y’all (at the Bluegrass Institute) are going to continually demonize government acts by using “Washington” as a euphemism for the big bad government, you’re going to have to get used to folks applying a uniform meaning to it - whether you intended it or not.

When I think about what students need in this mobile society, a national curriculum makes sense to me - even if it requires some level of cooperation among Americans to develop it. I tend to like Americans, so I’m OK with it - as long as teachers and professionals are driving the standards. I am not ideologue enough, or politically polarized enough, to see compromise as a weakness. I wish we could get 85% agreement on all of the issues facing our nation. On those grounds, I reject most of your argument.

You are correct, however, that I am not a big fan of Race to the Top, in general, and I find some regret in the Obama administration’s inclusion of common core as a virtual requirement for receiving RTTT funds. On one hand, the president’s education agenda ought to include the best ideas. But on the other hand, Obama opened the door to the kinds of attacks you are making.

Thank you for pointing out that I should have said “Next Generation Science Standards.” That was sloppy of me.

I suppose it’s impossible to find the original antecedent to the concept of a common curriculum without tracing it all the way back to Plato. But we can do a better job of predating some of the activities Ed Week outlined. I have added a few above.

Thanks again.