Monday, July 08, 2013

Common Core Standards Under Attack

Having recently explored the genesis of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) here at KSN&C, and generating some discussion of just how "federal" the effort is, I thought it might be a good idea to run this piece from April. Valerie Strauss does a nice job of presenting Republican arguments against what was essentially their own idea - but was ultimately a bipartisan effort.

The common core idea is really simple. Passing Algebra I in Kentucky ought to mean roughly the same thing as passing Algebra I in any other state - and academic standards ought to be competitive internationally.

As for Kentucky Republicans, and those supposedly libertarian (although they appear a heck of a lot more neo-con to me) bluegrass think-tankers who pushed so hard for, and celebrated the passage of Senate Bill 1, it might also be good to remind them of what they passed.

commoncore1Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senator Ken Winters and co-sponsored by Senators David Williams, Dan Kelly, Vernie McGaha, Katie Stine, Damon Thayer and Jack Westwood, requires that the KDE, in collaboration with the CPE, plan and implement a comprehensive process for revising the academic content standards in all areas. Input from teachers, postsecondary faculty and others must be used in the revisions, and national standards must be considered. (emphasis added) While the law did not commit the state to any particular set of common K-12 standards, only the Common Core State Standards matched the description. If conservatives are looking for someone to blame for Kentucky's full-throated endorsement of CCSS, they should consult the nearest mirror. Thanks to Senate Bill 1, it's the law.

Over at the Bluegrass Institute, one can enjoy a celebratory video featuring former Kentucky Board of Education member Billy Harper's service on the Kentucky Board of Education. BIPPS writes,
Harper talks about some of the important education policies that were implemented during his tenure on the board, including Senate Bill 1, which eliminated the reviled CATS testing system, and implemented a new assessment program called the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) along with a new accountability system called Unbridled Learning. 

“Kentucky’s a year ahead of everybody” in implementing a new testing system based on common core standards – which also are being adopted by many other states, he said.

But that was before the Republican National Committee bailed out under pressure from Anti-Obama political activists. Now BIPPS is finding the national standards part of SB1 difficult to support.

I'm not sure if it's the apparent hypocrisy of their present objections that I find most disturbing. Perhaps it's possible that they came to the conclusion that Senate Bill 1 was really a bad education bill, Harper wasn't so hot after all, and now they are looking for someone else to blame. Maybe it never occurred to them that the creation of national standards would not be a wholly-owned Kentucky process where every other state acquiesced. But it feels like hyper-partisan, bad faith negotiations to me, and that is destructive to American democracy.

This from WaPo's The Answer Sheet:

Republicans have launched an attack on the Common Core State Standards, an initiative that more than 45 states and the District of Columbia signed onto but that has been facing increasing opposition in recent months from both right and left.

This new effort could undermine what has largely been bipartisan cooperation on the Core and is coming even as some states are already implementing the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and math, and giving students high-stakes Core-aligned standardized tests.

Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, has just started a bid to to eliminate federal funding for the effort, which has come out of the Education Department budget. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has supported the standards, and gave $360 million to two multi-state consortia to develop standardized tests.

Grassley’s Wednesday letter to colleagues comes a few days after the Republican National Committee passed a resolution bashing the standards, calling them an “inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children” and saying that  the RNC “rejects this CCSS plan.” The resolution says:
RESOLVED, the Republican National Committee recognizes the CCSS for what it is — an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived “normal,” and, be it further

RESOLVED, That the Republican National Committee rejects the collection of personal student data for any non-educational purpose without the prior written consent of an adult student or a child student’s parent and that it rejects the sharing of such personal data, without the prior written consent of an adult student or a child student’s parent, with any person or entity other than schools or education agencies within the state, and be it finally

RESOLVED, the 2012 Republican Party Platform specifically states the need to repeal the numerous federal regulations which interfere with State and local control of public schools, (p36) (3.); and therefore, the Republican National Committee rejects this CCSS plan which creates and fits the country with a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.
Grassley sent a letter to colleagues on the appropriations subcommittee that handles education funding asking that they “restore state decision-making and accountability with respect to state academic content standards,” according to a copy of the letter published on the blog Caffeinated Thoughts.  The letter says in part:
While the Common Core State Standards Initiative was initially billed as a voluntary effort between states, federal incentives have clouded the picture. Current federal law makes clear that the U.S. Department of Education may not be involved in setting specific content standards or determining the content of state assessments. Nevertheless, the selection criteria designed by the U.S. Department of Education for the Race to the Top Program provided that for a state to have any chance to compete for funding, it must commit to adopting a “common set of K-12 standards” matching the description of the Common Core. The U.S. Department of Education also made adoption of “college- and career-ready standards” meeting the description of the Common Core a condition to receive a state waiver under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Race to the Top funds were also used to fund two consortiums to develop assessments aligned to the Common Core and the Department is now in the process of evaluating these assessments.
The standards were developed by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, with money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in what supporters said was an effort to elevate and make more consistent the academic standards by which students around the country learn.

Though Duncan has said repeatedly that the Core is a state-led, voluntary initiative, the Obama administration has supported the standards. It made its multibillion-dollar Race to the Top funding initiative contingent on states approving a common set of standards, and then funded the development of Core-aligned tests. The Education Department recently said it was going to start a “technical review” of  “design and validation” of test items, according to Education Week.

Duncan had said repeatedly that the tests would be a major improvement over old standardized tests in assessing a broader band of student knowledge and ability. However, the tests are not turning out to be such a broad leap away from the old standardized tests. (You can read all about why here.)
Though both Democrats and Republicans have backed the Core, there are critics on both the left and right, in what is surely an unusual confluence of interest.

Those on the right say that the initiative is nothing more than a federal move towards a national curriculum that oversteps the proper role of the federal government in public education, which has traditionally been directed at the state and local levels. Critics on the left have taken issue with a number of things surrounding the standards (you can read a post about eight problems with the Core here), saying that there was not enough input from educators into the drafting of the Core, that the standards are not based on any research, that they ignore what is known about early childhood development and much more.

There has been growing resistance to the Common Core in some states that have  approved the standards. In fact, nearly 10 states have taken steps to reconsider the Core. For example, Alabama recently said it was pulling out of the two consortia that are working on creating standardized tests aligned with the standards. In Indiana, the  new superintendent of public instruction, Democrat Glenda Ritz, wants to pause to have a real conversation about the standards and the consequences of implementing them.

Those who object to common core here in Kentucky would be advised to co-opt Chuck Grassley's explanation if they wish to be better understood.


Richard Innes said...


I don’t think you have a good grasp of SB-1.

Part of the reason why I say this is highlighted by your assertion:

“Maybe it never occurred to them that the creation of national standards would not be a wholly-owned Kentucky process where every other state acquiesced.”

Senate Bill 1 never authorized Kentucky to engage in creating new national standards with other states. In fact, SB-1 never mentions consideration of a possible future set of national standards not in existence upon the bill’s passage.

The bill actually reads:

“During the revision process the department shall consider standards that have been adopted by national content advisory groups and professional education consortia.”

Notice that the tense of the verbal expression “have been adopted.” It seems like the bill only envisions consideration of standards already in existence, not some possible future set of standards that were at the time of the bill’s passage only just starting to be seriously discussed in Washington.

By the way, I wonder if it is fair to say the Common Core State Standards were created by national content advisory groups as SB-1 requires. I’ll leave it to others to decide if the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers really meet that criterion.

I also wonder if any “professional education consortia” were in positions of decision-making authority during the CCSS process. That’s another SB-1 requirement.

Another point: SB-1 does require revisions to Kentucky’s standards to “Be based on evidence-based research.” I am unaware of any such evidence that supports Common Core. Others, like Diane Ravitch, allege that this research does not exist.

However, I am aware of comments from Sandra Stotsky (which are posted in the Wiki site), who served on the CCSS Validation Committee, that she was never provided evidence about which countries the ELA standards were benchmarked to.

Richard Day said...

Ask Billy Harper if he thought KBE was full steam ahead on common core. Everybody did, and there was NO early opposition that I'm aware of. You can parse verb tenses all you want, but in KDE's, and CPE's, and EPSB's mind, and until recently, without legislative opposition, this was widely agreed to...celebrated even.

I don't know how the regs were promulgated, but I've never know the kinds language arguments you are making to prevail. At least, they never did for me.