The Adoption of Common Core State Standards in Kentucky
This is an excerpt of my recent article in the Kentucky Journal of Excellence in College Teaching and Learning. For the complete article go to my section of EKU's academic repository, Encompass.
(Smiles all 'round after signing the resolution.L to R pairs:Philip Rogers and Lorraine Williams from EPSB;Terry Holliday and Joe Brothers from KBE;Bob King and Paul Patton from CPE.)Abstract: On February 11, 2010, in an unprecedented joint meeting, the chairs of the Kentucky Board of Education, the Council on Postsecondary Education, and the Education Professional Standards Board signed a resolution directing their respective agencies to implement the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and mathematics. This act formalized Kentucky’s commitment to integrate the nascent standards into the state’s public education system – the first state to do so. This article will trace the antecedents to Kentucky’s adoption of the standards as one expression of the late 20th century/early 21st century “corporate school reform movement” as manifested in the Commonwealth. The state that led America to reconsider how its schools should be funded, now celebrated a new-found spirit of interagency cooperation as it leapt at the opportunity to join with other states in an effort to define what students needed to know, and be able to do.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Education published its catalytic report, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” (ANAR) and the late twentieth century “corporate school reform movement” was launched. The report decried “a rising tide of mediocrity” in American high schools (National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983, 9). While the report’s statistics were disputed, the nation’s attention was galvanized around the idea that American schools were failing. The era of school accountability had arrived. The Commission made findings in four areas: Content, Expectations, Time, and Teaching. In the area of content, the commission recommended an examination of curriculum standards in light of other advanced countries, and higher college admission standards. (National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983, 25)
While shocking at the time, the vision of school reform as drawn by ANAR was mild compared to the 21st century vision that would develop around President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind eighteen years later. ANAR was a response to the freewheeling reforms of the 1960s and early 1970s which sought to “free the children,” and led to experimentation, challenges to authority, and a focus on social justice issues. ANAR called on states and the nation to craft genuine curriculum standards and strengthen high school graduation standards. “Far from being a revolutionary document, the report was an impassioned plea to make our schools function better in their core mission as academic institutions and to make our education system live up to our nation’s ideals.” It did not advocate market-based competition, school choice through charter schools and vouchers, privatization, or high-stakes assessment and accountability (Ravitch 2010, 22-26).
At this point in the history of compulsory education in Kentucky it is fair to say that the Commonwealth never led the nation in financial support for its schools, literacy, availability of highly educated teachers, or any other historical measure of educational excellence. But that was about to change...
Kentucky first drew national attention when its Supreme Court declared the entire system of schools to be unconstitutional in Rose v Council for Better Education, 790 S. W. 2d 186, (1989). The Rose case, argued by former Kentucky Governor Bert Combs, launched a third wave of school reform litigation based on both equity and adequacy as expressed in state constitutions (Day 2011, 2-4)...
An equally important contribution to the policy dialogue in Kentucky was the Prichard Committee’s publication of The Path to a Larger Life: Creating Kentucky’s Educational Future, in 1985. The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence had formed in 1983 as an independent citizen’s advocacy group for better schools and was named for its first Chairman Edward F. Prichard who believed that, “Education is a seamless web running from the earliest years through the highest levels of educational achievement.” (Prichard Committee 1990, xiii) Path to a Larger Life was influential to the Rose court and proposed major changes in seven areas, including curriculum, teacher preparation, assessment of student performance, and education finance (Day and Ewalt in press, 263-264).
Prichard’s plan outlined a desirable set of knowledge expectations, and anticipated a connection with postsecondary education, such as “early admission of students,” but a set of curriculum standards that anchored a high school diploma to entry-level college standards did not yet exist (Prichard Committee 1990, 34). Prichard pushed for the publication of school goals, the “identification of the competencies expected of all Kentucky high school graduates,” measurement of “the mastery of these competencies,” and assuring that a diploma is only awarded “when the student demonstrates that he or she has mastered the desired competencies…” (Prichard Committee 1990, 32).
The General Assembly’s response to the Rose decision came in the form of the sweeping Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA), the nation’s most ambitious statewide school reform package ever (Day 2011, 60; see also Guskey and Oldham 1997, 40)...
The Rose decision, and KERA, energized a number of education public interest groups especially the Council for Better Education and the Prichard Committee, who were largely responsible for creating the demands and supports that made education reform possible. They acted at the state level, but had an additional impact on national education policy as Kentucky became the state to watch (Day and Ewalt in press, 271)...
In the early 1990s, an effort to create voluntary national standards fell apart when history standards, which included social justice issues, were attacked by conservative groups as “the epitome of left-wing political correctness” during the George H. W. Bush administration. President Bill Clinton backed away from national standards and provided funding under his Goals 2000 program for states to write their own standards, pick their own tests, and be accountable for achievement (Ravitch 2010, 16-22).
By 1996, a new national movement began when the National Governor’s Association, in concert with corporate leaders, created Achieve, Inc. Achieve is an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit education reform organization based in Washington D. C. that helps states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability (American Diploma Project 2011, i).
When President George W. Bush signed the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) into law a new definition of school reform became nationalized; one characterized by accountability (Ravitch 2010, 21) This reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act built upon a standards-based reform whose roots were found in policy responses to the 1983 A Nation at Risk report decrying mediocrity in public schools (Kaestle 2006, xii).
In many ways, the law was consistent with KERA’s emphasis on performance outcomes and since Kentucky had already implemented its own standards-based education system, much of the legislation fit fairly well in current practices in the state (KDE 2010). NCLB required states receiving federal funding to implement a system of annual assessment of student progress for schools and districts. As initially enacted, the legislation allowed states to set the standards to which they are held accountable and a limited form of parental choice was provided for schools that persistently failed to make adequate progress. But a major accomplishment of the law has been its unapologetic national focus on measuring student outcomes and holding schools and districts accountable for those outcomes – a focus Kentucky began in 1990 (Day and Ewalt in press, 268).
By 2004 the American Diploma Project (ADP) produced its report, “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma that Counts.” The report described “specific content and skills in English and mathematics graduates must master by the time they leave high school if they expect to succeed in postsecondary education or high-performance, high-growth jobs.” The standards were said to be “considerably more rigorous than [the existing] high school standards.” (American Diploma Project 2007, 5)...
Kentucky’s legislators have remained steadfast in their emphasis on assessment and accountability measures for Kentucky schools. When the state’s CATS test came under attack, in the mid-2000s, education leaders capitalized on the state’s participation in ADP and moved to a new era of education policy which looked toward national test instruments, while the state embraced a focus on college- and career-readiness and norm-referenced testing, built around a set of national curriculum standards. The establishment of the high school diploma as an indicator of college and career readiness was made at last (Day and Ewalt in press, 268).
The Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 1 (SB1, codified as KRS 158.6451, 2009) completely dismantled the Kentucky-based CATS testing system and phased in new standards designed to be shorter, clearer, and better focused on students being ready for college, work, and global competition.
SB1 called for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE)
· to revise the statewide assessment program; criterion-referenced test; end-of-course examination; formative assessment; interim assessments; and national norm-referenced test.
· mandated revisions to the annual statewide assessment program; removing writing portfolios, arts & humanities, and practical living/career studies from being scored as part of the student assessment.
· called for a longitudinal student data system in compliance with NCLB, for use by teachers and for school accountability.
· and importantly, required that KDE, in collaboration with the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), utilize input from teachers and postsecondary faculty to plan and implement a comprehensive process for revising the academic content standards in all areas. SB 1 also specified that national standards (where available) must be considered. The new standards had to be aligned with entry-level college course requirements and be included in teacher preparation programs, so that teachers will know how to use them.
As it turned out, national standards were becoming available. A few months before the passage of SB1, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative was launched. Thirty years after A Nation at Risk called for the establishment of a clear set of Academic standards in core subjects that describe what students must know and be able to do, a voluntary interstate effort to write them began.
The CCSS initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. During the early years of implementation, the states using the Common Core Standards were expected to develop new, shared methods for testing and reporting student progress to parents, teachers, officials, and the general public (Day and Ewalt 2013 in press, 269). The standards-development process was completed in approximately one year by Achieve, Inc., (Mathis, 2010). These standards were finalized on June 2, 2010 (Porter et al., 2010). By September 2009, 48 states (not Texas or Alaska) Washington, D. C., the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were counted as participating in this effort (NGA Sept. 1, 2009).
But on July 24, 2009, President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan had announced $4.35 billion in competitive “Race to the Top” (RTTT) grants. To be eligible, states had to adopt "internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the work place (U. S. Department of Education 2009). But the support of the Obama administration for this hitherto voluntary national effort would create confusion as to whether CCSS was a national effort or a federal effort. When viewed as a federal effort, CCSS became ripe for politicization.
Arguments in support of common core standards, as advanced by ADP and others, focused heavily on connecting a high school diploma with college- and career-readiness. Supporters of common core said that American high schools had changed little since the mid-20th century and graduates were leaving high school unprepared to meet the demands of college and careers. They pointed to disappointing high school graduation rates and high college remediation rates...
The solution CCSS supporters said was to anchor high school graduation requirements and assessments to real world standards – the knowledge and skills colleges and employers actually expect if young people are to succeed in their institutions (“Ready or Not” 2- 6)
ACT’s 2006 report, “Reading between the lines” the authors argue that there are high costs ($16 billion per year in lost productivity and remediation) associated with students not being ready for college level reading and suggest that students are actually “losing momentum” during high school, that poor readers struggle, are frequently blocked from advanced work, that low literacy levels prevent mastery of other subjects, and is commonly cited as a reason for dropping out (“Reading between the lines” 2006, 2-6)...
Kentucky’s early adoption of the not-yet-written CCSS standards, in February 2010, was met with great fanfare. SB1 had created the first time in history that the three governing boards affecting P-20 education in the state had met -- and for the first time, considered how to build the seamless educational system of Ed Prichard’s dreams. SB1 called on state education agencies to revise Kentucky’s academic standards to:
- focus on critical knowledge, skills and capacities needed for success in the global economy
- result in fewer, but more in-depth standards to facilitate mastery learning
- communicate expectations more clearly and concisely to teachers, parents, students and citizens
- be based on evidence-based research
- consider international benchmarks ensure that the standards are aligned from elementary to high school to postsecondary education so that students can be successful at each education level.
The joint effort of the Kentucky Board of Education, the Council on Postsecondary Education, and the Education Professional Standards Board in adopting CCSS was hailed as an “historic moment” and the most important education reform initiative since KERA. Governor Steven L. Beshear said, "These standards will move us closer to our ultimate goal, a K-12 system that positions our children for success" (“Historic Cooperation” 2010, February 11)...
Perhaps thinking about the challenges of implementing common academic standards in a large education system, Prichard Committee Executive Director Bob Sexton said, “Now it is critically important that we provide our schools and teachers with the support and resources they need to make sure these standards do what they are designed to do - ensure the success of students in every part of Kentucky" (“Historic Cooperation” 2010, February 11).
Kentucky did not wait to get started. Governor Beshear had created the Task Force on Transforming Education in Kentucky by October 2009. The group was tasked with envisioning a statewide system of schools that would meet the emerging and complex demands of 21st century life in a global economy. The Task force created a state policy blueprint that called for improved pre-school programs and accessibility, raising the compulsory school age from 16 to 18, and funding to expand the state’s ability to recruit high-quality teachers. KDE, CPE and EPSB had already begun developing a unified strategy to reduce college remediation rates and provide accelerated learning opportunities for secondary students (Kentucky 2011).
Using the educational reforms of Senate Bill 1 (hereafter known as Unbridled Learning to distinguish it from later SB1s which occur in every legislative session) and its status as the first state in the nation to adopt the common core standards as the foundation of its application, Kentucky took part in the RTTT grant competition as a means of funding its recently enacted, but under-resourced, reforms. Through RTTT the federal government sought to encourage education reforms in four areas: new standards and assessments linking primary and secondary education to success in college and the workplace; improved data systems to measure student performance and contribute to formative assessment; enhancing the recruitment and retention of effective school personnel, particularly in poor performing districts; and reducing the performance gap for the lowest achieving schools. Although Kentucky would be recognized twice as a finalist, the state was unsuccessful in securing first- or second-round funding from RTTT. In December 2011 Kentucky was awarded $17 million, much less than the $175 million it requested, to implement reforms designed in part to prepare students for more rigorous science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) course work (Day and Ewalt in press, 269).
But the application process solidified the state as an early adopter of most RTTT reform ideas, particularly common core state standards, and that drew the attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In February 2011, KDE announced that it had received a two-year, $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support implementation of the new Common Core Academic Standards. Focused on improved classroom instruction and alignment with common core standards as required under Unbridled Learning, KDE partnered with the Prichard Committee to expand existing work being done through the Literacy Design Collaborative and Mathematics Design Collaborative. The grant was part of a nationwide effort by the Gates Foundation to develop and test prototype classroom assessments and instructional tools (“KDE Receives Grant” 2011).
According to KDE’s Director of Program Standards Karen Kidwell, the Gates money allowed the state “to scale up work” with eight different regional leadership networks. The leadership networks were multi-agency teams of K-12 and higher education professionals whose purpose was to provide the necessary instructional support for successful implementation of CCSS, and the assessments based on the new standards (Kidwell 2013). Kentucky’s approach was strongly influenced by “Professional Learning in the Learning Profession,” a report of the National Staff Development Council which argued for a “professional learning system” that was responsive at the individual teacher/grade and content-area level, and sought to build capacity in every teacher to refine “new learning into more powerful lessons and assessments, [and] [reflect] on the impact on student learning.”...
Nationally, with bipartisan support for a conservative proposal, and much evidence-based rationale, CCSS seemed to be on track for a relatively easy adoption among the 45 adherents that remained by 2013. The thornier issue appeared to be whether a set of national exams based on the CCSS could be agreed to, and would be affordable. But backlash against CCSS was surfacing in state legislatures in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania Missouri, Georgia, South Dakota, and Kansas (Exit Strategy” 2013).
In April, the Republican National Committee surprised many educators when it passed a resolution bashing the standards. The resolution says that 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…” Claiming that the Obama administration’s RTTT incentives had clouded the picture, states’ rights issues were resurrected among conservatives (“Common Core Standards Attacked” 2013).
Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, followed the RNC’s denouncement by starting a bid to eliminate federal Education Department funding for the CCSS effort. Education Secretary Arne Duncan had supported the standards, and awarded $360 million to two multi-state consortia to develop standardized tests: The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Grassley called CCSS an “inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children” and saying that the RNC “rejects this CCSS plan” (“Common Core Standards Attacked” 2013).
In a letter to colleagues on the appropriations subcommittee that handles education funding Grassley asked that they cut off all future funds for CCSS and its assessments, and “restore state decision-making and accountability with respect to state academic content standards.” 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 (Grassley 2013).
Once a public policy issue becomes politicized, it is difficult to accurately predict its future...
The history of education in Kentucky is littered with examples of legislative action followed by prolonged periods of disregard for the schools. In 1990, when the General Assembly passed KERA, the public perceived education as the top priority in the commonwealth and the state met the challenge with its largest one-time infusion of education funding. But since that time, Kentucky has shown significant progress in national rankings and concern has eased in relation to other pressing problems (Day and Ewalt in press, 267). A 2012 survey of Kentuckian’s views on key issues conducted by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky during the presidential race identified the economy (65%) and healthcare costs (42%) as far outpacing public concerns over education (8%) (Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky 2012) . Given the underfunded pension programs and existing structural imbalances in the state budget along with an antiquated tax structure, it remains to be seen whether the state legislature will provide adequate financial support for its Unbridled Learning mandates. Hanging in the balance will be the dream of a seamless education system, where every teacher knows how to use the more rigorous, internationally-benchmarked academic standards, and every student who earns a high school diploma is truly ready for career- and/or college success.
Common Core Development Milestones
- November 2007 - CCSSO policy forum discussed the need for one set of shared academic standards
- December 2008 - NGA and ADP 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.”
- February 11, 2010 – Kentucky adopts CCSS
- March 2010 - First draft officially released
- June 2010 - Final draft released (English Language Arts and Math)
- July 2010 – Kentucky launches Leadership Networks for teacher, school, and district leaders around the implementation of the common core state standards within the context of highly effective teaching, learning, and assessment practices.
- October 2011 – Kentucky selected as model Demonstration State for Transforming Professional Learning to Prepare College- and Career-Ready Students: Implementing the Common Core by Learning Forward/Council of Chief State School Officers
- Spring 2012 – Kentucky assesses CCSS in new accountability system
- April 2013 - Common Core opposed by Republican National Committee