State Common Core Standards Under Attack

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, a voluntary program originally proposed by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) that would establish a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics, is under attack in the states. The push back is surprising because the program was not particularly controversial when it was first debated and has been adopted by 45 states and D.C. Opponents now argue that the program, funded in part with $350 million from the U.S. Department of Education, has become a Washington-led effort to impose a one size fits all set of standards on the states. The department also encouraged states adopting the Common Core Standards to be awarded “Race to the Top” grants and waivers for certain requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Opponents do not like the program and do not want to pay for it.

The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit bearing entry courses in two or four-year college programs or enter the workforce. The standards are designed to be clear and concise to ensure that parents, teachers, and students have a clear understanding of the expectations in reading, writing, speaking and listening, language and mathematics in school.

Opponents have yet to convince any state to fully withdraw the standards. They have attacked the assessment systems as a method of diluting the influence of the CCSS. Thus the program is being dismantled piecemeal.

Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah have withdrawn from the assessment groups designing tests for the CCSS, The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal supported withdrawal “because it’s fiscally conservative, and falls in line with the spirit of his executive order that protects the privacy of Georgia students,” according to a report in Jacksonville.com. The test was expected to cost more than $18 per student and the state’s current assessment costs the state $8-9 per student.

Supporters are fighting back. PARCC reacted to Indiana’s recent withdrawal from the consortium, which took effect on August 12, by publicizing a list of 14 states that will field-test the new exams in the upcoming school year before full implementation in 2014-2015. “PARCC is really developed by the states for the states,” Colorado Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond said according to the PARCC press release. “The bottom line is we’re working together to create the highest quality assessments in the history of American public education.” The states participating in the field tests are Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Tennessee.

Florida has become a battleground, whose PARCC participation is questionable. Last month Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, displayed their distaste for the state’s participation in PARCC in a letter published by the Tampa Bay Times. The Tea Party groups have campaigned against the standards, saying decisions about teaching and learning should be made by state governments and local school boards — not the federal government. Their efforts attracted significant attention this summer, thanks to well-attended rallies, social media blitzes and the support of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.

Abandoning the testing groups does not mean states will necessarily abandon the standards in general, but experts predict some states will bow out altogether. Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah are all currently considering full withdrawal with other fiscally conservative states sure to follow. The debate seems to have heated up in recent months. “We will see more states reconsider their position to implement the Common Core, especially as the costs of adoption and the process of training teachers become clearer,” says Michael Horn, cofounder and executive director of Innosight Institute, a nonpartisan think tank according to scholastic.com. “The issue of online assessments might also cause some states to reconsider their position.”

Indiana HB 1427/Public Law 286, signed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence on May 11, halts the CCSS by requiring a legislative review, public hearings and a fiscal investigation of the standards. A special legislative panel took testimony from supporters and opponents on August 5. The Interim Study Committee on Common Core Educational Standards is required to recommend to the Board of Education an up or down decision by November 1.

Similarly in Ohio,HB 237, sponsored by Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, was introduced in the House on July 31. It would prohibit the Board of Education from adopting and the Department of Education from implementing the Common Core State Standards or PARCC or any other assessment associated with CCSS. It would also void any actions taken to adopt CCSS or PARCC on the effective date of the bill. The bill would make other changes to further prohibit the state’s involvement with CCSS, including prohibiting state officials from sharing any personally identifiable student information with any entity outside the state.

Meanwhile in Michigan a House subcommittee began taking testimony on the CCSS, which the state has adopted but purposefully de-funded in the budget that begins on October 1, according to The Associated Press. The July 16 meetings of the House Education: Subcommittee on Common Core Standards and the House Appropriations: Subcommittees on School Aid and Education heard testimony from state Department of Education officials and other education experts. The GOP-controlled subcommittees are expected to make a recommendation to the legislature on whether or not to continue funding the standards before the October 1 deadline. Business leaders and other Republicans, including Gov. Rick Snyder and former Governor John Engler, support the standards and say they are necessary for ensuring Michigan students remain competitive in the workforce.

A package of Pennsylvania bills relating to the Common Core State Standards were filed on July 18:

  • HB 1551 would prohibit the Board of Education from adopting CCSS unless it has been approved by the General Assembly.
  • HB 1552 would exempt private, religious and home-schools from the CCSS.
  • HB 1553 would prohibit state imposition of national standardized assessments and surveys on Pennsylvania public schools.
  • HB 1555 would create an advisory committee to conduct a study of CCSS implementation and would create a CCSS moratorium until the advisory committee publishes a report.

Multiple representatives including John Lawrence, R-West Grove, Will Tallman, R-Abottstown, Stephen Bloom, R-Carlisle and Rob Kauffman, R-Chambersburg, sponsor the bills.