As school district after school district gets ready to either enact or fight the common core curriculum, many are left wondering what exactly the common core is. Common Core is a set of academic standards in mathematics and English/language arts developed in 2009 and released in 2010. The standards had been endorsed by 45 states and the District of Columbia within a few months of being released. Despite its initial success, the debate over the common core has become quite heated as its institution progresses and curriculum, state tests, and teaching software programs are all being re-created to fit into the new set of requirements. Politicians, parents, administrators, and teachers alike are weighing in on the new system.
The Creation Of Common Core
Common core saw an early success largely because it was developed at a time when American education was facing large amounts of criticism. Public schools and their teachers were, and still are, facing more criticism, challenging of authority, and chaos than ever before. For over a decade now the educational system, which desperately needs stability, has been put into a state of flux by program after program trying to reform education and then being revoked by the next administration. More recently, these programs have begun a strict regimen of standardized testing.
George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act was one such program, requiring students to test yearly in grades three through eight, requiring every student to meet a “proficient” measure by 2014, with consequences for the school if this requirement was not met. These programs and a fear of their consequences increased pressure on teachers to teach to the test. Schools began narrowing their curriculum to focus more heavily on tested subject, letting other topics fall to the wayside. Some states decreased the score required to pass every year, creating a perception of progress that didn’t actually exist. Overall, test scores increased, but many believe that this was at the expense of other aspects of academia.
As schools attempted to adapt to the new atmosphere of No Child Left Behind, they were shifted into the Obama administration’s own set of pressures. These pressures were largely created by the Race To The Top competition launched by Secretary Duncan. After the economic crisis of 2008, the U.S. Department of Education was given $5 billion to promote reform. In order to receive a cut of this money, schools had to subscribe to certain conditions. To be part of the race, states needed to evaluate their teachers largely by the rise and fall of their students’ test scores, increase the number of privately managed charter schools, adopt a set of “college and career ready standards” set by the government, turn around low-performing schools (namely by turning over the upper administrative staff), and collect information regarding students to store in a database. This created and promoted the perception that bad test scores must be the fault of bad teachers, and that schools with under-performing students simply needed to fire their teachers and find better ones.
These programs greatly demoralized teachers, and consequently created a large exodus of experienced and good teachers from the field of education. Many public schools were closed and many privately managed charter schools were opened. Many low-quality, for-profit online charter schools were also opened. They also created a growing number of testing corporations, charter chains, and technology companies that view public education as an emerging market. This includes celebrities with no knowledge of education opening their own name-brand schools as a way to make money. America has become the only nation to perform yearly testing and the nation with the most imposed mandates on teachers and public schools. It is also the only high-performing nation to judge teachers based on test scores. Many studies have found this methodology to be flawed, because the scores of a teachers’ students depends as much on demographics as it does on skill. Under such a system, the highest ratings will always belong to teachers with the most affluent students and the lowest ratings will go to teachers of students who are just now learning English, teachers of students with disabilities, and teachers in high-poverty schools. However, the U.S. Department of Education has mandated that every state adhere to this system.
It was the above problems that led to the development of the Common Core. Policy makers agreed that the educational system was in shambles and in desperate need of an overhaul. It was decided that the best way to address the issues at hand was through a combination of school choice, national standards, and an elimination of protections such as collective bargaining, seniority, and tenure. However, many leaders also maintained their faith in the value of standardized testing as a measure of quality. These two ideals converged around a system based upon choice, standards, and accountability. With this goal in mind, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve converged in 2009 to design the common core. The writing was done behind closed doors by a group of 27, which contained many representatives from the testing industry but few educators. The U.S. Department of Education was unable to participate due to the fact that they are legally prohibited from exercising any influence or control over curriculum or instruction in the schools.
The goal of the standards was to improve test scores by ensuring that all students everywhere in every grade were taught to the same standards. The programs advocated believed that its standards were higher than most states’ standards, and that it would raise the bar and increase standards across the nation. The program was designed to be implemented using online testing, and to create a market for book publishers, technology companies, testing corporations, and other vendors.
The Controversy Over Common Core
While the theory behind common core was well-intentioned, its implementation didn’t take into account many factors that are now being questioned. Statistically, standardized tests tend to be influenced by socioeconomic conditions. When New York state implemented common core testing in spring of 2013, 30 percent of its students passed the tests. Only 30 percent of students whose first language was not English passed. 5 percent of students with disabilities passed. Less than 20 percent of African American and Hispanic students passed. Furthermore, teachers did not receive students’ scores until the following year, when students were already in a new classroom. Teachers also received no item analysis indicating which areas of the tests their students performed poorly on. They simply received a raw score.
While it is an issue that has rarely been mentioned in the public debating over the common core, the cost of this new system is also causing controversy. Due to the online standardized testing required by the common core, schools are required to purchase new computers, new teaching materials, and acquire the bandwidth for testing. The computers and the materials that they are purchasing are only good for a few years-most of the teaching materials come with a 3 year license and the computers will be obsolete in less than that. At the same time, education budgets are being cut in most states.
The standards also seem to lack any one organization in charge of them. Therefore, when teachers find issues in their implementation, there is no clear authority to report these issues too and, more importantly, no authority in charge of solving the issues. There is also no mandate of what happens to students if their scores do not improve. Teachers will be fired if the following years students do not perform as well as the previous years’ but if the same student fails repeatedly year after year, what happens? That is still unclear. Critics believe that a set of standards that less than 30 percent of students can meet is too rigorous to base teachers’ jobs and students’ academic futures on. There is no current proof that rigorous testing will improve performance. They are concerned that, if the assumption that this system is based on proves to be false, many students and many teachers will be punished before that is discovered. Because the stakes are so high, teachers feel that they are only able to teach to the test. They are not able to take time to teach to their students interests, or even to cater their lessons to their students needs, because these needs are not recognized in the test. The only need that can be acknowledged is the need that they pass the common core exams.
Republican Views on Common Core
Common core doesn’t strictly fall into party politics. There are both Republicans and Democrats who support and oppose the standards. Many Republicans oppose Common Core because at its heart it is going against the most fundamental of Republican principals – it is giving the government a greater say in the educational system. Many Republicans fear that it is the beginning of a federal takeover of education. For this reason, the issue has become important among those hoping to run in the 2016 election. Candidate hopefuls such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio have spoken out recently in opposition to the new system. Some of these critics, such as Jindal, were avid supporters when common core was first proposed. Largely, Republicans are opposed to common core as a whole. A Gallup poll conducted in August of 2014 indicated 76 percent of Republican voters nationwide are opposed to Common Core, and only 17 percent in favor. However, that isn’t to say that all Republicans oppose the standards. Jeb Bush, who is a likely nominee for the 2016 election, has not backed down from his staunchly supportive position regarding the common core. Bush has stated that he believes the Common Core should be the “new minimum for students, and has challenged opponents of the program to find a better solution. Many statisticians believe that this will greatly hurt Bush’s chances in the election, and that he has gotten off on the wrong foot by being so vocal about the issue so early on. The issue is causing a great deal of division among Republicans, and is expected to make or break much of the voting in the coming election. “Voters are very closely viewing it as a litmus test,” said Tamara Scott, a policy adviser and lobbyist with the FAMiLY LEADER, an Iowa-based social conservatives’ group. “These are our children, and when you take parents out of the picture, which is what Common Core will do, most people find that offensive.”
Mitt Romney on Common Core
Mitt Romney stands with the majority of his party regarding Common Core. He opposes the idea of such a great deal of control being exercised by the government. When asked his opinions on common core at the Education Nation Summit in New York, Romney stated “You know, I think it’s fine for people to lay out what they think core subjects might be and to suggest a pedagogy and being able to provide that learning to our kids. I don’t subscribe to the idea of the federal government trying to push a common core on various states.” He also opposes the financial arrangements involved in the common core, stating “It’s one thing to put it out as a model and let people adopt it as they will, but to financially reward states based upon accepting the federal government’s idea of a curriculum, I think, is a mistake. And the reason I say that is that there may be a time when the government has an agenda that it wants to promote. And I’m not wild about the federal government having some kind of agenda that it then compensates states to teach their kids. I’d rather let education and what is taught state by state be determined state by state, not by the federal government.” Romney does believe in creating common standards for students, as the state of Massachusetts has implemented its own core, which Romney states has allowed them to be “able to outdrive our kids to be number one performing in the nation.” However, Romney believes that these cores should be in the hands of the states, not the federal government. For this reason, he fully supports states that implement the common core because they have voted on it and believe in it, he simply opposes the federal involvement in getting these states to subscribe.
Jeb Bush On Common Core
Jeb Bush is one of the few politicians actively speaking out in favor of common core, and he has gained a great deal of criticism for his efforts. Bush has stated, “Raising expectations and having accurate assessments of where kids are is essential for success, and I’m not going to back down on that.” However, like much of the rest of his party, Bush worries that the system is placing too much power in the hands of the government. For this reason, Bush strongly supports common core at the state level, but hopes to do away with Common Core as a prerequisite for states to receive federal funds. Bush sees this as a way of reconciling the need for higher educational standards with state autonomy.
Democratic Views on Common Core
Common core also has its supporters and its rivals among the Democratic party. This issue is particularly unique in the fact that it doesn’t clearly straddle party lines. While many Democrats supported the common core during its creation, the majority of these supporters have since become unhappy with the system’s implementation. In fact, back in 2012 when common core was first being created, the Democratic Party platform staunchly supported the system. The platform states, “To that end, the President challenged and encouraged states to raise their standards so students graduate ready for college or career and can succeed in a dynamic global economy. Forty-six states responded, leading groundbreaking reforms that will deliver better education to millions of American students,” making clear reference to the common core standards and placing clear political pressure on those states that had not yet conformed.
Many of the 46 states that did respond initially, including those with Democratic leaders, have stated that their states were pressured to adopt the standards by financial hardship and the promise of increased funding. This past January, Washington State Democratic leaders, who had passed the common core and fully supported it five years previously, voted to condemn the system. A news report on the event stated, “At a party meeting in Olympia on Saturday, the Democrats approved a resolution saying the state was unfairly pressured into adopting the new standards. They are asking the Legislature and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn to back away from the Common Core and return to a similar list of education goals created in Washington state.” Surprisingly, many of the Democratic concerns regarding the common core closely mimic those of the Republican Party. They believe that it places too much power into the hands of the government, not leaving enough say in the hands of educators, parents, and students. They also believe that the creation of the common core was based too heavily on the say of corporate and special interests, and that many states that adopted it did so due to pressures from the U.S. Department of Education. Many Democrats also fear that the common core and its strict requirements and harsh consequences for teachers undermines union efforts and the rights of the educators.
Hillary Clinton on Common Core
Common Core may in fact be one of Hillary Clinton’s most controversial issues in the coming election, due to her strong support of the issue. Both Hillary and her husband were supporters of Goals 2000, an educational reform program that never gained momentum but was a predecessor to common core. In fact, Hillary was not only a supporter of Goals 2000, but was greatly involved in its development. The issue has been a toss-up so far regarding party lines, since both parties have both opponents and supporters. However, with Hillary the clear leader among Democratic nominees, Republicans could make this into a large issue if they were to nominate an anti-common core candidate. Hillary, however, is greatly upset that the issue is turning political. She stated that it was “very painful” to see the “really unfortunate” argument surrounding Common Core since it began as a “bipartisan effort … actually, nonpartisan” project,” going on to say, “It was about coming up with a core of learning that we might expect students to achieve across our country, no matter what kind of school district they were in, no matter how poor their family was. That there wouldn’t be two tiers of education.” She tied her support for the common core into the need for educational reform as a whole, stating, “We need a new vision—a new paradigm— of what education is. When you talk about American innovation, you need to look at community colleges [as an option]. Maybe someone’s better at working with their hands [than studying in a classroom] … focus on what works and see what fits.” However, she later stated “We have to look to teachers to lead the way,” which has caused much speculation over how her support of common core ties into her support for teachers’ unions and the overall views of her party. Many believe that this was thrown in to lessen the criticism that was created by her support of common core.
- Everything you need to know about Common Core – The Washington Post
- Common Core might be the most important issue in the 2016 Republican presidential race. – The Washington Post
- Could Common Core cause a Republican civil war in 2016? – CBS News
- Common Core is so Bad even Democrats are Starting to Reject It – Red State
- Jeb Bush hails Senate Republicans’ stand on Common Core – The Washington Examiner
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