Do you think that the growing pushback against the Common Core is to the standards themselves, to their implementation, to their accountability measures, or to other factors? What change, if any, would most improve teacher and student experiences with the standards?

Forty-six states have signed on to the Common Core State Standards. At the heart of the initiative were two objectives: to inject rigor into school curricula across the country, and to raise and bring into alignment state standards nationwide.

While the great majority of states had agreed to participate initially, 19 of them have now pushed back during the 2014–15 “implementation year,” with some, such as Tennessee, citing a preference that local and state authorities determine curricular standards. Across the country, teachers have also expressed frustration about being held accountable to student assessment performance. Many have called for better teacher resources and training.

Answers

Jules Csillag, learning specialist & speech-language pathologist

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There are two, major components of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): the standards, themselves, and then the assessment of the standards. The standards, themselves, list what children are expected to learn, but not how they are to be taught. One key asymmetry in the way the CCSS is envisioned (and implemented) is that unlike the standards, the assessments do prescribe how to assess. This is problematic for two reasons: first, we know of multiple ways of assessing that are better than written tests. As written tests, the tests do align with the standards and are well-thought out, but they cannot be the sole measure of knowledge (and teachers’ evaluations or school funding should therefore never be based on students' test scores, when so many factors can go into why a student succeeds or does not succeed on written tests). Second, since how assessment is done is prescribed, this trickles back to how the standards are taught, thus teachers may be less likely to focus on diverse ways of assessing (favoring written tests in order to increase students’ familiarity with these types of assessments).

The standards, themselves? Yes, some of them are somewhat ambitious. There continues to be controversy about when reading should be taught, but the standards are not impossible to obtain with ample support for their implementation, including teacher training. For example, Tennessee saw gains in their students’ writing by implementing Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), an evidence-based framework for teaching writing instruction.

Another glaring misconception in the standards, themselves, is the lack of distinction between how older students read and how younger students read. In order to learn to read, younger students require decodable texts, which are engaging and linked to comprehension, but leveled reading (which is hazily dictated by the CCSS) is not appropriate for younger children, particularly those with reading disabilities.

That being said, I'm certainly in favor of "vetting" the standards for their validity as the research behind the CCSS is unclear. I’m not saying it’s not there, but I think it should be more transparent how the standards were developed, and what research supports their implementation.

Lastly, along with some vetting, there needs to be more research done on how the standards apply to English Language Learners (ELL’s) and students in special education, and more, clear alternatives provided. This is not an insignificant group. Together, English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities make up 24% of the US school population (although there is some overlap between the data, thus the percentage of students is likely slightly lower).

Even if the standards were “lowered,” I wholeheartedly agree that teachers require better (and more) resources and training. There is a lot we still don't know about instruction, but there is a lot that we do know about effective instruction, and providing more training, more time, and more, consist support around research-based, effective teaching is essential for our students, with or without the Common Core.

Mat Cusick, Teacher, Writer, Founder of Q Arts Foundation, Research & Develop

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In 2010, the Department of Education convinced—or coerced—an overwhelming majority of states to accept the Common Core standards by making eligibility for $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top funds contingent upon their adoption.

Race to the Top funding was eliminated in the 2015 federal budget, so one simple and cynical explanation for the increasing state backlash against Common Core is that the lure of federal funds has been withdrawn. Now that states have no perceived budgetary interest in pursuing the standards, a litany of problems have prompted legitimate reconsideration of the Gates Foundation-backed campaign for the Common Core. Most of the outcry has less to do with the specific content of the standards themselves than with their implementation and enforcement. The issues include:

- UNDEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENT: At the outset, the standards were developed by a group of sixty individuals, which included more than ten from the test-publishing giants, College Board and ACT, and just one schoolteacher, “in a secret process that excludes effective input from students, parents or teachers,” as education writer and former schoolteacher Anthony Cody pointed out in 2009.

- HIGH-STAKES IMPLEMENTATION: Race to the Top grants gave preference for federal funds to states with “value-added” evaluation of teachers—promoting or penalizing teachers based on student results in Common Core standardized tests, even though the American Statistical Association issued a report stating that “teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions.” These system-level conditions include severe socio-economic and racial disparities that can be exacerbated by the punitive system of high-stakes testing.

- ONEROUS FEDERAL DEMANDS: High-stakes Common Core testing was part of a package of reforms pushed on states through the eligibility requirements for Race to the Top funding. As education historian and policy analyst Diane Ravitch explained, “If states wanted any part of that money, they had to agree to certain conditions. They had to agree to evaluate teachers to a significant degree by the rise or fall of their students’ test scores; they had to agree to increase the number of privately managed charter schools; they had to agree to adopt 'college and career ready standards,' which were understood to be the not-yet-finished Common Core standards; they had to agree to 'turnaround' low-performing schools by such tactics as firing the principal and part or all of the school staff; and they had to agree to collect unprecedented amounts of personally identifiable information about every student and store it in a data warehouse.”

- BIG COSTS FOR SHRINKING BUDGETS: While the detailed Common Core standards were developed and promulgated at a national level, much of the onus for implementation of new curriculum, training, and enforcement was delegated to states, which was then largely delegated to districts. While in theory, this could arguably enable local input and flexibility, in practice it often created the opposite. (See "In Race to the Top, the Dirty Work Is Left to Those on the Bottom") American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said that the standards-aligned curricula had to be implemented so fast in New York that superintendents compelled teachers to rely upon state-provided lesson plans, basically telling them, “Here's 500 pages. Just do it.” Moreover, the costs of implementation far surpassed federal funding, forcing districts to take funds from other much-needed projects to pay for curriculum, training, testing, teacher evaluation, and materials for the all-online Common Core tests. “Los Angeles alone committed to spend $1 billion on iPads for the tests; the money is being taken from a bond issue approved by voters for construction and repair of school facilities,” observed Diane Ravitch. “Meanwhile, the district has cut teachers of the arts, class size has increased, and necessary repairs are deferred because the money will be spent on iPads. The iPads will be obsolete in a year or two, and the Pearson content loaded onto the iPads has only a three-year license. The cost of implementing the Common Core and the new tests is likely to run into the billions at a time of deep budget cuts.”

- BIG MONEY TO BIG BUSINESS: Those district funds are often going to big educational companies, like Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and other software and tech hardware companies. Indeed, the DOE chief of staff and former director of Race to the Top, Joanne Weiss, wrote on the Harvard Business Review blog that “the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.” It appeared to be a motivating reason for the federal initiative that the “development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments.”

- TESTS DESIGNED FOR FAILURE: High-stakes tests have been especially panic-inducing for teachers and administrators, because Common Core tests were designed with such a high bar for passing that they were bound to dramatically increase failure rates. “Wherever they have been implemented, they have caused a dramatic collapse of test scores. In state after state, the passing rates dropped by about 30%. This was not happenstance. This was failure by design…The testing consortia set the bar so high that most students were sure to fail, and they did. In New York state, which gave the Common Core tests last spring, only 30% of students across the state passed the tests. Only 3% of English language learners passed. Only 5% of students with disabilities passed. Fewer than 20% of African American and Hispanic students passed.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan dismissed much of the subsequent outcry over this problem by saying it came from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

- TESTING THE JOY OUT OF EDUCATION: After comedian Louis C.K. made headlines for criticizing the soul-crushing pressure of testing and mind-numbing idiocy of many of the Common Core test questions (See "Louis C.K.: Common Core makes my kids cry"), Diane Ravitch wrote an article agreeing that the Common Core testing was sucking the joy out of education. “I believe that subjecting little children to 6-8 hours of testing to see if they can read and do math is harmful, physically and mentally, to them,” Ravitch wrote. "Long ago, educators were able to find out in tests lasting 50 minutes how well a student could read or do math. Why is it now an ordeal that lasts as long as some professional examinations?” Even Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who had dismissed concerns over the high rates of Common Core test failure, finally conceded that, “Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy and cause unnecessary stress.”

There are also legitimate complaints about specific standards (including objections over specific required ratios for reading fiction and informational text, and age-inappropriate standards for early grades), and there are legitimate concerns about the very notion that all students should be required to learn more or less the same thing everywhere. Moreover, with all the money, effort, anxiety, and scandal associated with the new standards, a 2012 study from the Brown Center on Education Policy forecast that the standards would have “little to no impact on student learning.”

The best thing we can do for students is to give them more freedom, support, time, and resources to pursue work that is actually interesting to them, and to give the same to teachers to encourage students in that direction.

Read more about the objections to the Common Core:

Patrick Farenga, Author and speaker about self-directed learning, homeschooling, and unschooling.

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I agree with the analysis provided by the teachers, but I want to highlight another factor that made Common Core an even worse solution than the previous reforms: it created accountability mechanisms from a distant, outside authority that tells them what and when to teach regardless of what’s going on within their classes or students’ lives. Common Core plays well into data-driven management and the growing technocracy of school, but teachers and children aren’t little machines to be programmed and graded. Common Core pushed the command and control aspect of school into the faces of teachers, who are now being given the same medicine as their students—a slew of tests and assessments that have little bearing on what they want to do in or out of their classes—and they don’t like it any more than the kids do.

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher

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Both of the above experts offer a wealth of knowledge on this subject, and I have to say that for the most part, I agree whole-heartedly with what they are saying. Common Core state standards are, for all intents and purposes, designed to be much harder than anything students have faced before, and they were also created with the "Race to the Top" funds in mind as their chief motivational commodity. I do believe that the government's desire to ratchet up the pressure of academic competition and achievement to include all students across the country, and thus take all the joy out of learning in the process by subjecting them to inordinately long and excruciating test sessions, which are extremely costly, not to mention logistically nearly impossible for most schools and school districts to schedule and accommodate for, has created an outrage and uproar nationwide. Here in Washington, our districts have almost all systematically gone on strike not only for things like cost, but also for the extraordinarily unfair and impractical system of evaluations for teachers in terms of what is feasibly acceptable and expected from us and our students. Most have deemed the system to be downright absurd and impossible to measure fairly and accurately. It's hard to believe that the funding for this ludicrous endeavor has now been extracted from the equation, so that even the state legislatures and school districts themselves, let alone the teachers or students, have any real logical motivation to suffer through the pointlessness of executing its demands.

As for the standards themselves, in most cases, from what I've seen, they are not really even very different from the standards we were already using in the past. The wording may be slightly different, and they may have subdivided each into more diverse or particular sections, but most of these same standards were still included previously. Some might say that they are more precise and accurate now, but really, it depends on the teacher's style and methods as to how well they are taught. Some teachers may be more accustomed to breaking down and compartmentalizing reading and writing and math into small and precise lessons. Whereas other teachers might be much better at finding broader, more all-encompassing lessons that cover several of the standards in one shot, while at the same time giving the students a better idea of the "Big Idea" of a certain lesson. An example of this would be teachers who can fit main ideas, sentence structure (syntax), figurative language, and essay organization into one essay writing lesson, as opposed to having to do a separate mini-lesson on each topic. It seems as though everything having to do with the CCSS is centered around being time-consuming. In many cases, it seems as though we are slowing down our students' learning instead of speeding it up. The one aspect of this process I do like is the one that asks ALL teachers to teach literacy, and not just Language Arts teachers. I'm not sure if I agree with the use of informational texts as the only way to achieve this, but it is a start. With all of the problems we have with literacy in this country, and as the above experts alluded to the problems with both ELL and Special Ed students being a growing population and concern in these areas, there is a huge challenge ahead for all teachers when it comes to determining how many of these students are even cognitively aware of what they need to be looking for, let alone actually fully grasping a concept. Many students struggle just to understand the directions and what an assignment is asking, let alone actually being able to complete it. It is so important for teachers to be explicitly aware of what scaffolding and support students need, so that they can be clear in their instruction. I don't believe that just following an itemized and neatly organized outline really covers all of this. Formative assessments are just as important, if not much more important than the summative assessments that are taking up so much of our time and efforts. Teachers need to continuously be striving for and looking for new ways to grasp students interest in subjects that RELATE to the standards, but may not be the exact definition of the standards themselves, and that is the true art of teaching and pedagogy.

There are so many challenges ahead, and I believe the length of testing, the cost, and the actual presentation of the standards only begins to scratch the surface. Students and teachers alike need to be less robotic, and more creative in their thinking on these subjects because that is what truly garners students' attention and piques their interests. Imposing all kinds of forced pressure from perceived expectations of achievement will only inhibit their interest and dissuade them from wanting to go to school and learn at all. We really need to be very careful and attentive to this to ensure that this problem will not be a growing phenomenon in this country.

James Kadamus, National education consultant for K-12 and higher education

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The pushback against the Common core has ultimately led to the passing of restrictions on Federal mandates on standards and assessments in the newly signed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The law bans the Federal government from mandating the Common Core, although States may still adopt it. The law requires grade by grade testing in grades 3-8 in English and math and then again in high school. But it gives the States flexibility on when and how to test students.

The problem remains, however, that there is a lack of attention to aligning three key elements needed to improve educational achievement: 1. Grade by grade learning standards – these spell out what students need to know and be able to do at each grade level so the expectations from elementary to middle and then high school are clear to all; 2. Grade by grade curriculum – this creates a road map so teachers know the material to cover at each grade level based on the learning standards; 3. State testing – done at key checkpoints in a student’s educational process to assess progress, intervene if necessary with extra help and then use as one of the multiple measures to determine if a student has gain enough knowledge and demonstrated the necessary skills to be granted a high school diploma.

Most State Departments of Education lack the capacity to "start over" and create a new set of standards that replace the Common Core. So what we are seeing is State's repackaging and rebranding the Common Core standards. For example, the new standards in Massachusetts, widely seen as a leader in the standards movement, is a combination of the old State standards and Common Core. If a State like Massachusetts is going this route, it is likely we will see others pursue similar strategies. The bottom line is that key elements of the Common Core standards will remain in place, even if under another name.

The outstanding question is what accountability measures will be put in place for schools, students and teachers. In most States, State testing has been used as the main basis for accountability and under the new Federal law grade by grade tests will be required. The challenge for the States will be to develop an accountability system that aligns the three elements to improve educational achievement and is widely accepted and supported by parents and teachers. That has not happened using the Common Core and PARCC testing for many of the reasons cited in other answers to this questions. The States will be looking for Federal guidance on this issue and will need to think hard about what they need to put in place for accountability. Building consensus on an approach to accountability so everybody in the education system is moving in the same direction will be the first change I suggest.

Brittney Miller, Graduate student instructor, gifted education instructor

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All of the experts here make great points. The Common Core standards are not necessarily not achievable, but implementation and assessment seem to make it difficult to adopt the Common Core. Instead of allowing teachers to make learning enjoyable for their students, adopting the Common Core has put too much focus on assessing students and evaluating teachers using methods not reflective of the day-to-day happenings inside of a classroom. So much more happens in the classroom than just learning material that can be assessed with a written test, and the Common Core doesn't take this opportunities into account that help develop children into inquisitive and vibrant students. While it would be great to have more rigor and uniformity in US education and to be more competitive with other countries, the Common Core will not make this possible overnight especially with the lack of training and implementation tools.

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