Note: Following is the first in a number of stories to appear in IdahoReporter.com during the coming weeks examining the Common Core K-12 academic standards. Future stories, for example, will discuss the private funding that has been driving the Common Core initiative, pros and cons of establishing national standards, the anticipated costs to the state for implementing Common Core standards, why some states are choosing to adopt the standards while a few others are not, why some states are rethinking their support for the standards and how the standards are being implemented in classrooms.
In this first of a multi-part series, IdahoReporter.com examines the pros and cons of three of the most common claims about Common Core.
In 2011, the Idaho Legislature voted to support the State Board of Education’s decision to adopt what are known as Common Core standards. Idaho is one of 46 states that has adopted Common Core standards. A slew of national policy analysts and political pundits have argued the merits of the Common Core agenda. Common Core standards in Idaho are scheduled to be implemented for the 2013-14 school year.
Common Core is a set of educational curriculum requirements being imposed on the states by the Obama administration.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is not, itself, about curriculum. It is a set of academic standards that students in the various grade levels are expected to achieve. It was not created by the Obama administration, but rather, it is actually an effort that first emerged at the state level, undertaken by state governors and state superintendents of education nationwide.
The official sponsoring organizations of the initiative are the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Idaho Superintendent of Instruction Tom Luna was elected by other state superintendents to serve as the organization’s president; he is the immediate past president of the CCSSO.
Attempts to impose academic standards on public educators date back to the early 1980s, while the push toward standards has been happening in earnest for at least the past 20 years. In the 1990s, however, this effort shifted to become primarily a state-driven matter. The federal No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President George Bush in January of 2002, sought to incentivize the individual states to create their own academic standards by requiring the states to not only set standards, but then to also achieve those standards in order to receive federal education funds.
During the past decade, state governors and state education superintendents began to collaborate in an effort to bring uniformity to their respective states’ academic standards. Today, there are three primary organizations that advance the Common Core agenda. The NGA and the CCSSO, as noted above, remain as the official sponsoring organizations of the initiative. Separately, a group called Common Core, Inc., a nonprofit, 501 (c) 3 organization based in Washington, D.C., writes curriculum and curriculum standards (not academic standards) that are intended to help educators comply with Common Core standards.
“We have absolutely nothing to do with the initiative itself,” Barbara Davidson, vice president of Common Core, Inc., told IdahoReporter.com. “It is purely coincidental that our organization’s name and the initiative’s name are essentially the same, because we would support the initiative even if it was called by a different name. The point is that we support content-rich education, and we want teachers thinking in terms of what students need to learn, not just thinking about how students learn.”
Davidson acknowledged that several individuals involved with Common Core, Inc., helped formulate the initiative. However, she notes that while Common Core, Inc., began in 2007, the Common Core initiative did not become an official initiative until 2009.
In Idaho, the adoption of the Common Core academic standards does not dictate that specific types of curriculum must be used in schools. “There will be no national standardized curriculum, we don’t even have a state standardized curriculum,” said Melissa McGrath, spokesperson for Luna. “Idaho’s academic standards are now the Common Core standards, but local districts will decide how to achieve those standards,” she said.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative receives bipartisan support around the country.
The American Federation of Teachers and the Fordham Institute champion the Common Core effort, as does the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an organization headed up by the Republican former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush. Similarly, Idaho’s Republican governor, Butch Otter, along with Govs. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., and Duval Patrick D-Mass., all support the Common Core effort.
However, just as Common Core receives bipartisan support, it is also subject to bipartisan opposition. The conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, along with libertarian-leaning groups like the Pioneer Institute (a Boston-based think tank) and the Idaho Freedom Foundation all oppose the Common Core effort. Glenda Ritz, a Democrat who currently serves as Indiana’s state superintendent of education, also opposes the Common Core initiative.
Her election in the Republican state of Indiana is often cited as evidence of Common Core’s unpopularity. In November of 2012, Ritz unseated Indiana’s incumbent Republican state superintendent, Dr. Tony Bennett, in part by campaigning against the Common Core initiative and claiming that Indiana’s adoption of the Common Core standards would result in a loss of state sovereignty. Ritz ended up receiving more votes in that election than did the new governor of Indiana, Mike Pence.
Common Core will allow the federal government to control educational content nationwide.
“Federal law requires states to establish their own academic standards,” Davidson told IdahoReporter.com. “However, federal law also prohibits the federal government from dictating to the states what those standards will be,” she noted.
Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at the Pioneer Institute, agrees with Davidson on this point. “We’ve done independent research on the legal ramifications of the Common Core initiative and we’ve found that the notion of national academic standards and national curriculum are prohibited under three different federal laws,” he told IdahoReporter.com.
However, Gass also says that despite the fact that the Common Core initiative originated from among the individual states, there has nonetheless been an attempt by the federal government to co-opt it.
As an example, Gass notes the implementation of President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative back in 2009 and 2010. The program awarded the individual states with extra economic stimulus funds to be spent on public education if the states adopted certain education reforms that included both teacher evaluations and higher “college and career standards” for students.
Gass told IdahoReporter.com that when the state of Massachusetts first applied for the Race to the Top stimulus funds in the initial round of funds disbursements, the state ended up being ranked 13th among the 17 states that were first to apply. Later, after Massachusetts officially adopted the Common Core academic standards, the state received a No. 1 ranking when it next applied for the funds.
“The Obama administration couldn’t technically require the states to specifically adopt the Common Core standards, but they certainly used a carrot-and-stick approach to incentivize it,” Gass stated. “The lesson from Massachusetts was pretty clear. Adopt Common Core standards and you’ll get more money from the feds. Even supporters of Common Core agree that the Obama administration has been very aggressively using federal money to try and force states to get on board, and there’s no doubt that the goal here is national uniformity with education.”
Luna is one of the Common Core supporters who has nonetheless has expressed concerns about the Obama administration’s handling of it.
“Superintendent Luna always has concerns when the federal government tries to take credit for what the states have accomplished,” Luna spokesperson McGrath told IdahoReporter.com, noting that during the last election cycle, President Obama repeatedly claimed in his campaign speeches that he and his administration had brought uniformity to public education around the country. The president also asserted this claim in his State of the Union address in January of this year.
McGrath noted that while Idaho has chosen to adopt the Common Core standards for the teaching of mathematics and English language arts, the state can also at any time choose to not adopt those standards. “We can choose even higher standards, if we want, in the future,” she said.
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.