Common Core Education Standards: Why They're Contested Left and Right

By Paulson, Amanda | The Christian Science Monitor, August 3, 2014 | Go to article overview

Common Core Education Standards: Why They're Contested Left and Right


Paulson, Amanda, The Christian Science Monitor


When the final Common Core State Standards were released in 2010, they were notable, in part, for how little opposition they generated.

After prior attempts to create uniform national standards had failed, that goal seemed to have finally been accomplished, and in a way that was bipartisan. Kentucky was the first state to sign on, and two months after the standards were released, more than two- thirds of states had adopted the standards. With few exceptions, educators hailed them as a big improvement for most states, a chance to give some uniformity to education expectations across the United States and ensure that students graduate from high school with a deeper understanding of subjects, better critical thinking skills, and thorough preparation for college courses.

Fast-forward four years, and the headlines about Common Core are mostly consumed with who is dropping out - either from the standards themselves or from one of the two tests designed to assess them - or who is being pressured to do so.

The backlash is coming from both sides of the political spectrum. Among Republicans, supporting Common Core (aka "Obamacore") has become particularly toxic, with numerous politicians up for election this fall or maybe in 2016 vehemently reversing prior support. Criticism is almost as strong among some segments of the left, albeit for different reasons. And for both sides, Common Core seems largely to have become a proxy for whatever in education people are unhappy with.

For most states, this school year will be the first that the standards will be both fully implemented and tested, and it's an open question what will be the degree to which the backlash affects that process or the standards' effectiveness.

"The politics have reached the point where they're getting in the way of actually implementing" the standards, says Andrew Rotherham, cofounder of Bellwether Education Partners, an education research and policy group based in Sudbury, Mass.

"The perception is one of momentum [for the anti-Common Core people], and politics is a game of perception," he says. "If you end up with 25 states doing [Common Core] in a meaningful way, that's an enormous victory, but it won't be perceived that way."

Most people agree that for Republicans, the seeds of the backlash were planted when President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan got behind the standards, requiring states that wanted to apply for federal Race to the Top funds to either adopt the standards or adopt comparable ones deemed "college- and career- ready."

What had been sold as a state-led effort, supported by the National Governors Association, suddenly became associated with Mr. Obama, and rumors circulated quickly of a national curriculum (the standards don't actually prescribe curriculum) and a federal takeover of education.

"If it weren't for the Race to the Top funds and the No Child Left Behind waivers, you wouldn't have had 45 states sign on," says Shane Vander Hart, a conservative anti-Common Core activist. "There was executive overreach."

To date, the states that have actually dropped the standards - Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina - are red states. Also, Missouri and North Carolina have made moves toward dropping the standards. Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who used to be a strong Common Core supporter, has done an about-face and has tried (unsuccessfully so far) to withdraw his state from both the standards and the new tests. Governor Jindal is considered to be a presidential contender for 2016.

But there has also been vocal opposition from blue states - some around the standards themselves, particularly for younger grades, but much of it around implementation, as well as the tests and high- stakes consequences tied to the new standards. The varied quality of "Common Core-aligned" textbooks hasn't helped. This spring, the Chicago Teachers Union became one of the biggest local unions to officially oppose Common Core. …

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