The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are the most important story (and the biggest fight!) in public education right now. Common Core is heralded by some as the next greatest thing in public education, but it is denounced by others as the worst thing that ever happened to public education. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards, but fifteen of the initial adoptees have now introduced legislation to slow down or repeal implementation. What’s going on?
First, let’s look at the history of the Common Core State Standards. In 2009, the National Governor’s Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the non-profit Achieve began work on an educational reform initiative to set a clear, consistent framework of expectations for public education. Achieve is an education reform organization, led by state governors and national business leaders, that has been at the forefront of standards-based educational reform efforts across the states. Student Achievement Partners, a non-profit organization headed up by the three chief architects of the CCSS, has also been very active and influential in the design and implementation of the standards.
Of the twenty-four folks responsible for actually writing the standards, the majority were affiliated with the College Board or the ACT. Three of those who worked on the math standards had taught high school math in the past, although they were not currently in the classroom. Three others had previous high school teaching experience in other subjects. Five of those who worked on the English/language arts standards had taught high school English in the past, although none were currently in the classroom. None of them had ever taught elementary school, middle school, children with special needs, or English language learners.
The CCSS were released in 2010. States adopted different time-lines for implementation, ranging from 2011/2012 to 2015/2016. The Common Core assessments, designed and implemented by two different groups (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), are scheduled for full implementation in the 2014/2015 school year.
The Gates Foundation has provided millions of dollars in funding for the effort to design and implement the Common Core – including support for the standards themselves, the assessment program, the data collection program, and the teacher evaluation/accountability component. The four organizations that have led the Common Core initiative have received funding from the Gates Foundation to the tune of 147.9 million dollars! Many other organizations have also received substantial grants for work on implementing the Common Core program. In many ways, Common Core is the product of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The federal government has been involved, albeit indirectly, in the design and implementation of the CCSS since the beginning. As most of us are aware, the U.S. Constitution does not grant the federal government any authority over public education. State governments have that responsibility and all state constitutions include provisions for public education.
What the federal government did have during the recent recession was something that most states were sorely lacking – money! The Race to the Top public education initiative competitively granted millions and millions of dollars to cash-strapped states – with the proviso that states had to have college-and-career-ready standards in place. In practice, that meant that states adopted the CCSS in order to access federal funds for public education. In addition, 330 million dollars in Race to the Top funds were granted to Smarter Balanced and PARCC for development of the Common Core online assessments. The U.S. Department of Education has also made adoption of the CCSS a condition for receiving a waiver from some No Child Left Behind requirements.
Let’s summarize the big picture. Common Core is a set of K-12 academic standards in math and English/language arts that are intended to provide clear, consistent expectations for public schools across the country. The standards are not a national curriculum and do not mandate particular instructional approaches. The Common Core initiative also includes assessments, data collection, and accountability measures. The initiative has been led by the states, but with significant help and influence from the Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.
So what’s the bottom line? Stay tuned next week for more details, Common Core pros and cons, and my opinions about where we are and how we can get to where we need to be.