Common Core, a set of guidelines for what students should know in English language arts and math, has evolved from a subject restricted mainly to board of education meetings to a politically contentious issue that every presidential candidate, member of Congress and governor is supposed to have a point of view on. As Hillary Clinton mentioned earlier this month, the Common Core wasn’t always controversial, but now that it has been implemented in many states, a backlash has taken place.
Tennessee and Mississippi recently joined a few states rebranding Common Core standards. The Tennessee state senate approved a bill to rename Common Core standards last week and in January, the Mississippi state house passed a bill to rename the Common Core standards the “Mississippi College and Career Ready Standards.” The Tennessee standards may possibly change, depending on the decisions of a new committee established to review the standards. The Mississippi standards themselves would not actually change, however.
Stephen Punwasi, the founder of an educational startup, Perchbox, an app that addresses gaps between state curriculums and Common Core standards, says that he has noticed a lot of states switching to standards very close to Common Core but with brand new names, in an effort to avoid the public outcry. For example, he points to Florida’s Sunshine Standards’ tests, which are filled with Utah’s standardized test questions.
“People claiming the Sunshine Standards in Florida are a rebranding of Common Core aren’t far from the truth. Florida is leasing the majority of questions from Utah, which is a well-known rubber stamper of Common Core standards,” Punwasi says. “In Florida, they’re supposed to be a little more relaxed now that it’s no longer called Common Core even though it’s a carbon copy.”
Common Core-aligned assessments, PARCC and Smarter Balanced are also under threat in a number of states, with the majority of states not using the tests during this current testing cycle.
Since 2012, the number of states administering the PARCC Assessment fell from 24 states to 13 and the number of states implementing the Smarter Balanced Consortium Assessment has dropped from 28 states to 21.
Utah introduced its Student Assessment Growth and Excellence testing system last year. School administrators have said that opt-outs from the test haven’t risen much from last year. Utah allows students to opt out for any reason. Parents and teachers were worried about the test scores last year, saying that students didn’t have enough time to prepare for the tests. According to the Orlando Sentinel, 78 percent of fourth-graders were proficient in English language arts in 2013, compared with just 41 percent of those students in 2014.
Texas, Alaska, Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska, Oklahoma and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have not adopted the standards. Minnesota adopted only the English language arts standards.
Indiana in particular has been a battleground for the future of Common Core standards after it pulled out of Common Core standards last year, citing concerns that the guidelines would hurt local control of schools. But as ThinkProgress reported then, the new standards weren’t very different from the old standards:
“For instance, both sets of 12th grade standards seek to ‘Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics” and ‘Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.’”
Indiana was one of the first few states to agree to adopt the standards in 2010. But it has been quite the roller coaster ride, with the state rejecting Common Core, replacing it with standards similar to the Common Core and then rejecting a new Common Core-aligned test. Now the pilot test has to be crammed in, making it a 12-hour test, although the legislature and State Board of Education recently cut three hours off of the test following parent concerns.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer changed the name of the state’s standards to “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards,” in 2013 after Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal suggested a name change. She also ordered agencies to stop using the name when referring to the state’s education standards, without an actual change in standards. In 2014, Al Melvin (R), an Arizona state senator, sponsored a bill prohibiting Arizona from using Common Core standards but it was defeated by both Democrats and Republicans.
Now, with a new superintendent of public instruction, Diane Douglas the conversation on Common Core has restarted. Douglas, who ran on opposition to common core, among other issues, said she would gradually change standards, however, instead of immediately dismantling the standards.
“They think that rebranding it will fix a lot of the issues. I don’t know if [parent criticism] will just go away but they’re hoping it will buy them enough time to slip into it a little more easily,” Punwasi says. “But the issue is Common Core in itself isn’t bad — it’s the implementation of Common Core. So I think parents are scared, but they don’t know what they’re scared of with Common Core.”
Whatever problems there are Common Core implementation in some states, it’s hard to argue a lot of misinformation hasn’t been spread around by politicians eager to take advantage of parents’ Common Core frustrations. According to a survey funded by Farleigh Dickinson University, 60 percent of respondents who had heard a lot about Common Core said the standards covered subjects they did not actually cover, with 44 percent saying sex education was included.
A poll by Education Next, a journal of Stanford University‘s Hoover Institution, showed that the words Common Core “elicit greater antagonism than does the concept of common standards itself.” The poll also showed that opposition increased with 53 percent of the public supporting the standards in 2014, compared to 65 percent in 2013.
An NBC News State of Parenting Poll, sponsored by Pearson and released in March, found 61 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Independents supported the standards, compared to just 26 percent of Republicans. The poll also found 49 percent white parents were opposed to the standards. Fifty-six percent of black parents and 73 percent of Hispanic parents supported them.
In 2014, Huckabee said Arkansas state education leaders should simply change what they call the standards, saying the name itself is “toxic,” according to The Washington Post.
Some state teachers unions are expressing anger over how Common Core is being implemented, especially in states where testing is tied to teacher evaluations. The American Federation of Teachers, which is supportive of Common Core, is working to bridge the gap between teachers and administrators, as well as administrators and governors, to create a “culture of trust” and make sure Common Core implementation is more of a collaborative effort.
At an event at the Center for American Progress yesterday, “Teacher Leadership: The Path to Common Core Success,” Randi Weingarten acknowledged the toxicity of the name.
“When the pleadings of parents and students and teachers were ignored, and then [New York Governor Andrew Cuomo] actually doubled down on testing, and then people use these new scores as a hammer against public schools, I raise all this because it’s now no wonder why Common Core is a toxic word,” Weingarten said. “Literally thousands of children have opted out of the tests.”
She pointed out Common Core implementation could be improved with more teacher and administration collaboration.
“It’s not enough to call out what’s wrong. We also have to promote what is right and what’s working,” she said.