Common Core Mythbuster: CCSS Is Not a Federal Program
Just when you thought it was safe, a Georgia newspaper calls the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) the “federal education standards.” They are not.
As we noted in a previous blog, CCSS is not created nor mandated by the federal government, although the Obama Administration ties some grant money to CCSS. The most vocally strident opposition to CCSS comes from a small group of people intent on strangling this national – meaning across the states, not directed by the federal government – movement to provide framework standards that pump up the rigor in American schools across the country.
In a Georgia school boards meeting this week, activists claim CCSS is an attempt to usurp local control of the schools and direct the education of children. One of the more absurd complaints comes from Alabama where a CCSS critic cautioned lawmakers that “federal government was developing technology to read students’ faces during tests to determine what they ate at home.”
All this turbulence has given CCSS a bumpy ride, as a few states contemplate reneging on their commitment to establish these standards. Instead, they should tighten their seatbelts and pilot through the stormy weather with the facts in hand.
Deep Roots of Ed Reform
Standards-based education reform has always been a joint venture among state leaders, the business community and, yes, the federal government. The standards based reform movement’s start often is traced to the now 30-year-old seminal report, “A Nation at Risk.”
In 1981, Terrell Bell, President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of education, gathered a group of education experts and charged them with reporting back on the status of the American education system. What they found – “a rising tide of mediocrity” – rattled the nation, particularly the business sector. From the get-go, given Reagan’s inclination for a smaller federal government, a movement to increase education standards was slow moving. Several other major reports warning that the low quality of American education was putting economic productivity in jeopardy sounded the buzzer for the start of education reform.
Major movement toward national standards occurred in the first-ever National Education Summit convened by President George H.W. Bush. A young governor from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, played a prominent role drafting six broad goals to be reached by the year 2000. The National Education Goals, with a series of indicators to assess progress, were crafted with bi-partisan support and gave birth to the National Education Goals Panel, consisting of members of Congress, governors and state legislative leaders, with full-backing of the business community. As president, Clinton signed the Goals 2000 Act in 1994, which created the National Education Standards and Improvement Council, which some Republicans found to be one step too close for federal involvement. Some backlash to standards occurred in the early 1990s, and the federal government began to back off.
A turning point for a more state-led movement toward improving rigor in American education came at the 1995 National Governor’s Association meeting. Louis V. Gerstner Jr., IBM’s CEO, tasked the governors with taking over the business of improving education. Along with several governors and other CEOs, Gerstner took over from the White House the planning of the second National Education Summit of 1996. One result was the creation of a non-profit, Achieve, charged with shepherding the development of standards – at the state level.
The Third National Education Summit focused more on accountability than standards, but Gerstner kept everyone’s eye on the prize. That was tough once No Child Left Behind was passed under President George W. Bush. Accountability through annual yearly progress reports dominated and standards took a back seat to standardized testing. All the while, though, under the guidance of the NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCCSSO), and Achieve developed a set of common core state standards for K-12 English language arts and mathematics.
The Common Core State Standards are state-driven guideposts for what students should know and be able to do, whether they live in Alabama or Alaska. No state is required to adopt these standards. Yes, some federal dollars are tied to the standards, but the content of these standards has been built on the backs of state leaders. (See Achieve’s timeline of CCSS here).
The 15% Solution
Anticipating the need for more local input, the CCSS allows states who voluntarily adopt the standards to add 15 percent on top of the core. Some states are using this to add state-specific material. But, it should be noted that there is no enforcement of this provision. It’s more of a guideline. States could actually add more than 15 percent.
That doesn’t sound much like a federal Darth Vadar dictatorship.
Most important to remember is that standards are just standards. And, in the case of CCSS, voluntary ones. It’s the curriculum that matters and curriculum is not being created at the national, let alone federal, level. States, districts, teachers all are in charge of designing the best curricula to meet their state and local needs and that address CCSS. If there is any real concern with CCSS it is too much too fast. For example, in a mad dash to tie teacher evaluation consequences to CCSS, seems some folks forgot that you first need a curriculum in place that meets the standards, along with tests that consider the standards and what’s being taught in the classroom. That “oops” moment, a legitimate concern, is causing a lot of angst among even top-performing teachers. Just last week, AFT President Randi Weingarten made a common sense plea: Why not move forward with CCSS and teacher evaluation, but put off the consequences until all pieces are in place – meaning teachers have the curriculum, the materials, and the preparation to meet instructional shifts.
One more year sounds pretty good – especially for the state and local – not federal – educators in charge of building a more rigorous curriculum.