Common Core State Standards Initiative: Stealth Federal Takeover or Movement Towards Consistency and Coherence?

There has been a lot of chatter about the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Many educators have expressed everything from “finally!” to “here we go again.” The latest bit of criticism of the CCSS is centered on the notion that adopting national common standards will be a threat to state’s autonomy and has sparked fears of a federal takeover that will stymy local innovation. Education chief Arne Duncan’s staunch support of the CCSS has intensified this fear and some states, including South Carolina and Utah have even taken steps to revisit their decision to adopt the new standards.

It is fascinating how the CCSS has now become part of the political issue of state’s constitutional rights. The CCSS will have a common assessment and is being supported by the current federal administration especially in the context of Race to the Top. Adopting the CCSS looks good on the application. But do the CCSS reek of nationalization of curriculum? My understanding after digging into the standards is that the CCSS are not a curriculum but a set of learning expectations that act as guidelines for curriculum implementation. Yes, states will have to sacrifice or change some of their previous standards. Yes, change is hard. But CCSS as federal education takeover? Really? Have we all forgotten the wide reaching effects of previous national movements like No Child Left Behind (NCLB)? NCLB has been dictating how we do education for over 10 years! It turned us all into bean counters as we waited with baited breath for our test scores and graduation rates to see if we made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). We had those moments of, yikes, our graduation rate dipped by 3% even though all of our other numbers have increased so we won’t make our AYP. Again. Program Improvement status became an under-performing sentence with seemingly no way out. I remember being at a conference with NCLB folks and asked them, “What happens in Program Improvement Year 5?” They didn’t have an answer. Still don’t.

At the end of the day, doesn’t the benefit students will receive from experiencing coherent, consistent standards that are aligned to the demands of college and career and the global economy outweigh any perceived threat to state’s autonomy in educational decision making? Is the autonomy that states covet even real? More of a concern and worthy of our energy is how the CCSS will get implemented and what role the ever-present influence of test makers and textbook publishers will have. Textbook adoptions and testing are wildly expensive and resources are scarce. No curriculum or set of standards will ever please all. However, we do know that consistency and alignment with 21st century expectations are an improvement on our antiquated system and the CCSS are a good step in this direction.

I dream of a time when knowledge is free and how we ask students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do will be an authentic experience that actually monitors their progress and informs our instruction. Go figure?

Onwards and sideways,


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