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Common Core isn’t going anywhere

ESSA requires state standards align with college and career readiness—but they don’t have to be Common Core
Half of the general population approves of the standards—down from 83 percent just three years ago (Gettyimages.com: dny59)
Half of the general population approves of the standards—down from 83 percent just three years ago (Gettyimages.com: dny59)

Public support for the Common Core standards is plummeting—but that doesn’t mean much to K12.

Half of the general population approves of the standards—that’s down from 83 percent just three years ago. Support among teachers has fallen to only 44 percent, according to the latest Education Next survey.

Common Core is here to stay,” says David Griffith, director of public policy for ASCD. He chalks up the drop in public opinion to a combination of backlash against standardized testing, and continual confusion about what exactly Common Core is.

While Common Core is often associated with federal control over education, it was actually devised at the state level. And while it was incentivized by the Obama administration through grants and waivers, such incentives have since expired.

A few states, including Indiana, South Carolina and Louisiana, first adopted and later repealed the Common Core, but those states now have new learning standards that closely resemble Common Core.

In Louisiana, for example, the legislature moved to overhaul Common Core last summer, but the new state-generated curriculum retained about 80 percent of the Common Core standards.

“What is the real alternative?” says Noelle M. Ellerson, associate executive director of policy & advocacy at the School Superintendent Association. “The Common Core has been increasingly politicized, but the reality is it was locally developed, and I haven’t met anyone who’s had a real alternative proposal.”

Standards in ESSA

Over the next year, districts will begin implementing ESSA. The law does require some standards at the state level that align with college and career readiness—but they don’t have to be Common Core.

“If states want to repeal Common Core they are going to need rigorous standards at the ready to replace it,” Ellerson says. “I can’t imagine many states are going to want to repeal their Common Core and devise new standards while trying to implement ESSA.”

Then there’s testing. One of the main drivers of dissatisfaction with Common Core, Ellerson and Griffith agree, is that it’s associated with over-testing students.

In New York, for example, nearly one in five students are opting out of standardized tests. But while two standardized tests measure students’ knowledge of the Common Core—PARCC and Smarter Balanced—most of the testing burden is driven by local and state tests.

“The federal government requires only 17 tests between kindergarten and grade 12,” Ellerson says. “So most of this testing that’s upsetting people has nothing to do with the Common Core.”

And as ESSA is implemented, measuring accountability will be increasingly decoupled from testing. The law empowers states to devise other ways to measure performance, which could include new metrics such as classroom performance or surveying how excited students are to be at school.

“There’s lots of flexibility in ESSA,” Griffith says. “And that may serve as a release valve to relieve some of this pent up anxiety over testing and Common Core.”

Avi Asher-Schapiro is a freelance writer.