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Is the Common Core in Trouble?

The Common Core’s honeymoon phase is over, and now a growing backlash is emerging as parents, educators and political figures cite concerns ranging from rigor to privacy issues.

The standards are drawing criticism from both sides of the political spectrum: conservative media personality Glenn Beck objects to the federal government’s role in the Common Core’s implementation, while liberal education historian Diane Ravitch has expressed concern over the use of what she calls “untested” standards. Despite support from prominent GOP figures such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Republican National Committee recently passed a resolution opposing the Common Core, deeming the standards “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived ‘normal.’”

In seven states, legislators have introduced bills to repeal Common Core implementation. These bills failed to pass in Alabama, Georgia, and South Dakota. However, Alabama legislators have developed a new bill prohibiting the adoption of the standards, and similar measures are under consideration in Kansas, Michigan, and Missouri. And in April, eight Republican senators aligned themselves with an effort by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to defund the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

The only state thus far to actually pass anti-Common Core legislation is Indiana, with an April bill saying that the state will take “no further actions to implement…any common core standards until the state board conducts a comprehensive evaluation of the common core.” The measure calls for a legislative review, public hearings, and a fiscal analysis of the standards. There will be a state board vote in 2014 to either reaffirm support for the Common Core, or choose a different path.

Many educators remain supportive of the standards, but recognize the need for careful implementation, says Kathleen Porter-Magee, a Thomas B. Fordham Institute policy fellow who leads projects related to the Common Core. “We shouldn’t get swept up in the momentum without really understanding what’s happening,” she says. “Before states make any move to say ‘forget it,’ they need to think about what these standards look like, and if they can drive the type of teaching and learning we want to have. I think most educators who look at the standards say we need to get implementation right, but these are the thoughtful and rigorous standards that can drive student achievement.

“Support for the standards is going to be higher in the early years, before there are high stakes attached,” Porter-Magee adds. “Now, we’re getting closer and closer. There are a lot of teachers feeling unprepared, and feeling that having teacher evaluation decisions linked to the Common Core assessments is unfair.”

This concern over teacher evaluations has led Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, to both publicly call for a moratorium on such accountability “until the standards are properly implemented and field-tested,” according to an AFT statement.

Some groups are concerned that the standards are too rigorous, while others say they are not rigorous enough. A 2010 Fordham Institute study (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major source of financial support for the standards) found that the Common Core State Standards are clearer and more rigorous than English-Language Arts standards in 37 states and math standards in 39 states. However, California, Indiana, and the District of Columbia had superior ELA standards, and nearly a dozen states had ELA or math standards on par with the Common Core.

“The Common Core Standards are basically taking No Child Left Behind and diluting it,” says Karin Piper, founder and executive director of Parent Led Reform, a Colorado multi-issue parent network that projects parental power into education reform. “A lot of states adopting the standards are adopting a lower standard.”

Other concerns groups are voicing about the Common Core include:

• An increased federal involvement in education

• The unknown cost (the Fordham Institute estimates between $1 billion and $8.3 billion for implementation, while the Pioneer Institute estimates $16 billion)

• The emphasis on standardized testing

• Concerns from religious groups in states including Kansas, that such standards will challenge the ability to teach creationism

• Fear that private companies can potentially access student data and personal information standardized under the Common Core, as a 2009 stimulus bill required state databases to begin tracking information such as religious affiliation, family income, and disciplinary records in conjunction with student test scores

• The funding provided by wealthy non-profits like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support the standards, which may amount to lobbying.

However, the Common Core is not a national curriculum. Administrators must think through their school-level implementation plans, Porter-Magee of the Fordham Institute says, and how instruction and curriculum will change with Common Core implementation. They also must consider how best to support teachers during the transition. In Tennessee, schools transitioned gradually to the new standards: over a two year period, students worked with the Common Core assessments, but they were not counted toward teacher evaluation. “A more gradual shift can feel less threatening,” Porter-Magee says.