Common Core’s Surprisingly Deep Roots

Common Core’s Surprisingly Deep Roots

- in Education

Students raising thair hands in a classroom.

On the campaign trail, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz reliably wins applause with a call to “repeal every word of Common Core.” It’s a promise he will be hard-pressed to keep should he find himself in the White House next January. Aside from the bizarre impracticality of that comment as phrased (Which words shall we repeal first? “Phonics?” “Multiplication?” Or “Gettysburg Address?”), the endlessly debated, frequently pilloried standards – love ’em or hate ’em – are now a deeply entrenched feature of America’s K-12 education landscape.

Common Core has achieved “phenomenal success in statehouses across the country,” notes the journal Education Next, which found, in a study published last month, that “36 states strengthened their proficiency standards between 2013 and 2015, while just five states weakened them.” That’s almost entirely a function of Common Core.

In 2005, when EdNext began grading individual state’s standards, comparing the extent to which their state tests’ definition of proficiency aligned with the gold-standard National Assessment of Educational Progress test (often referred to as “the nation’s report card), six states received an “A” grade. As recently as four years ago, only Massachusetts earned that distinction. Today nearly half of states, including the District of Columbia, have earned an “A” rating. More tellingly, only one state, Texas, earned a “D.”

Things look very different today. While many states have chosen to go their own way on annual tests, robbing Common Core of one of its main selling points – the ability to compare test results across state lines – over half are still part of the two main Common Core testing consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced. A new report from my colleagues at the Fordham Institute suggests the tests our children sit for now are considerably more challenging than those taken by their older brothers and sisters, a few short years ago. “They tend to reflect the content deemed essential in the Common Core standards and demand much from students cognitively. They are, in fact, the kind of tests that many teachers have asked state officials to build for years,” note authors Nancy Doorey and Morgan Polikoff. “Now they have them.”

In short – and in short order – academic standards are a lot higher, richer in content and intellectual rigor than they used to be merely 24 to 36 months ago. So too is the bar for proficiency. Despite withering political attacks, the line has held. Now the question is, for how long?


Given the enormous investments that many states have made in implementation of higher standards – from professional development to the new tests themselves – there will likely be no rapid wholesale retreat from Common Core, but that doesn’t mean there can’t or won’t be a slow bleeding out of rigor and quality. Raising standards is easy; meeting them is hard. “Enforcing” them, or supporting them in a meaningful accountability system, remains a challenge. Only the most pie-eyed optimist would envision the vast majority of American children suddenly soaring to proficiency as a mere function of raised standards. The best case scenario would be far more children graduating from high school prepared – genuinely prepared – for college, some manner of post-secondary education or training, or the workforce. But that’s the work of years, even decades.

A second good outcome that time might reveal is a general recognition that our education ecosystem has a comprehensive capacity shortage at every level. John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, famously observed that “sports do not build character, they reveal it.” Higher standards and proficiency levels over time might create a “wooden effect,” revealing much about states’ and districts’ education systems, from the effectiveness of curriculum to the efficacy of our schools of education, which still train the vast majority of the nearly 4 million teachers in American classrooms.

With the adoption of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reauthorized the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act, states are ostensibly back in the driver’s seat on testing and accountability. In theory, they should be less likely to set low proficiency standards, since in all but the most dire cases, they no longer need to fear federal penalties. But not all pressure comes from the top: Attention must be paid to the testing “opt out” movement that has roiled New York, New Jersey, Colorado and other states. It’s anyone’s guess how much patience parents will have with more than half of children labeled below proficient – especially if the source of test pressures merely shifts from Washington, D.C. to the 50 state capitals. In a perfect world, high standards and challenging proficiency levels would prompt pushy parents to demand more from schools, districts and state policymakers. But with the natural alliances between teachers and parents born of proximity – parents generally trust their kids’ teachers – it might be easier simply to blame “inappropriate” standards and “meaningless” tests. Stay tuned. Politicians too risk a major backlash at the polls if they send out too much bad news, flunk too many kids or give “F” ratings to too many schools.

The bottom line is that – for now at least – a new normal has been created with alarming speed across much of the U.S. Whether it sticks or suffers the death of a thousand cuts comes down to two questions: Does the political will exist to maintain higher standards for the long haul? Does the capacity exist in K-12 education at large to raise significant numbers of American children to meet these higher definitions of “proficiency?” The real test of Common Core comes when the answer to either of these questions is “no.”

Much about our state education systems is about to be put to the test. But the biggest test of all will be on our appetite for honesty.

[Source:- Usnews]