The Common Core State Standards buzz is heating up.  On my desk sits a professionally-printed envelope with a DVD labeled “Stop Common Core” inside.  A The picture on the envelope depicts Jane Robbins, a Senior Fellow with the “American Principles Project” and Texas Superintendent, Robert Scott.  Also depicted is an image of a Trojan horse, which is a cover of a booklet written by by Orlean Kochle, State President of “Eagle Forum.”  A synopsis of the booklet, entitled, Common Core: A Trojan Horse for Educational Reform, is included with the DVD.  It harshly criticizes the federal government’s involvement in educational reform.

  • The main argument relates to a state’s 10th Amendment right being jeopardized.  However, there is a history of federal laws affecting public education.  Here are a few:
  • Equal Access Act- Allows for speech and assembly applied to students meeting on school grounds during non-instructional time
  • Age discrimination in Employment Act- Guarantees right of employment regardless of age
  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy- Applies to student and parent access to school records and right to request modification
  • Individuals with Disabilities Act- Addresses discrimination against students with disabilities and ensures education and related services for disabled students
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964- Prohibits the discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin

A review of the list clearly illustrates the important and necessary role the federal government has played in public education.  A right to education is a theme we see here.  Perhaps the past decade’s test results have taught us that our nation is not providing equal education to all children- a need that was articulated in the report entitled A Nation at Risk, issued in 1983.  As a result these inequities were to be addressed by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (later known as No Child Left Behind).  The report, although written over 20 years ago, includes many truths that continue to ring true:

The 1983 report included several specific indicators of risk (U.S. Dept. Ed., 1983c), such as:

  • About 13 percent of all 17-year-olds in the United States can be considered functionally illiterate. Functional illiteracy among minority youth may have run as high as 40 percent.
  • Scores consistently declined in verbal, mathematics, physics, and English subjects as measured by the College Board’s Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT).
  • Nearly 40 percent of 17-year-olds cannot draw inferences from written material; only one-fifth can write a persuasive essay; and only one-third can solve a mathematics problem requiring several steps.
  • Remedial mathematics courses in public 4-year colleges increased by 72 percent and now constitute one-quarter of all mathematics courses taught in those institutions.

As we review these indicators, it is natural to ask ourselves if we have made gains.  Sadly, remedial classes in colleges and universities are still of major concern.  A high school diploma, college-preparatory classes, and examinations do not ensure college readiness.  The National Center for Public Policy in Higher Education (2010) reports that nearly 60% of first-year college students must take remedial courses in English or mathematics.  National Center Report  Illiteracy across all content areas is also of utmost concern.  Specifically, the ability to read and understand complicated information in authentic situations is an area of weakness that must be addressed.  Is this a reason for federal intervention, and is Common Core the answer?

The concern related to local control of public education may have some merit, but many school districts are using the Common Core State Standards to guide their own curriculum writing.  The move away from scripted teaching texts has been refreshing.  Integrated units of study are developed by our teachers and curriculum experts.  In this way the standards are guiding efforts to ensure authentic learning experiences that relate to the local context and culture, something sorely lacking in the past.  Case-in-point, the state of Washington is aligning its Tribal Sovereignty curriculum to the CCSS.

What remains to be seen is the accountability piece.  To be certain, testing is a critical ingredient to be considered.  What we have learned from many years of standardized testing accountability is that assessment often creates the climate in our schools.  If these computerized tests are the next generation of testing, it is not a big leap to envision fields of computers loaded with testing simulations.  The money tied to testing results is another experience from which we must learn.  Are we going to continue to reset the testing bar to unattainable objectives?  These are important questions to consider.

The envelope on my desk is a call to action for all of us.  We must educate ourselves and struggle through the hyperbole.  So far, South Dakota and Indiana have resolved to drop the standards.  Kansas and Missouri have introduced a bill to do the same.  Alabama and Georgia introduced legislation that failed.  Be prepared to contribute to the dialogue.  Whether you will defend or oppose the Common Core State Standards in your state, it is important to provide solutions to problems that have too long existed.  Status quo is not the answer!

By Marisol Rexach, Ph.D. in Education Student