Common Core Standards attacked by Republicans

Republicans have launched an attack on the Common Core State Standards, an initiative that more than 45 states and the District of Columbia signed onto but that has been facing increasing opposition in recent months from both right and left.

This new effort could undermine what has largely been bipartisan cooperation on the Core and is coming even as some states are already implementing the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and math, and giving students high-stakes Core-aligned standardized tests.

Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, has just started a bid to to eliminate federal funding for the effort, which has come out of the Education Department budget. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has supported the standards, and gave $360 million to two multi-state consortia to develop standardized tests.

Grassley’s Wednesday letter to colleagues comes a few days after the Republican National Committee passed a resolution bashing the standards, calling them an “inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children” and saying that  the RNC “rejects this CCSS plan.” The resolution says:

RESOLVED, the Republican National Committee recognizes the CCSS for what it is — an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived “normal,” and, be it further

 

RESOLVED, That the Republican National Committee rejects the collection of personal student data for any non-educational purpose without the prior written consent of an adult student or a child student’s parent and that it rejects the sharing of such personal data, without the prior written consent of an adult student or a child student’s parent, with any person or entity other than schools or education agencies within the state, and be it finally

 

RESOLVED, the 2012 Republican Party Platform specifically states the need to repeal the numerous federal regulations which interfere with State and local control of public schools, (p36) (3.); and therefore, the Republican National Committee rejects this CCSS plan which creates and fits the country with a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.

Grassley sent a letter to colleagues on the appropriations subcommittee that handles education funding asking that they “restore state decision-making and accountability with respect to state academic content standards,” according to a copy of the letter published on the blog Caffeinated Thoughts.  The letter says in part:

While the Common Core State Standards Initiative was initially billed as a voluntary effort between states, federal incentives have clouded the picture. Current federal law makes clear that the U.S. Department of Education may not be involved in setting specific content standards or determining the content of state assessments. Nevertheless, the selection criteria designed by the U.S. Department of Education for the Race to the Top Program provided that for a state to have any chance to compete for funding, it must commit to adopting a “common set of K-12 standards” matching the description of the Common Core. The U.S. Department of Education also made adoption of “college- and career-ready standards” meeting the description of the Common Core a condition to receive a state waiver under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Race to the Top funds were also used to fund two consortiums to develop assessments aligned to the Common Core and the Department is now in the process of evaluating these assessments.

The standards were developed by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, with money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in what supporters said was an effort to elevate and make more consistent the academic standards  by which students around the country learn.

Though Duncan has said repeatedly that the Core is a state-led, voluntary initiative, the Obama administration has supported the standards. It made its multibillion-dollar Race to the Top funding initiative contingent on states approving a common set of standards, and then funded the development of Core-aligned tests. The Education Department recently said it was going to start a “technical review” of  “design and validation” of test items, according to Education Week.

Duncan had said repeatedly that the tests would be a major improvement over old standardized tests in assessing a broader band of student knowledge and ability. However, the tests are not turning out to be such a broad leap away from the old standardized tests. (You can read all about why here.)

Though both Democrats and Republicans have backed the Core, there are critics on both the left and right, in what is surely an unusual confluence of interest.

Those on the right say that the initiative is nothing more than a federal move towards a national curriculum that oversteps the proper role of the federal government in public education, which has traditionally been directed at the state and local levels. Critics on the left have taken issue with a number of things surrounding the standards (you can read a post about eight problems with the Core here), saying that there was not enough input from educators into the drafting of the Core, that the standards are not based on any research, that they ignore what is known about early childhood development and much more.

There has been growing resistance to the Common Core in some states that have  approved the standards. In fact, nearly 10 states have taken steps to reconsider the Core. For example, Alabama recently said it was pulling out of the two consortia that are working on creating standardized tests aligned with the standards. In Indiana, the  new superintendent of public instruction, Democrat Glenda Ritz, wants to pause to have a real conversation about the standards and the consequences of implementing them.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | April 18, 2013