Two Republican governors, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Nikki Haley of South Carolina, have just signed laws pulling their states out of the Common Core State Standards initiative amid growing anti-Core sentiment around the country.
Fallin signed the law on Thursday, while Haley did it last week, joining Indiana in officially rejecting the Core. A few other states, including Florida, are considering whether to keep the standards or have already “rebranded” the standards by changing the name and deciding to create their own standardized tests for accountability purposes rather than use the Core tests now being designed by two multi-state consortia. Fallin, who had once supported the Core, said:
“We cannot ignore the widespread concern of citizens, parents, educators and legislators who have expressed fear that adopting Common Core gives up local control of Oklahoma’s public schools.”
What does this all mean for the future of the Core? The standards were adopted in 2010 and 2011, with the support of the Obama administration, by 45 states and the District of Columbia, and schools have been implementing them for a few years. Most of those states are keeping the standards, at least for now.
The issue of common assessments is a different story. One of the central reasons for the creation of the Core standards was for states not only to use common standards but common assessments that would allow comparisons of scores among the states. But states have been dropping out of both of the two consortia that are writing new Core-aligned exams with some $360 million in federal funds, and deciding to design their own exams.
In 2010, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, had 23 states plus the District of Columbia but now there are no more 14 states plus the D.C. school system. There were once 31 states in the Smarter Balanced Assessment consortium, but now there are 22 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands. An Education Week analysis showed that in mid-May, at least 19 different standardized tests would be used by states for the 2014-15 school year. At least in the area of assessment, the Core is nowhere near accomplishing its goal.
In the last year, what seemed like a successful bipartisan initiative has become a target of criticism from all points on the political spectrum. Many are upset with the way the Core was written and implemented as well as aligned tests have been designed and administered. Others say the standards for young children are developmentally inappropriate. The far right-wing has taken a position that the Core amounts to a federal takeover.
South Carolina’s new law says that the Core standards in math and English Language Arts will remain in classrooms for the next school and new standards yet to be written will be implemented in the 2015-16 school year. Haley had been a vocal opponent of the Core and supported the legislation ending South Carolina’s involvement with the Core initiative, saying that education issues should remain local.
Oklahoma schools will revert to standards being used before the Core was approved in 2010 while new ones are being written. Fallin’s situation was more complicated; late last year she signed an executive order supporting the Core, and she is the chair of the National Governors Association, one of the organizations behind the development of the Core. Until Fallin signed the bill, it was unclear what she would do. Teachers and administrators had said before Fallin signed that pulling out of the Core immediately would result in “chaos” in 2015-16 as teachers have to completely remake lesson plans, pacing guides, exams, etc. The Oklahoman newspaper quoted middle school math teacher Heather Sparks, Oklahoma’s 2009 Teacher of the Year, as saying:
“For next year, we’ve already written our curriculum map and the pacing guides for the Common Core standards. It’s kind of disheartening. If these are repealed, we’ll have to go backward.”
The anti-Core laws in South Carolina and Oklahoma have language that ensures that newly written standards don’t resemble the Common Core in any way. For example, the Oklahoma law says that once new standards have been created, the state should compare them to the Core on these issues:
a. effective preparation for active citizenship and postsecondary education or the workforce,
b. subject matter content,
c. sequencing of subject matter content and relationship to measurement of student performance and the
application of subject matter standards,
d. developmental appropriateness of grade-level expectations, academic content and instructional rigor,
e. clarity for educators and parents,
f. exemplars tied to the standards,
g. measurability of student proficiency in the subject matter,
i. development of critical thinking skills, and
j. demonstration of application of acquired knowledge and skills.