A majority of school officials responsible for implementing the Common Core State Standards say the new national academic benchmarks are more rigorous than their previous state standards and will improve the skills of students, according to a new national survey released Wednesday.
But most of those same school leaders said it is a major challenge to find the funding they need to implement the standards properly and said there is not enough time to cement changes related to the Common Core before new tests are used to evaluate students, teachers and schools.
The Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan think tank at George Washington University, based its survey findings on the responses of leaders in 211 of the nation’s school districts. The survey’s authors weighted the responses to create a nationally representative sample.
The survey is one in a series from the Center for Education Policy that aims to measure attitudes toward the Common Core, the controversial new K-12 math and reading standards now taught in classrooms around the country.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — which largely paid for the creation of the Common Core standards and the campaign to get them adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia — is among the organizations that funded the survey.
Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center for Education Policy, said the Gates Foundation did not influence the survey. “We’ve got two decades of a reputation as an honest broker,” she said. “We don’t advocate for anyone, for any cause and we’re not painting a rosy picture. We’re showing the good and the bad.”
A bipartisan group of governors and state school officials created the Common Core in 2010 as a way to inject some consistency in academic standards, which have varied wildly from state to state.
The standards are not curricula; they spell out the skills and knowledge students should have by grade, but decisions about how to teach those skills and what classroom materials to use are left to states and local school districts.
The Common Core has come under fire from across the political spectrum, with conservatives angry about what they see as the loss of local control over education, progressives unhappy with the role of the Gates Foundation and worried about standardized testing that will accompany the standards. Others are concerned with the academic content.
Most of the superintendents or assistant superintendents who responded to the survey said the Common Core requires new curricular materials and fundamental changes in the way students are taught.
Despite the political turbulence around the standards — earlier this year, Oklahoma dropped the Common Core while Indiana and South Carolina are moving to replace them — approximately nine out of every 10 school district leaders surveyed said that the Common Core is more rigorous than their state’s previous academic standards. Three out of every four respondents said they expect student skills to improve under the new benchmarks.
Sixty-two percent of the education leaders said one of the challenges they face is a concern that state officials will dump the Common Core or put it on hold; 42 percent called that challenge “major” while 20 percent termed it “minor.”
Survey respondents also flagged challenges such as the time, money and the technical capability to administer the new Common Core exams by computer.
Sixty-seven percent of respondents said it is a major challenge to find the funding needed to properly implement the new standards. And an equal percentage said they did not think there is enough time to cement all the changes involved before students, teachers and schools are evaluated by the new standardized Common Core tests.
In many states, the Common Core has been gradually rolled out in classrooms during the past several years. But all participating states are to administer new standardized tests aligned with the Common Core in the spring and the Obama administration requires most states to use those test scores to evaluate teachers.
Faced with pushback from both major teachers unions, the Gates Foundation and several states, the U.S. Department of Education has loosened its timetable for states to evaluate teachers based in part on student scores on the new Common Core tests.
The Obama administration said in August that it would grant delays of one year, or perhaps longer, to states that seek them. Maryland, D.C. and New Jersey are among the jurisdictions that will not use results from the spring 2015 tests to evaluate teachers, make decisions about student promotion, or measure school success.
While proponents said common standards would allow educators to share ideas and swap lesson plans with colleagues across the country, since they would be teaching similar skills, most school leaders surveyed said they had been sticking close to home and collaborating with others in neighboring districts or within their states.
The respondents also were underwhelmed with the help they’ve received from their state education agencies. While 87 percent said they had attended Common Core meetings organized by state officials, just 32 percent described them as “very helpful” while 63 percent said they were “somewhat helpful” and 5 percent said they were not helpful at all.