(Updated: Organization that helped pioneer Common Core challenges Scott’s recollection; Scott stands by comments; early Common Core Memorandum of Understanding for states.)
A year ago, Robert Scott, then the commissioner of education in Texas, shook up the ed world when he said that standardized test-based accountability had led to a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. He’s no longer the Texas commissioner, but Scott is still worth listening to. He just gave a speech to Georgia legislators in which he detailed how he was pressured to sign on to the Common Core Standards before they were written.
The standards in English language arts and math have been adopted by nearly all of the states and the District of Columbia, and implementation is under way, along with the creation of aligned standardized tests. But there has been some push-back in states that signed on to the standards, including in Alabama, where officials just decided to withdraw from the two consortia developing the tests. Common Core critics are also pushing some state legislatures to abandon the standards.
Scott’s comments last week before the Georgia General Assembly Joint Meeting of the House and Senate Education Committee speak to the concerns of some Common Core critics who say the standards were written without sufficient public input. Here is part of what he said, and you can watch the whole thing in the video below:
My experience with the Common Core actually started when I was asked to sign on to them before they were written. … I was told I needed to sign a letter agreeing to the Common Core, and I asked if I might read them first, which is, I think, appropriate. I was told they hadn’t been written, but they still wanted my signature on the letter. And I said, ‘That’s absurd; first of all, I don’t have the legal authority to do that because our [Texas] law requires our elected state board of education to adopt curriculum standards with the direct input of Texas teachers, parents and business. So adopting something that was written behind closed doors in another state would not meet my state law.’ … I said, ‘Let me take a wait–and–see approach.‘ If something remarkable was in there that I found that we did not have in ours that I would work with our board … and try to incorporate into our state curriculum …
Then I was told, ‘Oh no no, a state that adopts Common Core must adopt in its totality the Common Core and can only add 15 percent.’ It was then that I realized that this initiative which had been constantly portrayed as state-led and voluntary was really about control. It was about control. Then it got co-opted by the Department of Education later. And it was about control totality from some education reform groups who candidly admit their real goal here is to create a national marketplace for education products and services.
Even more troubling to me was the lack of transparency. … These standards sere written behind closed doors. … We didn’t know who the writers were until the project was complete.
After the above was posted, I received an email from Chad Colby, director of Strategic Communications & Outreach for Achieve, a non-profit organization that helped pioneer the Common Core Standards. Colby said that Scott was wrong when he said that the authors of the Common Core were not known early in the process, and that “nobody was asked to adopt the standards before they were written.” He said that “the names of the writers and their associated work groups were released prior to July 2009.”
Actually, in February 2010, Kentucky became the first to adopt the Common Core standards before the final version was publicly released. Colby said it was not pressured to do that but chose to do it voluntarily. Hawaii approved them a week before the final of five drafts of the standards was released on June 2, 2010.
I asked Scott about Colby’s email and he said he stood by his comments. He said this about people who say that state adoption was entirely volunteer were not around “to experience the pressure placed on states by various proponents.” He also noted that the Common Core standards were written in sessions that were not open to the public and it was not clear to him who was writing them during the drafting process.
Here is the video of Scott’s address to Georgia legislators, and below that is the text of a memorandum of understanding Scott said he received when he was commissioner of education about the creation of the Common Core:
The text of the memorandum of understanding provided by Scott:
The Council of Chief State School Officers and
The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices
Common Core Standards
Memorandum of Agreement
Purpose. This document commits states to a state-led process that will draw on evidence and lead to development and adoption of a common core of state standards (common core) in English language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards will be aligned with college and work expectations, include rigorous content and skills, and be internationally benchmarked. The intent is that these standards will be aligned to state assessment and classroom practice. The second phase of this initiative will be the development of common assessments aligned to the core standards developed through this process.
Background. Our state education leaders are committed to ensuring all students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and success in the global economy and society. State standards provide a key foundation to drive this reform. Today, however, state standards differ significantly in terms of the incremental content and skills expected of students.
Over the last several years, many individual states have made great strides in developing high-quality standards and assessments. These efforts provide a strong foundation for further action. For example, a majority of states (35) have joined the American Diploma Project (ADP) and have worked individually to align their state standards with college and work expectations. Of the 15 states that have completed this work, studies show significant similarities in core standards across the states. States also have made progress through initiatives to upgrade standards and assessments, for example, the New England Common Assessment Program.
Benefits to States. The time is right for a state-led, nation-wide effort to establish a common core of standards that raises the bar for all students. This initiative presents a significant opportunity to accelerate and drive education reform toward the goal of ensuring that all children graduate from high school ready for college, work, and competing in the global economy and society. With the adoption of this common core, participating states will be able to:
*Articulate to parents, teachers, and the general public expectations for students;
*Align textbooks, digital media, and curricula to the internationally benchmarked standards;
*Ensure professional development to educators is based on identified need and best practices;
*Develop and implement an assessment system to measure student performance against the common core; and
*Evaluate policy changes needed to help students and educators meet the common core standards and “end-of-high-school” expectations.
An important tenet of this work will be to increase the rigor and relevance of state standards across all participating states; therefore, no state will see a decrease in the level of student expectations that exist in their current state standards.
Process and Structure
Common Core State-Based Leadership. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) shall assume responsibility for coordinating the process that will lead to state adoption of a common core set of standards. These organizations represent governors and state commissioners of education who are charged with defining K-12 expectations at the state level. As such, these organizations will facilitate a state-led process to develop a set of common core standards in English language arts and math that are:
Fewer, clearer, and higher, to best drive effective policy and practice;
Aligned with college and work expectations, so that all students are prepared for success upon graduating from high school;
Inclusive of rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills, so that all students are prepared for the 21st century;
Internationally benchmarked, so that all students are prepared for succeeding in our global economy and society; and
Research and evidence-based.
National Validation Committee. CCSSO and the NGA Center will create an expert validation group that will serve a several purposes, including validating end-of-course expectations, providing leadership for the development of K-12 standards, and certifying state adoption of the common core. The group will be comprised of national and international experts on standards. Participating states will have the opportunity to nominate individuals to the group. The national validation committee shall provide an independent review of the common core. The national validation committee will review the common core as it is developed and offer comments, suggestions, and validation of the process and products developed by the standards development group. The group will use evidence as the driving factor in validating the common core.
Develop End-of-High-School Expectations. CCSSO and the NGA Center will convene Achieve, ACT and the College Board in an open, inclusive, and efficient process to develop a set of end-of–high-school expectations in English language arts and mathematics based on evidence. We will ask all participating states to review and provide input on these expectations. This work will be completed by July 2009.
Develop K-12 Standards in English Language Arts and Math. CCSSO and the NGA Center will convene Achieve, ACT, and the College Board in an open, inclusive, and efficient process to develop K-12 standards that are grounded in empirical research and draw on best practices in standards development. We will ask participating states to provide input into the drafting of the common core and work as partners in the common core standards development process. This work will be completed by December 2009.
Adoption. The goal of this effort is to develop a true common core of state standards that are internationally benchmarked. Each state adopting the common core either directly or by fully aligning its state standards may do so in accordance with current state timelines for standards adoption not to exceed three (3) years.
This effort is voluntary for states, and it is fully intended that states adopting the common core may choose to include additional state standards beyond the common core. States that choose to align their standards to the common core standards agree to ensure that the common core represents at least 85 percent of the state’s standards in English language arts and mathematics.
Further, the goal is to establish an ongoing development process that can support continuous improvement of this first version of the common core based on research and evidence-based learning and can support the development of assessments that are aligned to the common core across the states, for accountability and other appropriate purposes.
National Policy Forum. CCSSO and the NGA Center will convene a National Policy Forum (Forum) comprised of signatory national organizations (e.g., the Alliance for Excellent Education, Business Roundtable, National School Boards Association, Council of Great City Schools, Hunt Institute, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Education Association, and others) to share ideas, gather input, and inform the common core initiative. The forum is intended as a place for refining our shared understanding of the scope and elements of a common core; sharing and coordinating the various forms of implementation of a common core; providing a means to develop common messaging between and among participating organizations; and building public will and support.
Federal Role. The parties support a state-led effort and not a federal effort to develop a common core of state standards; there is, however, an appropriate federal role in supporting this state-led effort. In particular, the federal government can provide key financial support for this effort in developing a common core of state standards and in moving toward common assessments, such as through the Race to the Top Fund authorized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Further, the federal government can incentivize this effort through a range of tiered incentives, such as providing states with greater flexibility in the use of existing federal funds, supporting a revised state accountability structure, and offering financial support for states to effectively implement the standards. Additionally, the federal government can provide additional long-term financial support for the development of common assessments, teacher and principal professional development, other related common core standards supports, and a research agenda that can help continually improve the common core over time. Finally, the federal government can revise and align existing federal education laws with the lessons learned from states’ international benchmarking efforts and from federal research.
Agreement. The undersigned state leaders agree to the process and structure as described above and attest accordingly by our signature(s) below.