Breaking Down Common Core: What Do the Standards Mean for Our Education System?

Common CoreThis year as students, teachers and administrators head back to school, many will face the first official year of implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). With the standards already adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.), CCSS has become a topic of dispute for educators, parents and politicians, with some state legislatures across the country already proposing opt-out bills.

Created by Gates-funded consultants for the National Governors Association (NGA) and directed by a consulting firm known as Achieve Inc., which is led by David Coleman, the president of the College Board (the group responsible for administering the SAT), some remain concerned about putting the education of America’s children into the hands of consultants who created the standards with little input from educators or parents. The standards also are untested, causing some to question whether implementing CCSS is a potentially devastating and expensive mistake.

Supporters argue that CCSS is a step in the right direction for successfully preparing the nation’s children for a college-level curriculum and for closing the opportunity gap by requiring all districts and schools to share one, unified set of standards.

There is need for change in our education system, and while there is great potential in the Common Core State Standards, the underlying questions remain: Are our educators sufficiently supported for this change? And at what point do we deem the influence of corporations in our public education system too high and the influence of our educators and parents shockingly low?

The Big Picture: A Productive or Detrimental Change?

CCSS curriculum is focused on a smaller range of topics, but requires students to demonstrate greater critical thinking skills through an increased level of required reading across all fields, including math and science. These standards also provide more opportunities for real-world applications of class material. While educators receive an outline of required standards for their students, they are free to create their own curriculum.

Advocates argue these changes improve college preparation and will decrease the opportunity gap by making it more difficult for states to hide failing schools with unified curriculum and tests. They see an opportunity to raise state standards that were greatly lowered from 2005–2007, when states wanted to decrease their student failure rates in order to meet the No Child Left Behind standards.

These are exciting possibilities, but it is crucial for students and educators to receive the tools, preparation and funding they need to reach the new standards successfully. With little control over how money is dispersed within state districts, there is concern the inequalities that currently plague our education system may increase, leaving the poorest districts at a severe disadvantage. These issues need to be acknowledged and addressed at the local and national level.

It is also no secret that the potential profit margin for standardized test-making companies is extremely high in the United States. Many of the creators of CCSS are connected to major testing companies, presenting potential conflicts of interest. While advocates argue the standards were created with input from teachers, out of the 135 members on the review panels for the Common Core, no parents were brought in and most of the educators who had input were brought in at the very end to make minor adjustments.

The recurring tradition of excluding parents and educators who best understand the needs, capability and potential of students from the process of creating educational assessments must end. Supporters of CCSS emphasize the freedom the standards provide for educators to create their own curriculum; by the same token, educators should be trusted to have a voice in how their students are measured.

Price Tag Shock

At a time when education budgets continue to be cut, implementing the Common Core State Standards could cost more than $30 billion nationally, with individual state costs varying by district size.

While advocates acknowledge the high price of CCSS, they assert that not only is it worth the high price, but it is crucial for ensuring students are ready for the demands of a college curriculum.

Opponents argue that because the curriculum is untested, there is no proof of its effectiveness, making it an exorbitant waste of federal and state funding. Some state legislatures even are refusing to allocate funds for CCSS, creating a potentially troubling and unstable environment for educators and students in these areas.

For some schools and districts, the cost factor will not be a pressing issue. For others, most of which already are facing severe poverty, the standards will be virtually impossible to meet without increased support. Outside of meeting the challenge to prepare students for heightened standards, assessments are being designed as computer-based, adding costs to an already expensive process for schools without sufficient resources.

While CCSS provides an exciting opportunity, it needs infrastructure and planning for national success. Local accountability among the state legislatures that adopted CCSS must be enforced to ensure schools receive the funding they need to move forward. Only then can CCSS benefit students of all backgrounds and provide a step toward reducing the opportunity gap.

Moving Forward

The nation’s schools are not on an equal playing field. These standards will cause little disruption for some schools, because they already have the support in place to prepare classrooms for new material. In fact, some states already have begun implementing CCSS to provide all students and educators with the necessary time to prepare for the first round of assessments, scheduled for 2015.

We must look at the CCSS as an opportunity to move forward rather than backward; at the same time, if our nation is looking for common standards, there must be common support and funding opportunities in place for all districts and states. We must hold our local representatives accountable for providing support to all schools, especially those already facing the most severe disadvantages. As administrators, we also must demand a voice on how our students’ academic success is measured and not allow those who know our children best to be marginalized by the corporate influences that currently dominate our public education system.