On June 13 the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released Common Core Demystified. The document was intended to quell what DPI regarded as confusion and stem the growing public opposition to Common Core Standards (CCS). Long story short: It hasn’t. Common Core Demystified contains numerous inaccuracies and repeats false statements. The document only adds to the confusion and tells us why North Carolinians are becoming increasingly skeptical about the benefits of CCS.
Criticism of Common Core Demystified is laid out in two parts. Part I (below) reviews claims DPI makes about the curriculum and how Common Core is a state-led effort. Part II will review the state agency’s claims about the standards and college and career readiness as well as what DPI expects Common Core will add to education costs in North Carolina.
DPI maintains Common Core is not a curriculum, but a set of content standards for teaching and learning. Teachers, DPI asserts, develop their curricula, issuing the content standards and all other instructional resources they deem appropriate. Translation: According to DPI, states and teachers retain control of education and the classroom, just like before CCS. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Under CCS, states are obligated to adopt 85 percent of Common Core Standards. They may choose to add up to 15 percent of new content. However, just exactly how the 15 percent requirement is to be determined is not readily known. Moreover, since any material that a state adds is not likely to be included on assessments of students, you have to wonder how seriously a teacher or student will consider any such material.
Yes, it is true Common Core is not a curriculum. However, the standards are touchstones that guide and direct curricula. They guide classroom teaching and testing. Yes, teachers can still choose curricula, but if content is already determined — and determined largely by others – the freedom to choose and to create and guide and direct education is significantly restricted.
Advocates for Common Core will continue to dispute whether the standards are moving us toward a national curriculum. They should remember the testing consortia funded by the U.S. Department of Education admitted in their grant applications that they would use some of the $360 million in grant money to develop curriculum models. Do we really believe the feds are going to oversee and fund the implementation of Common Core and then not direct it?
DPI continually asserts that Common Core Standards are state-led and do not constitute a federal government takeover of public education. Standards advocates insist states were free to either adopt the standards or not and the federal government did not coerce states into accepting the standards. North Carolina adopted Common Core Standards after input from educators and the public and the decision was ratified by the legislatively-mandated process. So the story goes — or at least their side of the story.
Such thinking ignores the size of the federal footprint on Common Core. Let’s remember a few facts. The standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — with help from an organization called Achieve — and generous funding from the Gates Foundation. The standards were developed behind closed doors by policymakers in Washington DC — not by states and grassroots organizations across the United States. Neither of the groups credited with authoring the standards had authority from the government to write the standards. Interestingly, the group credited with doing much of the heavy lifting — Achieve, Inc., a D.C.- based nonprofit — has been advocating for national standards for decades.
Common Core supporters like to think that 45 of 50 states chose to adopt the standards simply because they were better than existing standards in most states. It’s not true. Almost everyone who participated in this debate agrees that states adopted Common Core Standards to be eligible to compete for federal Race to the Top funding. Cash-starved states in the throes of a recession were ready to do anything to get additional funding for education — including acceptance of national education standards virtually sight unseen. In addition to linking Common Core Standards to eligibility for Race to the Top funds, the Obama Administration also linked waivers for penalties for failing to meet goals under No Child Left Behind to state adoption of Common Core Standards.
If the CCS movement is state-led, why would states compel other states to accept 85 percent of the standards and only add up to 15 percent of their own content – none of which would likely be tested on annual assessments?
DPI said North Carolina adopted CCS through the legislatively-mandated process. That’s misleading. The State Board of Education – not the North Carolina General Assembly — adopted the standards a mere one day after they were released, June 2, 2010. A look back at the record shows there was little discussion by the Board of Education. To this day, the General Assembly has not fully considered or discussed Common Core. It is true language was added to legislation directing the State Board to continue to implement CCS. However, the language was inserted into bills primarily concerned with accreditation and testing requirements — not primarily Common Core Standards themselves.
The central issue of adopting and implementing CCS has never been fully debated in any legislative committee or on the floor of either chamber of the North Carolina General Assembly. In this decision the people’s representatives have been AWOL.