The Common Core State Standards, the controversial federal K–12 curricula, have become a hot-button issue across the country this midterm election year. States are opting out of the standards, while teacher and parent groups are fighting for and against them.
The reasons against the standards are varied. Critics say that the federal government has had too much influence because the Obama administration gives Race to the Top money to states that adopt the Common Core. Others say that the related testing and data collection will give the government and schools too much information about students. Teachers also fear that they will lose control of the way they teach.
Like many education advocates and academics, Nicholas Tampio, an assistant professor of political science at Fordham University who has studied the Common Common, has strong opinions. He calls the standards a “fundamentally bad idea.”
“America is a diverse country and should have a diverse system of education, with science schools, arts schools, international baccalaureate programs, Jesuit schools, vocational programs, outdoor schools, foreign language immersion schools, private schools, and public schools,” Tampio says. “Those who say that the Common Core imposes a one-size-fits-all model on students are correct, and that is a bad thing.”
The standards were created by a bipartisan group to improve education and weren't controversial in 2009 when the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers first organized to discuss them. But five years later, the standards have a fair number of opponents.
In late March, Indiana abandoned the standards when Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill that essentially voided Common Core. Indiana was one of the first states to adopt the standards, under former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. Now, new K–12 math and English standards will quickly have to be created by the Indiana Department of Education and the Center for Education & Career Innovation. A 2013 law states that schools must have updated standards by July 1.
Indiana Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse told the Indianapolis Star, “It is significant that Indiana is the first state to remove ourselves from Common Core. We pulled out of Common Core, and that is a victory. We will be in control of our academic standards.”
The Hoosier State is unlikely to be the only one to abandon Common Core in the coming months. As of March 19, according to the National Conference for State Legislatures, 225 bills had been filed in legislatures across the country “that address, even if tangentially, college- and career-readiness standards.” About 100 of those bills aim to slow, stop, or reverse Common Core requirements.
Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, but that number will likely drop. Oklahoma may follow in Indiana's footsteps and repeal the standards soon. This week, the Oklahoma state Senate voted 37–10 to repeal Common Core, and the governor is likely to sign it into law. State education leaders would then write their own set of standards. Missouri legislators spent hours debating Common Core last week. So far, the standards are still in place in that state.
In Arkansas, a movement also is afoot to thwart the standards. On Wednesday, Raise Our Grade, an independent initiative supporting Arkansas’s Common Core State Standards, announced its goals to defend the standards and unveiled its supporters, which included Arkansas State Teachers Association and The Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization begun by Walmart founders Sam and Helen Walton.
Common Core supporters say the standards are needed if students are to compete globally in the 21st century. “The Common Core State Standards raise the bar for all students and open new opportunities for all students as they address what is needed to be well prepared for college,” says Maritza Rodriguez, assistant dean and director of teacher education at the University of California, Riverside Graduate School of Education.
Rodriguez says that the standards along with the Next Generation Science Standards and the Next Generation English Language Development Standards will bring “dramatic changes to the manner in which we approach teaching in all content areas for all students.”
Opponents counter that the standards were not tested in the classroom with teachers and students prior to states adopting them. Only in the past week have students in 36 states and Washington, D.C. begun taking "field testing" lessons in English and math.
Marla Kilfoyle, a parent and teacher in New York, has serious doubts about Common Core. “These standards have not been researched, piloted, tweaked, as is the case with most standards and curriculum in education,” she says. “In education we research good method, we try them out, see what is wrong with them, tweak them, and then test them again. We do this until we get it right. This has not been done with these standards. On top of that, they are standards that the new reform movement has guaranteed will fix the achievement gap, how do they know that? They haven’t even tested them.”
This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.