Saturday, May 12, 2012

Will Common Education Standards Nationwide Solve America's Education Problems or Is It Another Obama Power Grab?

There is growing concern over the federalization of the nation's education systems.  Louisiana is set to implement the Common Core standards in 2014-2015 which has prompted me, as an educator, to bury myself in dozens of articles, studies, and reports on the issue.

There are two issues of concern:  the first is the intrusion of the federal government into what most agree should be a state issue.  The other issue is whether or not Common Core Standards will work at all.

Is Common Core Legal?

Start with the first issue:  is CCSSI (Common Core State Standards Initiative) treading in unconstitutional waters?  Is this initiative really a power grab and nationalization of education policy?

The initiative was developed by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  The general idea is to create a national set of educational standards so that kids in every state are all learning the same thing; if a kid moves from Florida to California he will still be studying the same material wherever he goes.  The purpose is theoretically to close achievement gaps between states.  So far, 46 states and the District of Columbia have signed on.  

The holdouts as of this writing are Texas and Alaska.  Virginia and Nebraska decided to join the initiative but not adopt the standards; Minnesota adopted the standards for English but not for math.

All of this ties in to Obama's Race to the Top which is funded by the 2009 stimulus, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The Race to the Top Fund awarded lucrative educational grants based on a point system; to get a lot of points in this system, and to earn grants, states had to adopt Common Core:

While the standards have been touted as “voluntary” by proponents, the Obama Administration’s heavy promotion of the standards—tying Race to the Top dollars to a state’s adoption of the standards, by suggesting that federal Title I money for low-income schools could be tied to their adoption, and, most recently, by making No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers contingent upon a state’s adoption of common standards—makes them anything but “voluntary.”

Quin Hillyer reports on a study by Robert Eitel and Kent Talbert (PDF):

Nonetheless, without statutory authority, the authors explain how the Obama administration has begun issuing “waivers” of expensive federal mandates, along with providing cash grants, in return for adoption of national standards. The administration then defines the national standards in such a way that only one initiative actually fits the definition – namely, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a supposedly voluntary national effort that easily morphs into a form of compulsion.

South Carolina adopted Common Core in July 2010 but Governor Nikki Haley is having second thoughts.  She is now supporting a bill to block implementation of the standards in her state:

“Just as we should not relinquish control of education to the federal government, neither should we cede it to the consensus of other states,”Mrs. Haley wrote in a letter expressing her opposition to Common Core. “I firmly believe that our government and our people should retain as much local control over programs as possible. … Our children deserve swift action and the passage of a clean resolution that will allow our state to reclaim control of and responsibility for educating South Carolinians.”

Cost estimates to implement the program are only part of the concern.  Estimates to put the program in place in Washington state, for example are around $300 million.

At Education Week, Rick Hess restates the law:

Remember, the General Education Provisions Act stipulates (in SEC. 438. ø20 U.S.C. 1232a), "No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system." Common Core skeptics like Cato's Neal McCluskey and the Hoover Institution's Bill Evers have argued compellingly that rewarding states for adopting the Common Core and funding the consortia to develop Common Core-friendly curricula amounts to "directing" curricula and programs of instruction. 

Also addressing the legality of CCSSI, in a February 2012 report (PDF),  authors Eitel and Talbert conclude:

Unfortunately, in three short years, the present Administration has placed the nation on the road to a national curriculum...The Department has simply paid others to do that which it is forbidden to do. This tactic should not inoculate the Department against the curriculum prohibitions imposed by Congress.

Will Common Core Work?

Well, legal or not, CCSSI is here and ready to roll.  So is it going to be effective?  Will it help raise the nation's education levels?  Will American students be smarter and better off?

Many say no, and not just conservatives. The left-leaning Brookings Institute published a report by Tom Loveless which forsees "little to no impact on student learning."

The state of Massachusetts has taken a step backward by adopting Common Core:

Massachusetts watered down its current standards by adopting the Common Core, and students across the country will be affected by what some content matter experts have decried as the low quality of the standards . For example, Ze’ev Wurman, a former official in the U.S. Department of Education, also notes that the standards don’t expect Algebra I to be taught in eighth grade “reversing the most significant change in mathematics education in America in the last decade.” 

One of the conclusions reached by the Brookings Study is that common standards will only affect variation between states but not necessarily raise scores.  Within each state there are wide disparities and gaps in student assessment - within a single city, even.  Why is that, given that each state uses a unified curriculum throughout the state?  If common standards were the answer, wouldn't every child in any given state achieve at the same level?

Molly Bloom is equally skeptical:

But the Common Core won’t fix everything that’s “wrong” with American schools. 
The Common Core is just a set of expectations about what students should learn and be able to do. That’s it. 
It doesn’t include new state funding for schools. It doesn’t include better training for teachers. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a Kentucky high school graduate will be at the same level as an Ohio graduate. And it doesn’t come with wrap-around social services for students and families.

I've compared the current Louisiana standards and they seem, to my eye, much better and more specific than the Common Core standards for the same grade.  Common Core leans more toward technical and non-fiction writing and less to the literature side but as far as specific goals and objectives the Louisiana standards seem much more clear to me.  And as mentioned above, states like Massachusetts which already have excellent standards are adopting standards with CC that are inferior to the ones currently in place.

In this election year it is sure to be an issue that will come up, especially if governors like Nikki Haley begin pushing back on the plan or withdrawing from the initiative.


It's clear that education in America needs improvement but for my buck, I say leave it at the state level as it was intended (and is legally directed).  Federal interference in local education has seldom worked (see No Child Left Behind) and has created more problems than solutions.  What is needed are good, motivated, well trained teachers and adequate resources.

What good are Common Core State Standards when a kid is in a crumbling school with little technology and an out of date library or other resources?  (No, I'm not referring to my school - there are plenty of inner city schools across America that lack proper resources).

Governors across the country should revisit the idea of CCSS.  Both Texas and Alaska have resisted Common Core:
On May 31, 2009, then-Gov. Palin announced Alaska would adopt a "watch and wait" attitude: 
"If this initiative produces useful results, Alaska will remain free to incorporate them," Gov. Palin said, adding that "high expectations are not always created by new, mandated federal standards written on paper. They are created in the home, the community and the classroom." 
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, to his credit, was the next to recognize a federal boondoggle when he saw one: "I will not commit Texas taxpayers to unfunded federal obligations or to the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national standards and tests," Gov. Perry wrote in a Jan. 13, 2010, letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Other states should do the same.

Further reading:
Sarah Palin Was a Prophet About Obama's Education Takeover
The Road to a National Curriculum
How Well are American Students Learning?
National Curriculum Plan May Face Challenge
Conservatives Oppose National Standards
School Standards Pushback


Donald Douglas said...

Nice work.

Linked: 'The Left's Road to a National Educational Curriculum'.

Quite Rightly said...

Take it from a Blue Stater who gets to observe Lib educators plan their next moves: This is a Leftie takeover all the way.

stlgretchen said...

I would add the following as a valuable link for readers wanting to know about Common Core standards:

This is a site with information on the standards and the Longitudinal Data System from writers and educators from around the country concerned about the constitutionality, control and cost. In other words, this information is provided by individuals, not special interest groups or politicians.

The interesting issue regarding the standards is it is bipartisan. Arne Duncan, Obama's DOEd secretary is heralded by many Republican governors and politicians for his educational reform mandates and regulations.

These reform mandates have little to do with education:

Thanks for a nice post.

Shane Vander Hart said...

Great post, any potential that Governor Jindal will change his mind about CCSS?

Pat Austin said...

I don't think so, Shane. His signature legislation this term has been education reform; he's giving vouchers to kids in "d" and "f" schools to go to private or charter schools and put in place a rigorous teacher evaluation system. I believe he's going to stick with the CC.

david7134 said...

Jindal is a liberal. He is a RINO. He has not done a single thing of a conservative nature. We need to expose this guy before he gets on the national stage.