Is the USA inching closer to a national, standardized curriculum? Perhaps. It’s certainly more in that direction than away from it. Two states, for example, have added the Common Core State Standards to their practices, or will soon do so.
Wyoming has added national standards to its expectations for schools. According to Trib.com,
The Wyoming State Board of Education voted to include the Common Core State Standards in language arts and math in the next round of state standard revisions, according to a memo from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jim McBride.
And according to an AP story published by Macon.com, Georgia’s top education panel is expected to adopt the national standards soon: “Georgia will join 20 other states that have signed on to the Common Core State Standards that detail what students should learn in each grade and should know when they graduate high school. The state school board will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to take up the matter.”
The chairman of the Georgia state board of education defends the standards against accusations that they amount to a federal takeover of education. For an alternate view, see these comments from a teacher in the state. She opposes the “very rich people” who support the standards, saying the result will be “drill-and-kill testing factories.”
What do the standards look like?
Kansas and the Core
Meanwhile, what has the Kansas State Board of Education been up to with regard to the standards?
Concerns and reservations
From the May 2010 minutes, the last month for which minutes are available on the KSDE website [interesting comments put into bold]:
Tom Foster, Director of Standards and Assessments, updated Board members on the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. Matt Copeland and David Barnes, Department education consultants, reviewed information on the additions the Department felt were necessary to create high quality standards and a purposeful transition for Kansas educators and students. They noted that most of the comments and advice from Kansas had been integrated in succeeding drafts of the standards. Discussion and Board questions Tom Foster, Director of Standards and Assessments, updated Board members on the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. Matt Copeland and David Barnes, Department education consultants, reviewed information on the additions the Department felt were necessary to create high quality standards and a purposeful transition for Kansas educators and students. They noted that most of the comments and advice from Kansas had been integrated in succeeding drafts of the standards. Discussion and Board questions followed. Board members expressed many concerns and reservations about the standards. In response to comments about the lack of user-friendliness of the standards, different terminology used, and the importance and cost of professional development to train the field to use them, Dr. Foster explained that the Department would be developing bridge documents to link the new standards to the existing standards and training would be a key element in their implementation. The Department would do everything it could to make the transition for the field as easy as possible.
Another area discussed dealt with how the new standards compared with the existing Kansas standards and whether the state would do better to revise those rather than adopt new ones. There were also several Board members who objected that the State Board was not given the opportunity to be included in the standards initiative from the outset. Some questioned why an independent grassroots undertaking begun by the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) was now being tied to the federal reauthorization of ESEA. The tie‐in to the reauthorization could pose a stumbling block for several members regarding their stand on approval of the standards.
Other issues mentioned were the pace of the project and fear it was proceeding too fast for states to keep up with assess the quality of the content of the standards; whether the new standards addressed graduates’ ability to find well‐paying jobs; the possible development of common standards in other content areas; and the standards‐related issue of development of new assessments and the state’s longtime relationship with the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at The University of Kansas. As a follow‐up, the list of Kansas standards review committee members who had been involved with the many drafts of the common core standards was requested.
A Kansas committee to study ESEA and the standards
The board was supposed to talk about the standards at its June meeting, but no minutes are available. The board will meet again on July 13 and 14. The file with background material (PDF–320 pages) for that meeting mentions that the board has directed the creation of a committee, the Kansas Education Commission, to study the issue of the reauthorization of the ESEA, the federal government’s chief law on education.
The commission has, among its other responsibility, this charge:
Kansas was one of 48 states involved in the Common Core Standards (CCS) initiative which resulted in a set of common standards in English language arts and mathematics released on June 2, 2010. While work on the CCS has been underway for over a year, the Kansas Education Commission will be charged with reviewing the standards and assisting KSDE staff in: 1) determining if the standards are appropriate for Kansas K-12 students and, if so, 2) what additional standards, if any, need to be added to fill in any gaps and also give the standards a Kansas flavor; 3) the most appropriate process for seeking adoption of the standards from the State Board of Education; and 4) assisting in determining what professional development will be necessary in order to ensure a smooth transition from the current standards to the CCS.
The materials include a letter, dated 06/24/2010, from Tom Foster to Interim Commissioner Diane DeBacker about the standards. In brief, the memo offers additions that KSDE staff believe should be added to the standards, should Kansas adopt them. The additions don’t address merely what students should know or be able to do, they call for specific approaches to teaching: “We believe in a commonly held approach to English language arts (ELA) instruction that is collaborative, constructive, inferential, process-based, and inclusive of multiple multi-modal texts.” What if you don’t want your child to be taught in such a fashion (assuming you can figure out what that means)? Tough, if that ends up being the official policy. That’s just one example of the problems with top-down standards. While the staff seek to avoid “paradigm wars” such as phonics-versus-whole language, anytime an official agency sets up standards, paradigm wars are possible.
A Debate on the Core
Finally, the Cato Institute offers up a video of a debate over the merits of having a common core. Here’s a link to a commentary by the institute’s Neal McCluskey, which will also lead you to the video, which runs 80 minutes. It features McCluskey, Sandra Boyd (ACHIEVE Inc.), Lindsey Burke (Heritage Foundation), and Michael J. Petrilli (Thomas Fordham Institute). The first 45 minutes are taken up by the four presenters, while a Q&A session follows.
- McCluskey advances that argument that national standards are undesirable. There is no correlation between national standards and performance on international tests. Any standards that exist will end up serving the needs of teacher unions and administrators, not parents and children. The market should let various non-federal and non-government standards develop, to take account the various interests and needs of children.
- Boyd says that “national” are not “federal” and that “standards” are not “curriculum.” She further says that schools set the bar for high-school graduation too low, and that the expectations of colleges and employers are common across the states. The common core draft is superior to anything to anything that exists in states today. Standards are key to academic excellence, but they are not enough, if they are not supplemented by professional development, curriculum, assessments, accountability requirements and other factors. Governors are now looking at how to create common assessments–“the market at work.”
- Burke says that standards are the latest effort to entrench the federal government in something that should be a state measure. The common core standards is the Clinton standards redux. There’s a mismatch between what we want out of education and the funding incentives that exist today, and national standards do nothing to fix that mismatch. Common standards remove parents’ power over standards and curriculum, which is one of the few powers they have–the power will reside in Washington, DC. She applauds some reforms in Florida, which show that national efforts are not required to advance student achievement. Common standards will bring a regression to the mean and homogenization.
- Petrilli likes the draft standards. He makes four arguments. 1. There is evidence for national standards. 2. We don’t have to chose between standards and school choice. 3. Standards won’t be watered down. 4. Standards won’t lead to further federal control of education.