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Common Core Political Battles

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 -- Shane Dennison

Shane Dennison, State and Federal Programs Consultant at Edmentum, continues his series, “Common Core Controversy in the United States".

Why have the Common Core standards turned into a political tug of war as of late? This is a growing question that deserves candid answers. The federal government is in the background offering Race to the Top grants to schools who in part implement Common Core standard initiatives.  These grants concern many conservatives who usually are weary of far-reaching central government involvement in national education.  Liberals on the other hand, are usually in favor of initiatives involving the federal government.

Some of those critics are the folks who see one-world government lurking behind every telephone poll, but others are savvy critics of big government’s push for big data mining of all federal programs. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all conservatives are against the Common Core standards. Many have the attitude of “hey, we decided to get on the airplane of Common Core, it’s taken off, and so we need to just take the trip.” Governor Chris Christie recently went against many of his fellow Republicans by showing support for the Common Core standards and stating that “recent conservative outcries against the new standards is just a knee-jerk reaction fueled by a Congressional mindset of just fighting anything the current President is in favor of.”

It isn’t only the Republicans who have been criticizing Common Core standards and the coming assessments that are to revolve around them. Democrats aren’t all on the same side of this issue either. In late 2010, Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated,

“I am convinced that this new generation of state assessments will be an absolute game-changer in public education. For the first time, millions of schoolchildren, parents, and teachers will know if students are on-track for colleges and careers–and if they are ready to enter college without the need for remedial instruction. Yet that fundamental shift–re-orienting K-12 education to extend beyond high school graduation to college and career-readiness–will not be the only first here. For the first time, many teachers will have the state assessments they have longed for– tests of critical thinking skills and complex student learning that are not just fill-in-the-bubble tests of basic skills but support good teaching in the classroom.”

But much more recently he has stated these assessments aren’t going to be the “absolute game-changer” he predicted because of design constraints, timing, money problems and other issues. In fact, a new report from the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education, a panel of educational leaders, said:

“The progress made by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia in assessment development, while significant, will be far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes.”

It is now both Republicans and Democrats who are questioning the Common Core, though the Republican voice is louder and more official: The Republican National Committee just passed an anti-Common Core resolution, saying that the initiative is a federal intrusion on states’ rights, and Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa just started a bid to eliminate federal funding for the core effort.

In a recent article published in the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss states, “many Democratic critics say that while they don’t oppose the idea of national standards, the Common Core is not based on research and that parts of it ignore what is known about how students learn, especially in the area of early childhood education. They also say that despite promises to the contrary, the core-aligned standardized tests won’t be dramatically better in assessing student achievement than the older tests. Some former core supporters, such as award-winning New York Principal Carol Burris, changed their minds after learning more about the standards and the core-aligned tests.”  Read more critiques from Carol Burris  here and here

The worst part of what seems to have turned into a political tug of war both between liberals and conservatives, and from within each of the respective parties, is the teachers and students caught in the middle.

My next blog will continue with Common Core controversy and how it is affecting teachers. Please tune in.