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Nicholas Tampio, a professor of political science at Fordham University, has noticed a strange silence about Common Core, which was the hottest issue in K-12 just a few years ago. The silence does not mean that the issue has gone away.
The Common Core lives, unfortunately
On June 16, Emily Richmond of the Education Writers Association led off a lively social media exchange by tweeting: “Hey, remember the Common Core?”
One special education researcher replied that the Common Core is “implemented now in every classroom in America just under another name.”
Another teacher tweeted: “You mean what NY conveniently rebranded as “Next Generational Learning Standards”? It’s never gone away. 😞”
Here, I would like to explain how the Common Core is implemented in nearly every classroom in America, and why people rarely say its name anymore.
How federal law locked the Common Core into place
The federal government gives the states money for education, and they tie strings to that money. One of those strings is that states use standards that contain the key elements of the Common Core.
The country’s main federal K-12 education law is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the law authorizes money to help states and districts fund education in high-poverty communities. In 2015, Senator Lamar Alexander explained, “the new law explicitly prohibits Washington from mandating or even incentivizing Common Core.”
This statement does not tell the whole truth. The law does say that secretary of education cannot make states use the Common Core, but the law also requires states to use standards that must resemble the Common Core.
The Every Student Succeeds Act is filled with stipulations about standards. Here is one of them:
Each State shall demonstrate that the challenging State academic standards are aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education in the State and relevant State career and technical education standards.
State standards must be “challenging,” align with career technical education standards, and align with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education. If a state has found a way to satisfy these criteria and not use the Common Core or a facsimile of it, then I have not seen it. Texas famously did not adopt the Common Core, but researchers have shown that the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) overlap with the Common Core standards in writing and math.
In my book, Common Core, I argue that the main components of the Common Core are those that support online instruction and testing. The first English Language Arts (ELA) anchor standardrequires students to “cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.” If students must use the exact words from the text in their answers, then computers can grade their essays.
To determine if your state uses the Common Core, see if the state standards include the phrase “cite specific textual evidence” or an equivalent. For example, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order eliminating the Common Core and adopting the Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards. The firstELA standard is that students must “cite evidence to explain and justify reasoning.” Florida did not get rid of the Common Core.
Four years after the passage of ESSA, Senator Lamar Alexander wrote an essay explaining that his daughter moved from Tennessee to Westchester County, New York. When he asked how his grandchildren were doing, his daughter said: “Common Core here. Common Core there.” I believe that this holds true across the country.
Why won’t people discuss Common Core?
In the spring of 2019, I presented a paper at the American Educational Research Association conference and wanted to see what researchers were saying about the Common Core. Here is what I found.
Many people were presenting research that relied upon the Common Core. One paper discussed how “visual-syntactic text formatting classes found a positive effect on seventh and eighth-grade students’ annual state assessment ELA and writing scores.” Another paper was on how early childhood school attendance affected student performance on later math achievement. These are just two of many papers that used Common Core test scores as the dependent variable to see if an intervention worked.
There were few papers with the words “Common Core” in the title, and of those, the titles often did not indicate a critical stance towards the standards themselves. For example, the paper“Content Literacy and the Common Core” noted that literacy strategies often did not cover the full range of Common Core literacy standards. From what I could tell, few researchers were entering classrooms to research how the Common Core changed instruction from an earlier era.
There seems to be a tacit understanding among education researchers, policymakers, and journalists that the Common Core debate is over. In his new book, Tom Loveless primarily discusses it in the past tense: “Whatever happened to Common Core?” “What was the Common Core debate about?” “Why did Common Core fail?
I believe that there are at least two reasons why people avoid using the words “Common Core” if they can.
First, teachers, administrators, and researchers must go along with the Common Core if they wish to keep their jobs. A teacher once told me their thoughts about the Common Core but then asked me not to give anyone their name because they could be fired for insubordination for criticizing the district’s policies.Professors of education who wish to earn tenure and promotion recognize that journals publish quantitative studies using data from Common Core tests. Superintendents whose job includes generating support for school budgets are not likely to raise public concerns about the quality of the standards that the school is using.
A second reason is that Common Core proponents ridiculed critics. Take, for example, this video—made by the Center for American Progress and Funny or Die—that portrays Common Core critics as tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorists. Unfortunately, negative campaigning works, and many parents don’t want to be made fun of in public by people like Arne Duncan. I have many friends, often mothers, who stopped fighting the Common Core because they kept getting insulted on social media and in their communities.
As a parent, I watched the Common Core rollout harm my oldest son’s kindergarten experience. Based on my research, I believe that the standards lead to an education geared around mind-numbing regurgitating evidence from provided texts. I feel a responsibility to remind people that there are better, more humane ways to educate children.