The Common Core program was initiated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers Commission in 2007. The national government had nothing to do with this origin. It was and continues to be a state-led, voluntary effort to develop academic standards in only English language arts and mathematics. Forty-five individual states freely and independently saw the merit of the standards and adopted Common Core.
The federal government has played a small role in Common Core. In 2010, the Obama administration established the “Race to the Top” program, which offered money to states in a competitive grant competition. The Department of Education declared that participation in Common Core would be one of many factors that would be considered in winning a grant. Application for the grant was voluntary, and there was no requirement to adopt Common Core to win.
More recently, the Obama administration has declared that states can get waivers from some of the federal dictates of the No Child Left Behind Act and thus escape the burden of federal rules. In order to qualify for the waivers a state must establish college and career readiness standards. Common Core standards have been identified as legitimate standards for this waiver, but it is widely accepted that a number of individual states also have standards that meet this criteria.
Given the above facts, it is difficult to argue the U.S. government has established any type of domineering presence or has affected a takeover of state control of education. The only other alleged intrusion is that the national government is now paying for much of the development of a test to measure standards. Two competing groups are planning tests to measure the Common Core standards. They are both consortiums of individual states.
Though the federal government has given money to each group to help pay for test development, states are firmly in control of this process. From the beginning Common Core has been conceived, planned, implemented and controlled by state governments. When tests are developed, each state will have the opportunity to use them or not. Not a single state will be coerced.
I believe the best course for Indiana is to review and analyze the quality of the new test and to evaluate the price tag to determine if we are interested in using it or retaining our current testing program. That is the process for reasonable decision making.
In conclusion, critics also charge that Common Core will dictate curriculum and take away local control. Common Core is a set of standards. Standards are not curriculum. Standards effect and direct curriculum because they state what students should know at each grade level and what skills they must acquire to stay on course for college and career readiness, but they do not determine it. Curriculum is immensely broader than standards.
The state of Indiana has long had specific standards for most courses taught in public schools. An astute observer would not have to visit many different classrooms to realize standards still allow for much individuality and creativity in exactly what is taught and how it is taught.
When the Common Core standards were voted upon by the State Board of Education, the program won the unanimous support of the conservative Republican members of the board. These were members who relentlessly complained about the constant and detrimental interference of the federal government with state sovereignty. However, their conclusion was that Common Core was not such an intrusion. My hope is this column will help illuminate what Common Core is and is not and begin a more reasonable discussion.