In recent months there has been widespread talk about these new set of standards and tests, collectively known as the Common Core. As a high school Senior these things have little been on my mind, since they no longer necessarily apply to me. I’m sure a lot of individuals feel this way, but this is something that will affect us all one way or another because the future of our country will be the product of the Common Core.
So, what is this Common Core? The full name is Common Core State Standards Initiative and it is an initiative that aims at establishing a common set of standards in Mathematics and English Language Arts that K-12 students must know across the United States by the end of each grade level. The origin of the Common Core can be traced back to the 1990’s, when US states began the Standards and Accountability Movement. Through that movement, individual states began writing K-12 standards of what their students should know, culminating in the famous standardized tests at the end of the year to measure individual school’s accomplishment of those standards.
In a 2004 Report, Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts, it was discovered that both higher learning institutions and employers were not receiving well-prepared high school graduates because of an overall lack in knowledge and skills. So, in 2009 the National Governors Association tasked a group of experts with developing the standards that would become the Common Core; among these experts were David Coleman, William McCallum and the founders of Student Achievement.
In order to encourage state adoption, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top grants for states who adopted the standards by August 2, 2010. States could also write their own standards but were awarded more points towards the grants if they adopted the Common Core. The standards were released June 2, 2010 with most states adopting them in the following months. The grants and rapid adoption of the standards by most states raised the question of whether states acted in the best interests of their education systems or were rather motivated by financial interests.
The standards are copyrighted by NGA Center and Council of Chief State School Officer. The NGA and CCSSO offer up to license their copyright to states under two conditions, their use of the standards must be in support of the standards and the standards must be used in whole. The Common Core is supported by the likes of Pearson Publishing Company and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
So far, forty-four states and D.C. have adopted the Common Core. The states of Alaska, Indiana, Virginia, Texas, and Nebraska have written their own standards, while Minnesota has opted for only adopting the English Language Arts standards. Formal assessment of the standards will take place in the 2014-2015 year and is being sponsored by two different consortiums. The two consortiums are the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and PARCC RttT Consortium. The approach of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is adaptive online exams while PARCC RttT focuses on computer-based “through-course assessments” culminating by end of the year tests. Which consortium to use is up to the individual states. Originally, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium had thirty-one states registered and PARC RttT had eighteen states and the District of Columbia registered. Recently, there have been a number of states who have been withdrawing from the consortiums in lieu of developing their own assessments or because they don’t have the technology to participate, as both consortiums are proposing an approach that requires having computer access at the schools. Some states that have withdrawn include Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia and Michigan.
Feel free to draw your own conclusion but consider the following: Kentucky was the first state to implement the Common Core, since 2010 their school curriculum has been based on the Common Core. According to Time Magazine, their high school graduation rate increased from 80% in 2010 to 86% in 2013, their readiness for higher learning institutions and careers went up from 34% in 2010 to 54% in 2013 and their testing scores improved by 2% the second year of using the Common Core test.
However great Kentucky’s success story, each state must look at how it can benefit from the Common Core and implement it only if it stands to gain something. Prior to the Common Core, Kentucky’s education standards had a D- rating from the Thomas B. Fordham Institution, while the Common Core has a rating of A- in math and B+ in English Language Arts.