Alternative Needed to Common Core: An Additional Consortium for ‎Common Standards

(Guest Post by Williamson M. Evers & Ze’ev Wurman)

A consortium to develop a set of “research-based and internationally benchmarked” college and career-ready standards in mathematics and in English-language arts (ELA) was established earlier this year by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), in partnership with Achieve, the College Board, and ACT.

This consortium was presented as a voluntary effort by the states, and in this way, it claimed to avoid the statutory prohibition of a federally-imposed national curriculum. So far 48 states (all except Alaska and Texas) have joined the initiative, and the consortium released its first draft of its proposed high-school “college and career readiness” standards late this last September.  Nonetheless, the Texas chief state school officer calls this project an effort “by the U. S. Department of Education” to impose “a national curriculum and testing system” and “a step toward a federal takeover” of public schools across the nation.

However, all is not well with the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), as the effort has come to be known. In fact, many of the early concerns about such a national effort have materialized. They have to do both with the process and with the content.

In terms of process, the identity of the actual authors of the “college and career readiness” standards was kept secret for a long time and, when the names were finally published, it became clear that CCSSI had included few subject-matter experts among them. Only after early ones were leaked to the public in July did CCSSI finally publish its official draft “college and career readiness standards” for ELA and mathematics in September.  CCSSI finally also published the names of the members of its various committees, but these seem to keep growing in number and their membership changing.

CCSSI’s timeline calls for supplementing its “college and career readiness” standards with grade-by-grade K-12 standards, with the entire effort to be finished by “early 2010.” This schedule is supposed to include drafting, review, and public comment. As anyone who had to do such a task knows, such a process for a single state takes many months, and CCSSI’s timeline raises deep concerns about whether the public and the states can provide in-depth feedback on those standards–and, more important, whether standards that are of high quality can possibly emerge from the non-transparent process CCSSI is using.

The situation is, not surprisingly, worse on the content side. The proposed English-Language Arts “college and career readiness” standards (which we are told are not high school graduation standards) are largely a list of content-free generic skills. Rather than focusing on what English teachers are trained to teach (quality literature), the drafters seem to expect English teachers to teach reading strategies presumed to help students to cope with biology or economics textbooks.

In mathematics, the standards are perhaps even worse. While essentially all four-year state colleges require at least three years of high school mathematics, including Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry or above, CCSSI’s standards require only Algebra 1 and few bits and pieces from Algebra 2 and Geometry. In other words, students who graduate from high school having taken only math coursework addressing those standards (and presumably having passed a test based on them) will be inadmissible to any four-year college around the country.

This ill-advised rush to have national standards ready by early 2010 is driven by the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top (RttT) $4 billion competitive-grant fund. Its final regulations, published in November, give a strong advantage to states that develop and adopt “common standards,” and, in these hard economic times, states will not be easily able to justify declining to pursue this money.

In late November, 2009, the Texas chief state school officer complained—quite justifiably on the face of it—that Texas is being discriminated against by the RttT criteria because it chose not to join the wild  rush to the standards. And indeed a wild rush it is. A bill introduced at the beginning of December in the California legislature to qualify the state for the RttT money proposes adopting CCSSI’s standards sight unseen.  Not even a complete draft of the grade-by grade standards has been finished yet.

Yet, if the President and Congress are going to use carrots and sticks to create national standards, we need to look for a way out of the current Common Core morass. The federal rules for the RttT money could not and do not explicitly require the adoption of CCSSI’s standards. Instead, the rules provide a general requirement:  States are to participate in a “consortium of states” that is developing a common set of K–12 standards which are “internationally benchmarked” and tied to “college and career readiness” and that includes “a significant number of States.”

Given the low goals of the “college and career readiness” standards proposed by CCSSI– to judge by its September draft–it makes sense to set up an alternative consortium.  That consortium would be composed of states whose standards have been highly rated by academic experts– like California or Massachusetts — together with states like Texas and Alaska whose reluctance to jump on the Common Core bandwagon has been clearly vindicated.

The new consortium would endeavor to create better and more rigorous academic standards than those of the CCSSI. These alternative standards will be truly internationally benchmarked. With over twenty per cent of the American population, such a consortium of states would easily qualify as “significant” as well. Such states might even be joined by other states that do not want to embrace the intellectually impoverished and internationally uncompetitive Common Core standards.

Drab and mediocre national standards will retard the efforts of advanced states like Massachusetts and reduce academic expectations for students in all states.

Yes, it is late in the game. But this should not be an excuse for us to accept the inferior standards that at present seem to be coming from the rushed effort of CCSSO and NGA.

==

Williamson M. Evers is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for policy. Ze’ev Wurman is a former senior policy adviser in the U.S. Department of Education.

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10 Responses to Alternative Needed to Common Core: An Additional Consortium for ‎Common Standards

  1. Mike Miller says:

    Alternative Needed to Common Core: A Consortium of states should find the backbone to align with Texas and file suit against the federal government to protect the their sovereignty and that of their citizens. States & citizens alone are Constitutionaly authorized to control the education of their children, free from coercion or bribes from the federal government. Additionally, unequal treatment of the various states is prohibited under the constitution. Absent the political will amongst the elected officials of the various states, the citizenry must step forward to demand that their state leaders protect their rights to control the direction of the education of their children.
    The real danger of moving towards national standards and curriculum is not what we will be handed at the outset. In order to make the transition more palatable, we are bound to be treated to decent original documents. But down the road, when the ink is dry and the precedent set, changes in what our children are taught will be controled by special interests far removed from our individual districts. Grassroots voices will be silenced forever.

  2. Carla A. says:

    I have been fighting mediocre standards for years. Just this week, a district official responded to a high school math chair’s complaints about a home-grown curriculum. She was told by administration that yes, there were problems, scores were going down, but all 5 high schools needed to be using the same curriculum. Everyone’s on the sinking ship, no one can get off. Doing something for the sake of doing something, not because it’s good. Same thing here, just a bigger scale.

  3. Niki Hayes says:

    Those of us who believe in true international standards which support “traditional” algorithms and math principles that have been taught for 2000 years have continued to be out-maneuvered by the math “reformists” since the 1960’s. Debacle though their “New Math” was, with a disastrous history that has followed, the feel-good, “conceptually-based,” and egaliatarian-promoting math education establishment was given support of federal powers at that time to set up a new “American” mathematics. It was due to federal bureaucrats and politicians running in circles frantically because the Russians had beat us into space with Sputnik. We’ve never recovered from that centralized stranglehold as states have codified weak and silly standards in order to get grants and recognition from the National Science Foundation and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The name of the game is POWER and the money (especially tax dollars) that comes to those who can keep their POWER.

  4. Niki Hayes says:

    I retired after 28 years in public education as a math teacher and principal because I had finally admitted to myself that children were not the reason for public schools to exist. The system is now the domain of “professional” adults from a wide sector (federal department of education, state capitols and bureaucrats, elected politicians and school boards, district administrators, unions, and the many university “consultants”) who seek tax-funded and private grants/financial backing, professional prestige, and the consequential power that comes with that money and those “credentials.” From those with such power to those trying to implement what they’re told to do (with really lousy curricula materials), there is little use for provable results if those results deny them their status or require them to change a dogmatic and ideological script. These people do, after all, form the critical mass that’s in charge of public education today. This includes the same persons who have led almost 50 years of America’s disastrous performance in math education and who will be given authority over any new education program, including the CCSSI. I therefore do not believe a rival group can be organized, even if there were several years given in which to do so. The will of the people is simply not there. It won’t be there until the public education system, at least in the urban areas, finally dies at the hands of the adults in charge and takes, unfortunately, another generation of young people with them. The professional negligence and ideological mess that we have allowed to develop in American education is unforgivable. Our country and her people, of all ages, are paying dearly for that.

  5. Wouldn’t it be rare and wonderful if the alternative national standards suggested that our students read at least one complete nonfiction book each year and write at least one serious research paper every year!

    Will Fitzhugh
    The Concord Review
    fitzhugh@tcr.org
    http://www.tcr.org

    • Cheryl van Tilburg says:

      Yes, a thousand times, yes. Parents would line up behind those types of standard, as opposed to the dreck being bandied about by the Common Core.

  6. […] common core standards aren’t good enough, write Bill Evers and Ze’ev Wurman on Jay P. Greene’s […]

  7. […] only a draft of career and college readiness standards for high school graduates. And it has been sharply criticized by Palo Alto engineer Ze’ev Wurman, who helped develop California’s math standards, and Bill […]

  8. […] December 11, 2009             Alternative Needed to Common Core Standards “The new consortium would endeavor to create better and more rigorous academic standards than those of the CCSSI. These alternative standards will be truly internationally benchmarked. With over twenty per cent of the American population, such a consortium of states would easily qualify as “significant” as well. Such states might even be joined by other states that do not want to embrace the intellectually impoverished and internationally uncompetitive Common Core standards.” >>read more>> […]

  9. Or Co says:

    As I parent in California who has only recently even learned what Common Core is all about, I wish we would have heeded the warning from these wise gentleman about creating an alternative consortium…. a Uncommon Core for advancing the standards, vs moving them backwards, as it seems we have done in California.

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