North Dakota Sticks with the Rigor and Clarity of the Common Core

A North Dakota committee tasked with reviewing and amending the state’s education standards is expected to release its first draft of proposed changes today. State leaders have made clear the changes will likely build on the Common Core framework. But several headlines suggest the state is starting from scratch.

The Bismarck Tribune indicates the changes are “replacing Common Core.” Likewise, the Associated Press inaccurately reports, “The [proposed] standards are not based on the federally backed Common Core.” But the Common Core is not “federally backed,” and North Dakota officials were clear that any proposed changes will likely refine and build on the Common Core.

“I don’t expect this to be a process of starting over,” state superintendent Kirsten Baesler said earlier this year. Speaking with the Grand Forks Herald editorial board, she added that teachers will be closely involved in the review process, and that the process will likely further build on the Common Core State Standards. “We shouldn’t be afraid of setting high expectations for our students,” she explains.

That is the right approach, and one state leaders have overwhelmingly taken. Despite concerted attacks, education officials in most states have seen past the rhetoric and redoubled their commitment to rigorous expectations based on the Common Core. Instead of starting from scratch, most states are reviewing and further building on the Common Core framework.

In fact, North Dakota is among at least 13 other states that recently launched reviews of their standards. Initial results from states that have taken this path point to a clear pattern—instead of replacing the Common Core carte blanche, states are fine turning and making adjustments, exactly as the standards were intended.

Common Core State Standards “were absolutely designed to allow states to tweak, amend and generally customize them in order to meet local needs,” Karen Nussle explains. “They are a floor, not a ceiling.” To conflate those reviews with repeal is a mistake, plain and simple. “Tweaking or amending the standards is not the same as repealing them.”

The outcomes from the few states that have taken the ill-advised “repeal and replace” course make clear the decision to build on the Common Core is the right one.

“The experiences from [Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina] make clear a lesson for lawmakers elsewhere considering a similar course of action,” a white paper by the Collaborative explains. “Replacing the Common Core State Standards invariably leads to either modest adjustments and renaming…or, academic standards that are inferior to the Common Core.”

Superintendent Baesler has indicated North Dakota’s review is likely to reaffirm the state’s commitment to the Common Core, and to make adjustments to ensure the standards meet local students’ needs. That’s very different to the suggestion the state is replacing the Common Core, as several headlines suggest.