States Are Demonstrating Improvements through High, Comparable Education Standards and High-Quality Assessments

Panning what he calls “political establishment” control, Chuck Tatum, a South Carolina resident, claims the U.S. Department of Education – which “oversaw the destruction of a good system of public education” – forced states to adopt rigorous and comparable education standards.

“Common Core, owned by the Gates Foundation and apparently exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, has been implemented by threatened withholding of ‘federal funds,’ and is partly responsible for the nation’s poor performance against our foreign competitors,” Tatum writes in the opinion pages of the Augusta Chronicle.

However, the federal government played no role in the development of Common Core State Standards. Recognizing the old patchwork of education standards left often big discrepancies in classroom expectations, experts and educators from 49 states and territories began to develop a set of learning goals that would serve as a baseline for student achievement. Those efforts produced a shared set of expectations states and districts could use to accelerate adoption of high standards and continue to build on.

States voluntarily adopted rigorous, consistent standards – and nearly all continue to tailor and build on them further to ensure their students’ needs are met. In fact, only one state – Oklahoma – has reverted back to inferior learning goals. In doing so, the state created disruption and uncertainty for schools, and ultimately put students at a disadvantage.

Although it’s too early to plant a flag, states’ commitment to raising expectations for students appears to be paying off. In the second year of assessments aligned to high standards, proficiency rates in math and English language arts increased across the board. Importantly, many of the biggest gains were among early-grade students, who have spent most or all of their educational careers learning to higher standards.

“While there are numerous factors that affect student scores, and it is still too early to make definitive declarations, the 2016 assessments suggest that the promise of higher academic standards – whatever they may be called – is working,” Jim Cowen explains.

We agree with Tatum that education should be controlled at the state and local level. The Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law last December to replace No Child Left Behind permanently, largely achieves that purpose. The law prohibits the federal government from meddling in states’ education, ensure state and local leaders have full control over standards, assessments and funding issues.

Congressman John Kline, chairman of the House education committee, calls the ESSA a “huge win for conservatives.” He explains, “The federal government should not be able to tell states what standards they can or cannot adopt.”

As state and local leaders develop plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, it is imperative that they continue build on the successes of recent years by keeping the bar high for students. “The evidence speaks for itself,” Cowen says. “Policymakers should continue to raise the bar for students to be certain that when they leave high school they are prepared for college, the workforce, or any other path they choose.”