States Once Again Affirm Their Support for the Common Core

On May 5, 2016, Jim Cowen, Interim Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success, released the following memo showing how the Common Core State Standards continue to prevail across the country:

Six years in, the debate over high, comparable standards has subsided. Predictions of widespread repeal have failed to materialize. In Indiana and South Carolina, “repeal” resulted in little more than cosmetic changes. Only Oklahoma has replaced the Common Core with substantively different learning goals, which lawmakers, experts and educators roundly agree are inferior academic guidelines.

That reality may explain why state and local leaders once again demonstrated a commitment to the exceptional standards embodied in the Common Core this year. Now four months into the legislative calendar, no states have passed full-scale repeal—marking the second consecutive year in which policymakers have snubbed critics’ predictions of the widespread undoing of efforts to raise classroom expectations.

With 20 of the 46 active legislative sessions concluded, and five more expected to adjourn this week, an examination of state activity paints a telling picture. In at least eight states—including several of the most conservative-leaning in the country—lawmakers voted down or failed to move forward repeal-and-replace legislation, or bills that would jeopardize student assessments aligned to the Common Core.

  • Arizona – the Senate voted against a bill to allow families to opt-out of standardized tests
  • Colorado – amendments to cut funding for state assessments were defeated
  • Kansas – a repeal bill was defeated on the House floor
  • Kentucky – the legislature adjourned without acting on three bills to prohibit or review the Common Core
  • Maine – the governor vetoed a bill to institute a review of the state’s standards
  • Mississippi – several bills that would have repealed, reviewed or stopped implementation of the Common Core died in committee
  • West Virginia – the governor vetoed a bill that would have put a review process in place and eliminated Smarter Balanced assessments
  • Wisconsin – the legislature declined to act on two opt-out bills carried over from 2015

If there were any question remaining, it seems to be firmly resolved: states are sticking with higher standards based on the Common Core.

Despite concerted efforts to derail implementation of Common Core State Standards and the high-quality assessments that support them, states have weighed the evidence and opted to build on the framework set by these rigorous, comparable education standards.

Fourteen states are in the process of reviewing their standards (AR, AZ, IA, ID, KS, KY, LA, MA, MO, NC, ND, NY, OH & SD). This spring, Mississippi, New Jersey and Tennessee completed reviews of their Common Core Standards, and Kansas, Louisiana and Missouri will wrap up similar evaluations in the coming weeks. Arkansas is expected to complete its review this summer. Initial results from these locally-led efforts reaffirm the value of the Common Core—states are tweaking the standards and honing them to meet student needs, exactly as designed.

There are several reasons leaders have overwhelmingly opted to build on the Common Core framework rather than pursue full-scale repeal-and-replace legislation.

The Impossible Task of Producing Better Education Standards

The few states that have taken the ill-advised path of repeal-and-replace offer a cautionary lesson for policymakers elsewhere considering the same course of action. As noted above, the outcome in each state that replaced the Common Core confirms the repeal-and-replace path invariably leads to either modest adjustments and renaming—effectively “rebranding” the Common Core (Indiana)—or, learning goals that are inferior to the Common Core (Oklahoma).

The path to reaching those outcomes is costly and disruptive to schools, teachers and students. In Oklahoma, schools will have cycled through four sets of education standards in six years. In many ways the cautionary advice offered by the executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association in 2014 has been proven right: “[Repeal] will throw many schools into chaos…This decision is not good for Oklahoma’s schools, and it’s not good for Oklahoma’s kids.”

Criticism Continues to Ring Hollow

For all the bluster, opponents have failed to make a compelling case that Common Core State Standards are defective. In fact, states’ and experts’ evaluations of the standards has time and again affirmed they are structured on the best available evidence of what students need to know and be able to do at each grade level to graduate high school fully prepared for success in college or a career.

Parents remain fundamentally committed to college- and career-ready standards. No matter where a child goes to school, families want their kids to have access to an education that will equip them to meet their potential and succeed. According to a poll by the education advocacy site the Seventy-Four Million, nearly seven in 10 voters support consistent education standards that prepare young people for college and careers.

States Are Providing Honest Information

At the same time, state and local leaders have made good on their commitment to leveling honestly with parents and teachers by implementing student assessments that reflect the skills young people need. Since 2013, at least 26 states significantly closed the Honesty Gap—the discrepancy between state-reported proficiency rates and those on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. A Harvard study reiterates those findings: “[T]he Common Core consortium has achieved one of its key policy objectives: the raising of state proficiency standards throughout much of the United States.”

In many states legislative sessions are still ongoing. Several states will likely still entertain debate and possibly even vote on legislation aimed at repealing the Common Core. However, as the standards continue to take root and to raise classroom expectations, it is unlikely any kind of mass repeal will materialize.

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