Why State and Local Politicians Should Continue to Embrace High, Comparable Standards


The biggest threat to rigorous, comparable education standards likely won’t be from the Trump White House, but instead from opponents at the state level, Matt Barnum writes for the 74 Million.

“The success of anti-Common Core candidates in multiple states suggest the standards may be at risk – although it’s unclear how much power or desire these politicians will have to repeal Common Core,” the article notes.

Fordham Institute President Mike Petrilli cautioned earlier this week that Trump’s “victory will surely give boost to anti-Common Core Republicans at the state level… We Common Core supporters could be in for some more rough sledding.”

While the politicization of the brand “Common Core” made the standards a popular target on the campaign trail, those politicians are fighting a fight that’s already been resolved. Nearly across the board, states that adopted a higher baseline of academic expectations continue to implement rigorous, comparable standards. They have taken full control, reviewing and tailoring their learning goals – which perfectly aligns with the original intent of the Common Core.

Common Core was always meant to set a floor, not a ceiling, for student performance and to accelerate implementation of comparable classroom expectations aligned to college and career readiness. In that sense, the standards have achieved their purpose. As a Harvard University study notes: “The Common Core consortium has achieved one of its key policy objectives: the raising of state proficiency standards throughout much of the United States.”

States are beginning to see the results of setting high expectations, making it unclear why state and local leaders would seek to turn back just as these efforts take root. This year, most states administered assessments aligned to higher standards for the second year. A majority of them made significant improvements in math and reading proficiency.

Some of the biggest gains came among third-grade students, who have spent most or all of their academic careers learning to meet higher standards. Nationally, third-grade math scores increased nearly four points over the previous year. “Put another way, despite all the concerns of ‘fuzzy math,’ more third-graders this year were proficient than the year before, and the year before that,” Collaborative for Student Success Policy Director Adam Ezring notes.

As states implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, they should use the opportunity to build on the success high standards are having, not seek to undo them. “Under ESSA states have been given broad new authority over the steps they take to produce better outcomes,” explains New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera. Improvements states and districts are making “send a clear message that it’s a mistake to retreat from high standards or go back to low-quality tests.”

While the label “Common Core” may be divisive, parents strongly support rigorous and comparable education standards that fully prepare their children for success in college or a career – no matter what label is attached. As states continue to take full control of their standards, it doesn’t matter as much what they are called as it does that they are helping to improve student outcomes.

“No matter what label policymakers attach to them, parents and educators support rigorous, consistent education standards that fully prepare students for the challenges of college and to compete in a global economy,” Collaborative for Student Success Executive Director Jim Cowen explains. “It’s time to stop fighting about the words ‘Common Core’ and move forward.”

That advice is supported by the outcomes of the few states that opted to “go it alone” with their standards or assessments. In each case, states that sought to replace high, comparable standards have come out with either nearly identical learning goals, or, standards that are demonstrably inferior. In doing so, those states have incurred hefty costs and created disruption and uncertainty for schools.

Fortunately, most states have doubled down on their commitment to raising academic expectations for students. In fact, Oklahoma is the only state to revert back to inferior learning goals. Instead, most states are reviewing and tailoring their standards to ensure they meet their students’ needs.

As we wrote recently, with the election over it’s time for policymakers to put aside the rhetoric and support efforts that are helping to improve student outcomes. The debate over high, comparable education standards is settled: States have adopted a rigorous, consistent baseline of academic expectations aligned to college and career readiness. They continue to take ownership of their standards and make adjustments. Most are now beginning to see student performance rise to those expectations. To turn back on that work would put students at a disadvantage.