Common Core: The Day After

By Michael J. Petrilli and Michael Brickman 05/01/2014

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Like a dog that finally catches the bus he’d been chasing forever, what happens when opponents of the Common Core State Standards finally succeed in getting a state’s policymakers to “repeal” the education initiative? Early signs from Indiana and elsewhere suggest that the opponents’ stated goals are likely to get run over.

We acknowledge, of course, that Common Core critics aren’t monolithic, even on the right. Libertarians want states to reject standards, testing and accountability overall; conservative opponents urge states to move to what they see as “higher” standards. Both factions would like to remove the taint of federal influence from state-based reform. (On that point, we concur.) On the left, the National Education Association sees an opportunity to push back against a policy it never liked in the first place. The union is using the standards as an excise to call for a moratorium on teacher evaluations as states move to Common Core–aligned tests. Still others worry about the standards being “too hard.” (On these points, we do not concur).

So how’s it going? Indiana has hit the reverse button hardest, enacting a bill that requires the state board of education to adopt revised standards. Oklahoma seems on the brink of doing much the same thing. No state is rejecting standards and testing entirely. That is partially because they would lose hundreds of millions of dollars of federal education funding and partially because few lawmakers trust the education system to do right by all kids once it’s free from external benchmarks and measures. (Sorry, libertarians.)

Will states that reject the Common Core end up with higher standards? Don’t count on it. Indiana’s revised standards were widely panned—by Common Core supporters and critics alike—for somehow managing to be lower in quality than both the Core standards and those that the Hoosier State had in place before. (The old ones were good—we evaluated them ourselves—although poorly implemented.)

Some Indiana critics are particularly upset that the new draft standards aren’t different enough from the Common Core. But they shouldn’t be surprised. If the goal is to align the Hoosier K–12 system with the expectations of colleges and employers, standards drafters will inexorably come to many of the same conclusions.

What about states that decide to keep the Common Core standards but reject common, comparable, aligned assessments? A report last year from Indiana’s nonpartisan legislative staff predicted tens of millions of dollars in costs to adopt new tests, plus additional ongoing costs to administer them. And a new report out of Louisiana suggests a similar fate for the Bayou State if sudden big changes are made to standards and tests.

Nor do such estimates include the cost to local school districts, which have spent millions getting ready for the higher standards of the Common Core. If states change their standards yet again, many districts will be compelled, once more, to recalibrate their materials and professional development—and teachers will once again have to adapt to a new set of standards. This does nobody any good.

That leaves many elected officials struggling to answer two fundamental questions: Can they change the Common Core? And should they? On the first question, despite the contention by the Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly that “states that sign on to Common Core may not change or modify the standards,” the clear answer is yes. Many states have done just that. California, Georgia, and North Carolina, for example, have mandated the teaching of cursive writing. Florida made nearly a hundred changes, including the addition of standards related to calculus.

Is there a better way forward? We’d prefer that states reject outright the arguments of Common Core opponents and proceed apace with implementation. But it’s clear that many policymakers are under pressure to demonstrate that they are hearing and heeding opponents’ concerns. We hope that such leaders also grasp the business case for the Common Core: that we need to dramatically improve the quality of teaching and learning in our schools and that strong standards and tests are critical foundations for the education system we need to be competitive in the modern world.

Half measures designed to mollify the critics will not cut it. The best that policymakers can do is to give voice to their concerns and then get out of the way.

-Michael J. Petrilli and Michael Brickman

This first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

Comment on this article
  • Jenni White says:

    Here’s what I always find interesting about your defense of Common Core Mike; why do you really care how states other than Ohio educate their kids? What difference does it make to the students in your state what Oklahoma does to educate Oklahoma students? You obviously care enough to continue writing our governor, ‘encouraging’ her to ‘stay the course’, but why?

    Ohio – on its own – could create such cherry-on-the-top-of-the-standards-sundae standards, insuring ALL kids in Ohio were so well educated and so workforce competitive that families from across the nation wanted to move to Ohio just so their kids could compete in our fabulous new global economy! You don’t need the rest of the nation to be on board for you to do that!

    Oh, wait, I forgot….Ohio can’t be trusted to do that. Ohio, just like every other state in the union must be overseen with a giant educational fly swatter of sorts to make them do the ‘right’ thing by their citizens, parents and students because they cannot do so utilizing their state’s educational devices.

    So what’s ‘right’? Maybe we should define what ‘right’ actually is in terms of education. Yes, Fordham (Achieve, CCSSO and NGA) clearly knows what’s ‘right’ for the nation in terms of education, but is it really up to you to create that definition?

    Doesn’t it seem at least plausible that people in their own states would best know that definition of a ‘right’ education for their own state? If not, then why have states at all? Why don’t we just open up all borders and allow every state to be ruled by one central government that knows the best definition of ‘right’ for the entire country?

    Oh, sorry! I forgot! That’s what we’re on our way to doing now in education (and healthcare…and environmental protection…)! It is becoming obvious, however, that actual, factual, taxpaying citizens don’t like the idea of borderless states, or one large central government. In fact, I’m pretty sure most Oklahomans wouldn’t be super happy about being lumped into any one category with New York city folk. Isn’t that really what we’re seeing right now? The outcry from that notion?

    The absolute worst problem with any of your arguments about Common Core, Mike, is that you have no idea about the actual nature of – not only people themselves – but the principals on which this nation was founded.

    Yes, you can yammer all day about the importance of education ‘reform’ and how important ‘accountability’ is to this notion of ‘reform’, but the only ones to whom ANY school needs to prove educational relevance and accountability are those parents and students actually served by that school in that community. That was the greatest notion in all the ideals during the creation of America – the fact that no one was going to have the definition of ‘right’ for any state or individual. That the individual first, and then the state, had the best idea of ‘right’.

    I find it nothing less than hilarious that, in the course of your Common Core apologetics, you began by saying, “This is ‘state led'”, intimating that states have all the Common Core decision-making process in their laps. Now that citizens, parents – and even students – have said NO to Common Core, your argument must originate from a different level. Now, the states can’t be trusted to make a case against Common Core because we’ll all end up with crummier standards. No matter what, so long as states are saying no to Common Core, you will find the Common Core monster in the closet that offsets that effort.

    I love this line: “But it’s clear that many policymakers are under pressure to demonstrate that they are hearing and heeding opponents’ concerns.” I think it pretty much sums up the derision you have for the regular citizen Mike. We’re ‘opponents’ – saboteurs – reactionaries – idiots who are kicking at our leash because we’re simply too stuppid to understand that you really know what’s best for us. Gack.

    Maybe it’s not the standards that are the problem here. Maybe it’s the fact that us ‘idiots’ are sick and tired of being told we’re too stupid to make decisions for ourselves and we should just shut up and listen to you and Bill Gates and NGA and Exxon tell us how to run our lives.

    I truly suggest that before you continue down the road with your arguments aimed at nationalizing education (all the while saying you’re not in favor of that), you get a handle on basic civics and US History. Out here in flyover country, we don’t cotton much to being told what to do by city folk and we’re too stupid to think outside the box that holds our Constitution and our Bible. You’ll never get anywhere with us until you do.

    Jenni White
    Restore Oklahoma Public Education

  • Ze'ev Wurman says:

    I don’t think I should deny Petrilli and Brickman their moment of schadenfreude. Clearly, Mike Pence, the Governor of Indiana, played a beautiful bait-and-switch game here pretending to get rid of Common Core while retaining it. It may yet prove to be his Pyrrhic victory like it was for Tony Bennett, but only time will tell.

    But I cannot let their smug lie — yes, lie — to pass unchallenged. They write:

    “Some Indiana critics are particularly upset that the new draft standards aren’t different enough from the Common Core. But they shouldn’t be surprised. If the goal is to align the Hoosier K–12 system with the expectations of colleges and employers, standards drafters will inexorably come to many of the same conclusions.”

    This pretends that Common Core reflects what every college readiness and workplace readiness should, and hence any set of standards with these goals will end up in the same place.

    This is a lie.

    Regarding the claim the CC reflects true college readiness, we have the words of CC key author Jason Zimba, who ought to know a bit more about CC readiness level than either Petrilli or Brickman:

    “I didn’t make that point strongly enough … I think it’s a fair critique that [CC] it’s a minimal definition of college readiness … Not only not for STEM, it’s also not for selective colleges”

    Similarly, CC defined college-readiness and workplace-readiness by fiat and without any supporting evidence that they are one and the same. Knowledgeable researchers like Mike Kirst criticized this baseless claim from day one ( Recently NAGB said it even more clearly when it tried to use its grade 12 test to connect college-readiness to work-readiness:

    “For example, among NAEP’s math-framework objectives, 64 percent to 74 percent were ‘not evident as prerequisite’ in any of the training required for the careers studied, a finding Cornelia Orr, the board’s executive director, called ‘quite shocking.'” ( )

    One would better believe it that NAGB is a bit more qualified to pronounce on career versus college readiness than either Petrilli or Brinkman (or a bunch of policy eager-beavers at CCSSI, for that matter).

    All this is not a secret and has been around for some time. For Petrilli and Brinkman to claim that there is only one way to career and college readiness — the Common Core way — is simply a lie.

    Even schadenfreude doesn’t justify this.

  • Catherine Waldron says:

    It seems the shorthand detractors of Common Core frequently conflate CC and standardized testing, two interrelated but separate topics. The “tens of millions” cost of new tests points to a wizard behind the curtain. What if the purpose of assessment were to enable useful feedback in the classroom, and to support the individual student-parent-caregiver-teacher team with one focus: to enable and encourage this child’s learning and lifelong learning capacity? Homeschooling provides this. What if the educational-industrial complex were to shift focus this way? Then CC would start to make sense. And a “core” is just that. Each athlete needs strong core muscles but we don’t evaluate football players based on their ballet techniques.

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