ANALYSIS: Reflections on 10th anniversary of Common Core Standards

In a decade, Common Core State Standards went from being championed by a Georgia Republican governor to being condemned by another.
In a decade, Common Core State Standards went from being championed by a Georgia Republican governor to being condemned by another.

Credit: Frank Espich

Credit: Frank Espich

Are standards best route to school improvement or have the politics proven lethal?

Traditionally, we commemorate a 10th wedding anniversary with tin to symbolize resilience and strength.

This year’s anniversary of the Common Core State Standards ought to be memorialized with a life raft to signify the wreckage of what seemed like a seaworthy concept in 2010.

In a decade, the standards went from being championed by one Georgia Republican governor to being condemned by another.

In 2010, the nationwide ceremony celebrating the release of the standards occurred at Peachtree Ridge High School in Gwinnett in deference to a key architect, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Perdue urged states to voluntarily adopt common national standards in English, language arts and mathematics, saying:

We have thrown our teachers into classrooms and said, 'Teach!' But we have been unwilling up until now to articulate exactly what it is that we expect young people to know at different levels. And that was why it was important for states to come together, as a coalition of states, through the National Governors Association, to say this is important and we need to identify those expectations.

As the AJC reported in 2010:

The standards represent agreement on what students from Atlanta to Los Angeles, from kindergarten to 12th grade, from the suburbs to the inner city, collegiate-bound or work-ready, should know and master in core skill areas. To achieve those standards, it took a rare show of unity across state lines, politics and business --- although the hard work has only begun.

Fast-forward to 2020 when Gov. Brian Kemp vows to dismantle whatever remnants of Common Core remain in Georgia.

(It is not clear what the governor means. While Georgia -- responding to the souring of Republicans toward Common Core -- changed the name of its standards, a lot of Common Core undergirds the Georgia Standards of Excellence. )

The journal Education Next marks the 10th anniversary year of Common Core with three good essays this week by noted education researchers on the standards effort.

In his essay "Common Standards Aren't Enough," Morgan Polikoff of the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education writes:

While it appears that Common Core has had little effect on student achievement, there are two related trends that bear mentioning. The first is that the standards have had remarkable staying power. A lot of states have renamed the standards or even "repealed" them—but in almost every state, what is in place now looks an awful lot like the Common Core as originally written…The second is that the standards (and their meager track record) have led to renewed policy efforts around curriculum materials, which I view as much more promising.

All signs point to the conclusion that this particular strategy has run its course. And while average levels of performance have improved, there's little to no evidence the standards movement has moved the needle on gaps. It's time for a new approach. Policymakers should not throw out the goal of improving teaching at scale. Therefore, they would be wise to retain the standards and assessments that are now in place.

In his essay, "Stay the Course on National Standards," Michael J. Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute contends:

The smartest path forward is to follow through on the Common Core initiative. That will require states to take on new roles, especially in vetting curricular products and encouraging schools to adopt them, if not demanding they do. Overhauling teacher prep should be high on the to-do list, too. The federal government can help by investing in research and development around thorny implementation issues, such as how to help low achievers, English language learners, and students with disabilities make rapid progress toward the higher standards. Driving state and local dollars into instructional materials, teacher planning time, and coaching will also be important. It's fair to expect that states and districts that have been making these moves should start to see improved achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and other measures by 2021 or 2023 at the latest, compared to those who stick with business as usual.

In contrast, Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution declares in "Common Core Has Not Worked":

A decade after the release of the Common Core standards, the accumulated evidence reveals no meaningfully positive result. A limitation of this research is the difficulty of pinpointing precisely when Common Core should be considered fully implemented and of evaluating the fidelity of that implementation. Self-selection could also be a problem if unknown factors influenced states in adopting or rejecting Common Core and those factors subsequently influenced state NAEP scores. Yet the research to date on Common Core reinforces a larger body of evidence suggesting that academic-content standards bear scant relevance to student learning… In short, the evidence suggests student achievement is, at best, about where it would have been if Common Core had never been adopted, if the billions of dollars spent on implementation had never been spent, if the countless hours of professional development inducing teachers to retool their lessons had never been imposed. When will time be up on the Common Core experiment? How many more years must pass, how much more should Americans spend, and how many more effective curricula must be pushed aside before leaders conclude that Common Core has failed?

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