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Common Core Isssue Still Unresolved

May 30, 2013


In our continuing effort to provide accurate information regarding the Common Core here are 10 key questions on the Common Core controversy.

  1. What will happen if the Legislature attempts to block the Common Core standards?
Frankly, no one knows – and that’s a major reason for KASB’s opposition.  It depends on the specific wording of the legislation, whether it is only tied to funding or any use of standards, and how the language is interpreted by the State Board, local school boards, or the courts.  Such legislation could raise constitutional issues about the powers of the State Board.  However, at a minimum, it could require the State Board to start over on adopting replacements for 10-year-old reading and math standards, threaten the state’s No Child Left Behind wavier, delay selection of new state assessments, and force local districts to spend time and money retraining teachers and purchasing new textbooks and materials based on another set of standards.
  1. Does implementation of the Common Core mean the federal government will be dictating what is taught in Kansas schools, even if opposed by state and local school boards?
No.  Under state law, local curriculum will continue to be determined by local school boards.  The State Board adopted a modified version of the Common Core reading and math standards in 2010 under its constitutional authority for “general supervision” of the public schools.  State law passed by the Legislature reads: K.S.A. 72-6439 (b) “The state board shall establish curriculum standards which reflect high academic standards for the core academic areas of mathematics, science, reading, writing and social studies. The curriculum standards shall be reviewed at least every seven years. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed in any manner so as to impinge upon any district’s authority to determine its own curriculum.”  (Emphasis added.)
  1. Was the Legislature and public by-passed in adopting the Common Core standards?
The reading and math standards based on the Common Core were adopted in 2010 in the same manner as every other set of standards since at least 1992, when the current law was passed.  If the Common Core standards are blocked or repealed, the same process would presumably be used for the next standards, unless the Legislature changes the law or the State Board changes its process.
  1. What happens if local schools object to something in the Common Core or other standards adopted by the State Board, or want to teach something else?
The State Board is directed by state law to “ensure compatibility between the statewide assessments and the curriculum standards” required by that same law.  Schools are not required to teach to those standards.  If a school does not teach items included on state assessments, its students may not score as well on that test.  However, the standards do not specify how reading, math and other concepts should be taught, or what textbooks or other materials should be used.  Local districts are free to add other curricular topics.
  1. Does the Common Core increase federal control over K-12 education through funding?
Kansas is already required to follow many federal requirements as a condition for federal funding under the No Child Left Behind Act (or Elementary and Secondary Education Act), the Individuals with Disabilities Act, and school nutrition programs.  Federal funding provides about 8 percent of total school spending in Kansas.  Adopting the Common Core was part of the Kansas waiver from NCLB/ESEA, which actually removes some federal requirements.  However, neither the federal waiver nor any other federal law actually requires states to adopt the Common Core standards.  The NCLB/ESEA waiver does require states to adopt college- and career-ready standards in reading/language arts and mathematics that are either (1) common to a significant number of states, or (2) have been approved and certified by a state network of institutions of higher education.  The Common Core is one way to qualify for the waiver, but not the only way.  However, Kansas would have to go through the entire process of standards development all over again to re-qualify for the waiver.
  1. Who developed and promoted the Common Core standards?
The primary originators of the Common Core were the National Governors Association, the bi-partisan organization representing the elected governors of the states; and the Council of Chief State School Officers, composed of state officials including the Kansas Commissioner of Education, who are either directly elected, appointed by Governors or appointed by boards elected or appointed by Governors or other elected officials.  The Obama administration has promoted the Common Core by making adoption of the standards a factor in the Race to the Top grant competition and one qualifying option for the NCLB/ESEA waiver, and by funding development of new assessments that match the Common Core through two consortia of states.  Kansas is participating in the Smarter Balanced consortium.  Kansas is not participating in the Race to the Top program.
  1. What will it cost to implement the Common Core in Kansas?
A Kansas Legislative Post Audit Division report noted districts are continually purchasing new materials and providing teacher training, so these costs associated with implementing the Common Core are not necessarily additional or new costs.  They went on to estimate it could cost school districts between $32 and $60 million over five years, mostly for new instructional materials such as textbooks and teacher training.  If the State Board is required to start over on adopting a different set of standards, the same kinds of costs would be required.

The KLPA study indicated the State Department of Education may actually save money by implementing the Common Core if its uses new assessments developed by the one of the national consortia.  However, the State Board has not yet selected the testing program that will be used, so it is impossible to accurately predict what the cost will be.  KLPA also found that, unlike some states, Kansas should not incur additional technology costs for the new assessments because current state tests are already given on-line.
  1. <Who supports the Common Core standards and why?
In addition to the Obama administration and most governors and state school officers – including many Republicans, conservatives and self-identified supporters of educational “reform” – 45 states have adopted the standards, although efforts to reconsider are underway in some states.  A number of business leaders, the military, and conservative policy analysts have also adopted support for the standards.

Reasons include: (1) Unlike current Kansas standards, the Common Core is designed to identify what a student needs to be successful for continuing postsecondary education and employment, and what students should master as they progress grade-by-grade through the system toward that goal.  (2) A common set of standards will allow students to move among the various states with similar expectations in schools.  (3) The standards reflect a more uniform set of expectation for college-readiness.  (4) The standards more closely match those of higher performing nations that are economic competitors of the United States.  (5) A common set of standards will allow easier development of open-source instructional materials, reducing educational costs.
Kansas has been implementing the new standards for two years.  KASB has not received any criticism or concerns from local school leaders about the actual content of the standards, although there are concerns about what testing system will be selected and how it will be used.
  1. Who opposes the Common Core standards and why?
Just as support for Common Core comes from both the “left” and “right,” so does the opposition.  Critics generally fall into two camps, although there is considerable overlap.

The first group argues: (1) A common set of standards promoted by the federal government will lead to further federal intrusion into education policy, diminishing the authority of parents, local school boards and states.  (2) The cost of the standards and related assessments is too high.  (3) The standards are not tested and may not really be an improvement. (4) The new system will collect and share too much information about individual students.  (5) Federal funding has created conflicts-of-interest, if not actual corruption, in the testing industry.

The second group of critics argues: (1) There is no real evidence the standards and testing movement as it has developed over 20 years has improved education.  (2) The Common Core will perpetuate “teaching to the test” at the expense of real teaching.  (3) The overemphasis on assessments will be used to make inappropriate judgments about teachers and students.  (4) The more rigorous and unfamiliar standards and tests will causes more students, teachers and schools to be unfairly labeled as “failing.”  (5) The system will force instruction to be focused on a narrow range of skills for college-bound students, ignoring the diverse needs and interests of other students.
  1. Is there an alternative to blocking the Common Core?
KASB believes Common Core implementation should be allowed to proceed, but suggests closer oversight by the Legislature and cooperation with the State Board.  Kansas can respond to problems in the Common Core system when and if they actually arise.  No one can know for sure the impact of the Common Core, but that’s true of any system.  There are multiple independent indicators (National Assessment of Education Progress, graduation rates, college readiness tests and completion rates) that can be used to measure the impact of the Common Core and allow corrections moving forward.


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