Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Rubin: Conservatives, there's no Common Core conspiracy

To tell the truth, I haven't examined the standards for math and English/language arts (ELA) that are set forth in the Common Core.

I do know that the Gates Foundation was very involved in developing and promoting these standards to states; meanwhile some educators were left out of the development process, which sets off suspicion in some people's mind such as public education activist Diane Ravitch, who believes states and localities should be given maximum control of schools, in the American tradition, not the Department of Ed.  

In a recent blog post against Common Core, Ravitch points out two important facts: 1) "the biggest test-score gaps... are within the same state, not between states;" and 2) "the most reliable predictors of test scores are family income and family education." Fact #2 almost certainly explains #1.

Personally, I don't see how setting a high bar for achievement, by itself, can change anything, no matter who develops or sets the standards. That said, I do think it's perfectly alright and even an international best practice for the national government to set educational standards.  (Consider it from a foreign investor's point of view: if he asks what the average American high schooler -- his potential employee -- is expected to know upon graduation, the answer currently is, "It depends.")

Conservative pundit Jennifer Rubin tells us what Common Core is not.  It is not a "federal program;" and it is not tied to federal education grants.  It's basically a voluntary initiative for each of the 50 states to consider. 

So there does not seem to be any sinister conspiracy here, just a lot of Bill Gates's money and reputation tied up in this thing... Although Ravitch alleges that Microsoft stands to make money selling CC-related software and hardware.

By Jennifer Rubin
June 11, 2014 | Washington Post

Right-wing opposition to Common Core, as I’ve written before, is partly based on a series of blatant misrepresentations (or, to be generous, misunderstandings) as to what it is. That has sent some presidential aspirants on a crusade to “repeal Common Core.” This is daft since there is no federal law, statute or regulation implementing Common Core. It was an initiative undertaken by a large number of states; some have continued with the effort, a few have left and a few never joined. If one is arguing that education is a state matter, it is not only inaccurate but bizarre to campaign for president on the pledge to get rid of it.

But, conservative critics claim that Common Core is being forced down the states throats through No Child Left Behind or via grant applications for Race to the Top grants. This is also false.

States did not have to adopt Common Core to be eligible to compete for Race to the Top funding.

Common Core proponents explain that Race to the Top was a competitive grant with different criteria whereby states could earn points in different categories.  In fact, only a very small portion of the overall application (just 4 percent to 12 percent, depending on how strictly you read it) was related to “higher standards.” States that adopted Common Core got credit for implementing standards, but states that did not want to adopt Common Core could choose to adopt other high standards if they were endorsed by the state’s higher education community.

Regarding the states that had adopted Common Core, received Race to the Top funding (where they listed Common Core on their application) and have now REPEALED Common Core, there was understandable confusion about the Race to the Top funds given that this was included in some states’ applications.

However, Education Secretary Arne Duncan made clear this week that Oklahoma, which pulled out of Common Core, would not sacrifice its funding. (“Duncan made it clear that Oklahoma isn’t necessarily on the verge of losing federal funding because of its decision. He said that Oklahoma and other states that back out of common core can stay in the department’s good graces, as long as they replace those standards with another set that will get students ready for college and the workforce.”)

Indiana, which recently pulled out of Common Core, showed how to operate with its own state standards. Its school officials tell me that the key is providing standards that are “college and career ready.” Options for states include one of two (referred to as Part B of the NCLB waiver): Common Core (or technically “college and career standards that are common to a significant # of states”) or standards that are approved  by a state network of institutions of higher education (which certify that students who meet the standards will not need remedial course work at the post-secondary level). Indiana officials engaged higher education experts for the first time in the crafting of the standards and conducted a review of the new standards by the College and Career Ready review panel (higher ed and business representatives). Participants signed off on standards, within their areas of expertise, as those that would prepare a student to be ready for post-secondary education or transition into a career field, and the appropriate officials related this process to the Department of Education. Have any critics of Common Core bothered to check with a state that actually withdrew to find out if there was a penalty? Apparently not.

In short, conservatives who are grandstanding on “repealing” Common Core have an obligation to explain what they are talking about. There is no federal mandate to adopt Common Core or evidence that any state is being penalized for withdrawing from  or failing to adopt Common Core. Right now, it’s not clear that these critics are doing anything more than pandering to the least-informed voters. States should continue to evaluate whether they want to join Common Core standards or develop their own. Instead of scaring voters, conservatives should be cheering the exercise in state decision-making and experimentation. That is what a true believer in the 10th Amendment would do.

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