By Bob Luebke-In an editorial earlier this week, News & Observer editors admonished those who seek to slow down the implementation of Common Core Standards and want the state to back out from national testing requirements. The editor’s arguments are weak and selective in their consideration of relevant facts.
First, the editors — and many other supporters of Common Core for that matter — have a bad habit of implying the only opposition to Common Core comes from conservatives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone familiar with this debate soon learns Common Core is not a partisan issue. The reality is Democrats and Republicans fall on both sides of the issue.
Some of the strongest critics of Common Core are liberals. Tom Loveless, a Harvard professor and researcher at the Brookings Institute, created a lively discussion among educators and policymakers when he said standards make little or no difference in student achievement and he doesn’t think they would matter much in solving the nation’s education problems.
Diane Ravitch, noted education historian and one-time supporter of school choice, has also raised serious questions about Common Core, especially in the area of testing. Her comments on testing are insightful and at times debatable, but they bear repeating:
The Common Core standards should be decoupled from standardized testing, especially online standardized testing. Most objections to the standards are caused by the testing. The tests are too long, and many students give up; the passing marks on the tests were set so high as to create failure. There is something about the Common Core standards and testing, about their demand for uniformity and standardization, that reeks of early twentieth century factory-line thinking. There is something about them that feels obsolete. Today, most sectors of our economy have standards that are open-sourced and flexible, that rely upon the wisdom of practitioners, that are constantly updated and improved … The Common Core tests are a linchpin of the federal effort to commit K-12 education to the new world of Big Data. The tests are the necessary ingredient to standardize teaching, curriculum, instruction, and schooling.
Remember; these aren’t conservatives. If the editors doubt Loveless and Ravitch, they can review the myriad of news stories about common core testing problems and parental backlash in Kentucky and New York State.
N&O Editors want policymakers to stay the course, yet they simply ignore numerous unanswered questions. The cost of implementing Common Core standards has hardly been considered, nor who exactly will bear the costs. Estimates to implement Common Core in North Carolina over the next seven years range from $300 million to $525 million, and those estimates are admittedly conservative. The State Department of Public Instruction (DPI)has not provided an estimate of its own. DPI has said, however, that “implementing Common Core Standards is no different in cost than implementing North Carolina’s ongoing revisions to its longstanding Standard Course of Study.
The disparity in opinion is certainly noteworthy. Barring any changes, we know that costs for testing alone will probably at least double. The North Carolina Department of Education estimates that current per student costs for EOG/EOC tests are $11.23. Smarter Balanced Testing Consortium, North Carolina’s testing partner, has estimated Common Core testing would cost about $22.50 per student, a doubling of costs.
Race to the Top provided funding for some Common Core related expenditures. However, that money is now gone. School districts will still need to buy computers and teaching materials and make infrastructure investments. At a time of tight education budgets, it is difficult to know where the money will come from.
The editors also conveniently ignore questions about cost and say we need standards “so that states can see how they compare against one another and, for that matter, against international schools as other countries have adopted similar standards.”
The statement is problematic. First, NAEP and SAT scores already allow states to make comparisons. Second, the entire discussion assumes that national standards are the vehicle to boost student achievement and propel economic development.
Who says? There is little or no methodologically sound evidence that supports the view that national standards are necessary for this nation to be economically competitive. If it were true, why do the rankings of international math and science scores reveal no apparent relationship between national standards and economic competitiveness? Of the nations in front of the U.S. on test performance, some have national standards, but others do not. That national standards are the key to economic development is an assumption with no evidence behind it.
Common Core supporters are concerned that the effort to implement standards is losing steam at a time when public support is badly needed. The editors assert, “This change will be positive in the long term. The standards that the states established were hard-won after much study and discussion. Common Core was not something governors and state education officials came up with over morning coffee.”
The precise reason the effort for Common Core Standards is losing steam, however, is because the process for developing and adopting the standards lacked transparency, openness and full discussion. Basic questions that normally would have been asked early on in this process are first being asked now. The standards were drafted not by a broad group of teachers, parents and educators with real classroom experience, but by a narrow coterie of academic and assessment experts. According to teacher educator Nancy Carlsson-Paige, there were 135 people involved in the Common Core review process. Not a single one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional. According to Sandra Stotsky, a former member of the Common Core Standards validation committee for English Language Arts, the vast majority of people involved in the working group to develop standards worked for testing companies. The group did include two math professors, but no high school mathematics or English teachers and no English professors.
Were the standards adopted after much deliberation and discussion? Hardly. States adopted Common Core only after being wooed by millions in federal dollars at a time when the economies of most states were in the doldrums.
Despite the myriad problems with development, testing and concerns about cost — and the fact that Common Core has never been field-tested — the N&O editors say “stay the course.” The growing chorus of objections to Common Core is the sound of democracy.
Nearly four years after adopting standards that totally revamp public education, North Carolina has yet to have a full legislative discussion about Common Core standards or a legislative public hearing.
But thankfully the general public and policymakers are starting to give Common Core standards and the testing that comes with them greater scrutiny. Untested standards and the many questions that come with them deserve answers. They also make a compelling case why North Carolina should back away from national testing for Common Core standards.