As students, teachers, and parents across the country gear up for the start of another school year, many are left wondering what the fate of the Common Core will be when they return to their districts. After a tough rollout for the standards, a number of states have decided to pull back, and the ramifications of such decisions are now trickling down from legislative and political fights and impacting local school districts directly.
The outright withdrawal of some states (most recently in Oklahoma and South Carolina) from the Common Core standards leaves many questions, not the least of which is, after spending considerable time and resources to plan curricula and individual lessons that meet the standards, what will teachers in states not aligned with Common Core instruct instead? And, exactly how will the process of implementing new standards play out? The short answer: it won’t be easy.
“Normally, standards-based reforms are one of the most complicated reforms you can do, because of the challenges associated with ensuring they have an impact in the classroom,” observed Ashley Jochim, a research analyst at the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, in a recent article in Education Week. She added that “it can take years before teachers truly understand what is expected of them after a significant revision in the standards.” And the prospect of changing standards so abruptly has some teachers expressing frustration. “How are you supposed to plan and prepare when you have so much uncertainty around what you’re supposed to teach and how you’re supposed to teach it?” asked one eighth-grade language arts teacher at Roosevelt Middle School in Oklahoma City, Okla., speaking to a New York Times reporter.
Further, as Education Week noted, states that abandoned the Common Core State Standards now have “less time to create new academic standards” and must do so “under intense political pressure.” Such will be the case in South Carolina and Oklahoma, where new laws have effectively pulled their schools out of the Common Core. According to press reports, the Common Core standards in math and English-language arts will remain in classrooms for this year in South Carolina, but the law requires new standards to be written and implemented for the 2015–2016 school year. In Oklahoma, schools will revert to their previous standards, a development that one of Oklahoma’s top educators called “disheartening.” Laws in both states mandate some legislative oversight to ensure that any new standards don’t simply reapply the Common Core under a different name.
Teachers in Indiana will find themselves in a similar situation with their new academic standards, adopted in April 2014, although, by most accounts, the new standards in Indiana are along the lines of the Common Core. Change may also be coming in Missouri, North Carolina, and Utah—states that are in the midst of forming committees and working groups and are soliciting comments via public hearings to review new standards.
The rollout of a new education policy is always challenging. But if you thought the initial rollout of the Common Core was rocky, the next phase could be even messier, as a handful of states attempt to make new education policy on the fly, under the watch of local politicians. In a blog post last week, Diane Ravitch, a vocal opponent of the Common Core, wrote that empowering local legislators to write academic standards was a “terrible idea,” and an even worse prospect than the Common Core standards they worked to repeal. “This is a sure way to politicize American education,” Ravitch wrote. “Politicians should do their work, and let educators do their work.”
Despite the high-profile defection of a handful of states, most are sticking with the Common Core—at least for now. But while the Common Core standards do not dictate a specific curriculum that school districts must follow, the withdrawal of states from the standards, and the ongoing debate about implementation and assessment, has left many educators apprehensive and questioning how to proceed.
In Louisiana, a state embroiled in controversy surrounding the Common Core and the implementation of testing and assessments, teachers are unsure what their instructional future may hold. Michael Deshotels, a retired Louisiana educator, recently spoke out about his opposition to the Common Core in a post on Ravitch’s blog. He believes that the standards will not help students academically “because they are not as effective as the alternatives that are available.” And Deshotels says that a survey he posted on his blog, the Louisiana Educator, shows that 72% of his readers (mostly educators) do not think “Common Core and PARCC testing should be implemented in our schools.” At the same time, a group of parents, teachers, and charter schools have filed suit against Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to get the Common Core “back on track,” which only adds to the complications and confusion for educators there.
Still, it appears that the well-publicized opinions of Deshotels and other outspoken educators, such as Bad Ass Teacher Association (BAT), is influencing the perception of the Common Core, even among supporters, and may have affected the stance of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a union of more than one million members nationwide. While the AFT has always been a strong supporter of the Common Core standards, the union took a step back from this support in a recent announcement.
In what some observers consider a surprising move, the AFT will now provide its members with the means, via grants, to critique the Common Core standards and create new standards as deemed necessary. This abrupt deviation from the AFT’s previous unflagging support of the Common Core may indicate that the frustration level of its member educators has reached a fever pitch—and that more upheaval is in the cards.
Meanwhile, in keeping with the confusion that has marred nearly every aspect of the Common Core rollout, a July 2014 Education Week/Gallup research study of about 1,800 district superintendents nationwide found continued support for the standards. According to the survey report, when asked “how challenging the Common Core standards are for students,” 66% of superintendents said the standards are “just about right,” while just 14% said they are too challenging. And, overall, 66% said they believe the Common Core State Standards will “improve the quality of education in their community.” Just 4%, in contrast, believe that the standards “prevent individualized learning”—a frequent complaint heard from Common Core opponents.
For librarians and publishers that have been considering ways to support the Common Core with new resources and services, the ongoing debate certainly clouds the future, and the controversy swirling around the Common Core standards shows no sign of letting up any time soon. Regardless, the first day of school is almost here, and teachers across the country have no choice but to move ahead with their plans for instruction and learning, even as the fate of the Common Core appears to hang in the balance.
As the school year gets underway, we want to hear from you. What is happening with the Common Core in your state and local school district, or in your library? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.