Uniform education standards: Momentum grows as more states sign on
About 40 states will probably have adopted the 'Common Core' education standards by spring. But critics caution that buy-in is just a start.
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Massachusetts "may continue to do well on the lower national standard, but it will still be a lower-quality standard of assessment," says Jamie Gass of the Center for School Reform at the Pioneer Institute in Boston. He opposed Massachusetts' decision July 21 to adopt the Common Core standards, calling them "a race to the middle."
A new study, however, came to a different conclusion. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute graded the standards in all 50 states and found that the Common Core standards – to which it gave an 'A-minus' in math and a 'B-plus' in English – were often superior. Just two states and the District of Columbia scored higher in English. For both math and English, 11 states (plus Washington, D.C.) had standards about on par with Common Core's.
In states where it's a close call as to which is better, Common Core may offer some long-term advantages such as joint development of tests – which is already under way – and teacher training, says Chester Finn, president of the institute and an advocate of national standards. States are free to augment the common standards with about 15 percent of their own material, he notes – a "Common Core Plus" model that seems to be where California is headed.
Even the fiercest advocates agree that adopting the standards is the easiest step toward real change. What needs to follow are new tests, better teacher training and professional development, new curricula and materials, and a system that holds students and schools accountable, they say.
"I don't think anyone is adopting these thinking that it's the last step," says Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, which helped develop the standards.
He is optimistic, saying states seem to have the will to see this through. Others are skeptical, noting that strapped budgets and decreased enthusiasm – especially for states that don't win coveted Race to the Top funds – may cause many states to make only superficial change.
"This is a textbook example of how to [roll out a big reform]," says Mr. Hess. "But if you look over the last 40 or 50 years of education reform,... our track record has been pretty dismal."
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