What have states actually done in crusade against Common Core?

Some states are rebelling against Common Core education standards adopted by 45 states, saying it is a sign of federal overreach. But few states are actually taking concrete steps, according to a new study.

Sue Ogrocki/AP/File
Janet Barresi, Oklahoma state superintendent, speaks during a State Board of Education meeting in Oklahoma City last month that dealt with how to replace the Common Core standards that the state has dropped.

Oklahoma and Indiana have dropped Common Core – and Oklahoma had its No Child Left Behind waiver revoked as a result.

South Carolina and Missouri have taken strong steps toward replacing Common Core, and North Carolina seems to have found a compromise in which they’d merely tweak the standards.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, meanwhile – an erstwhile Common Core supporter who is now one of its biggest detractors, as well as a potential 2016 presidential contender – has been doing everything in his power to drop the standards, though so far to no avail. He’s currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the US Department of Education.

Amid all the headlines in the past year of states dropping – or threatening to drop – the controversial Common Core State Standards, it can be tough to parse out just how many actually followed through. A new report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS) helps crystallize some of the action, as well as the legislative activity still underway.

The bottom line is that despite the growing backlash against the standards – initially adopted by 45 states, the District of Columbia, and in part by Minnesota – just two of those states have completely exited the standards. Four more have taken steps toward replacing them. And a number of others have taken action either to make the standards more their own – by affirming local control, modifying them, or renaming them – or to commit to implementation of the standards.

“Of the hundreds of pieces of legislation introduced in multiple states across the country, this was a big discussion area” this year, says Jeremy Anderson, president of ECS. “But very few actually took steps to make any changes.”

Those states that have, however, have generated big headlines, and opposing Common Core has been a popular line for Republican politicians, in particular, this fall.

Oklahoma, one of just two states to have completely dropped the standards, choosing to revert back to its old standards, was angered when the US Education Secretary Arne Duncan revoked their NCLB waiver in late August, arguing that the state’s current standards aren’t good enough. Losing the waiver means the state must revert back to the old – and largely discarded – accountability guidelines under NCLB for schools that don’t make sufficient yearly progress. Gov. Mary Fallin has cast the move as federal overreach and abuse of power, and the state is trying to see if it can get its waiver reinstated.

A number of education experts, including Common Core supporters, think the Obama administration may have made a mistake in coming down so hard on Oklahoma, especially given their lack of consistency (Indiana still has its waiver). At the same time, Oklahoma’s old standards are arguably poor, says Michael Brickman, national policy director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank that has largely supported Common Core. “If the colleges and universities of the state of Oklahoma were saying the old standards were good enough, I don’t think the feds would have come in in the first place,” says Mr. Brickman.

Observers tend to give less legitimacy to Governor Jindal’s lawsuit, in which he claims the federal government coerced Louisiana and other states to adopt Common Core by linking them to Race to the Top grant money and the NCLB waivers. He’s already been trying at the state level, so far unsuccessfully, to drop both the standards and the related assessments.

But those sorts of protracted battles can have their own cost, say some observers, by sucking attention away from the real work of implementing the standards and supporting teachers.

“It seems there have been some states where Common Core has sucked up a lot of the political oxygen for reform,” says Mr. Brickman. “And because so few of the complaints have anything to do with the standards themselves, it’s hard to address the concerns.”

Some of the concerns, Brickman says, are based on pure misinformation, while others are legitimate, but based on issues that have nothing to do with the Common Core standards.

“If Common Core were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, none of these problems that do legitimately exist – federal overreach, bad text books, bad curriculum, data privacy concerns – would go away,” Brickman says.

In some ways, Common Core advocates might have been better served by going with a smaller group of enthusiastic states rather than trying so hard for near-universal buy-in, says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

“If the feds had stayed out, if advocates hadn’t tried to sign everybody up, you could have imagined something that was much more coherent, people could see what it meant in practice, and if it delivered what was promised, and it’s easy to imagine other states would have been wanting to sign up,” says Mr. Hess. “Instead, we have a situation today where you maybe in a dozen states you find deep enthusiasm for Common Core, a number – six or eight or 10 – where you find a lot of backlash, and 15 or 20 where they’re just not that into the Common Core. They’re doing it, but they’re pretty darn ambivalent, and I don’t think that’s likely to deliver impressive results.”

In addition to the two states that have officially left Common Core, four states – Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and South Carolina – have taken action to review and potentially replace the standards, according to the ECS report. South Carolina has mandated a review by Jan. 1, with the new standards to be implemented next fall.

And in July, both Missouri and North Carolina passed legislation for new standards. The Missouri law asks for new standards to be developed, while North Carolina will have the state board of education rewrite the Common Core standards. In both states, the Common Core will remain in place until new or revised standards are adopted.

Ohio’s legislation, which would drop the standards, has been introduced but not passed.

More common has been legislation affirming Common Core, but also affirming local control over education – action taken in Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, and Tennessee – or renaming the standards, which more than 25 states have done. South Dakota, meanwhile, affirmed Common Core while at the same time creating a two-year moratorium on the state adopting any future multistate standards.

And not all the state action is about hitting back at the standards. The ECS report cites five states – Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, and Nevada – that took action to help with implementation of the standards.

“It’s noteworthy that there’s not really a party line on which states have been affirming the standards,” says Mr. Anderson. “It’s across the aisle.” 

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