Common Core Questions and Answers

Common Core Questions and Answers

Controversy over the Common Core academic standards and
related issues continues at the State Legislature.  KASB opposes efforts to block funding for
implementation of the Common Core at the State Board of Education or school district
level.  Key points: 
  • School districts are
    already implementing the new standards. 
    We have heard no concerns about the quality of the actual
    standards.
  • KASB supports
    implementation of higher state standards based on college and
    career-readiness and new assessments aligned with the Common Core. 
  • Blocking the Common Core
    would impede those goals.
School leaders should share their concerns with their local
legislators.  Action is possible until
the final adjournment of the session. 
Here are 10 key questions on the Common Core controversy.

  1. What will happen if the Legislature attempts to block the Common
    Core standards?

Frankly, no one knows – and that’s a major reason for KASB’s
opposition.  It depends on the specific
wording of the legislation, whether it is only tied to funding or any use of
standards, and how the language is interpreted by the State Board of Education,
local school boards, or the courts.  Such legislation could raise constitutional issues
about the powers of the State Board. 
However, at a minimum, it could require the State Board to start over on
adopting replacements for 10-year-old reading and math standards, threaten the
state’s No Child Left Behind wavier, delay selection of new state assessments, and
force local districts to spend time and money retraining teachers and
purchasing new textbooks and materials based on another set of standards.

  1. Does implementation of the Common Core mean the federal government
    will be dictating what is taught in Kansas schools, even if opposed by
    state and local school boards?

No.  Under state law,
local curriculum will continue to be determined by local school boards.  The State Board adopted a
modified version of the Common Core reading and math standards in 2010 under
its constitutional authority for “general supervision” of the public
schools.  State law passed by the
Legislature reads: K.S.A. 72-6439 (b) “The state board shall establish
curriculum standards which reflect high academic standards for the core
academic areas of mathematics, science, reading, writing and social studies.
The curriculum standards shall be reviewed at least every seven years. Nothing
in this subsection shall be construed in any manner so as to impinge upon any
district’s authority to determine its own curriculum
.”  (Emphasis added.)
  1. Was the Legislature and public by-passed in adopting the Common
    Core standards?
The reading and math standards based on the Common Core were
adopted in 2010 in the same manner as every
other set of standards since at least 1992, when the current law was
passed.  The process involves committees of educators to write and review standards, opportunity for public input and, increasingly, use of social media.  If the Common Core standards are
blocked or repealed, the same process would presumably be used for the next
standards, unless the Legislature changes the law or the State Board changes its
process.

  1. What happens if local schools object to something in the Common
    Core or other standards adopted by the State Board, or want to teach
    something else?

The State Board is directed by state law to “ensure
compatibility between the statewide assessments and the curriculum standards”
required by that same law.  Schools are
not required to teach to those standards. 
If a school does not teach items included on state assessments, its
students may not score as well on that test. 
However, the standards do not specify how reading, math and other concepts
should be taught, or what textbooks or other materials should be used.  Local districts are free to add other
curricular topics.

  1. Does the Common Core increase federal control over K-12 education
    through funding?

Kansas is already required to follow many federal
requirements as a condition for federal funding under the No Child Left Behind
Act (or Elementary and Secondary Education Act), the Individuals with
Disabilities Act, and school nutrition programs.  Federal funding provides about 8 percent of total
school spending in Kansas.  Adopting the Common Core was part of the
Kansas waiver from NCLB/ESEA, which actually removes some federal
requirements.  However, neither the
federal waiver nor any other federal law actually requires states to adopt the Common Core standards.  The NCLB/ESEA waiver does require states to adopt college- and career-ready standards in
reading/language arts and mathematics that are either (1) common to a
significant number of states, or (2) have been approved and certified by a state
network of institutions of higher education. 
The Common Core is one way to qualify for the waiver, but not the only
way.  However, Kansas would have to go
through the entire process of standards development all over again to
re-qualify for the waiver.

  1. Who developed and promoted the Common Core standards?

The primary originators of the Common Core were the National
Governors Association, the bi-partisan organization representing the elected
governors of the states; and the Council of Chief State School Officers,
composed of state officials including the Kansas Commissioner of Education, who
are either elected, appointed by Governors or appointed by boards that
are elected or appointed by Governors or other elected officials.  The Obama administration has promoted the
Common Core by making adoption of the standards a factor in the Race to the Top
grant competition and one qualifying option for the NCLB/ESEA waiver, and by
funding development of new assessments that match the Common Core through two
consortia of states.  Kansas is
participating in the Smarter Balanced consortium.  Kansas is not participating in the Race to the
Top program.

  1. What will it cost to implement the Common Core in Kansas?

A Kansas Legislative Post Audit Division report noted that
districts are continually purchasing new materials and providing teacher
training, so these costs associated with implementing the Common Core are not
necessarily additional or new costs.  They went on to estimate it could cost school
districts between $32 and $60 million over five years, mostly for new
instructional materials such as textbooks and teacher training.  If the State Board is required to start over
on adopting a different set of standards, the same kinds of costs would be
required.
The KLPA study indicated the State Department of Education
may actually save money by
implementing the Common Core if its uses new assessments developed by the one
of the national consortia.  However, the
State Board of Education has not yet selected the testing program that will be
used, so it is impossible to accurately predict what the cost will be.  KLPA also found that, unlike some states,
Kansas should not incur additional technology costs for the new assessments
because current state tests are already given on-line.

  1. Who supports the Common
    Core standards and why?

In addition to the Obama administration and most governors
and state school officers – including many Republicans, conservatives and
self-identified supporters of educational “reform” – 45 states have adopted the
standards, although efforts to reconsider are underway in some states.  A number of business leaders, the military,
and conservative policy analysts have also adopted support for the standards.
Reasons include: (1) Unlike current Kansas standards, the Common
Core is designed to identify what a student needs to be successful for
continuing postsecondary education and employment, and what students should
master as they progress grade-by-grade through the system toward that
goal.  (2) A common set of standards will
allow students to move among the various states with similar expectations in
schools.  (3) The standards reflect a
more uniform set of expectations for college-readiness.  (4) The standards more closely match those of
higher performing nations that are economic competitors of the United
States.  (5) A common set of standards
will allow easier development of open-source instructional materials, reducing
educational costs.
Kansas has been implementing the new standards for two
years.  KASB has not received any
criticism or concerns from local school leaders about the actual content of the
standards, although there are concerns about what testing system will be
selected and how it will be used.

  1. Who opposes the Common
    Core standards and why?

Just as support for Common Core comes from both the “left”
and “right,” so does the opposition. 
Critics generally fall into two camps, although there is considerable
overlap.
The first group argues: (1) A common set of standards promoted
by the federal government will lead to further federal intrusion into education
policy, diminishing the authority of parents, local school boards and
states.  (2) The cost of the standards
and related assessments is too high.  (3)
The standards are not tested and may not really be an improvement. (4) The new
system will collect and share too much information about individual
students.  (5) Federal funding has
created conflicts-of-interest, if not actual corruption, in the testing
industry.
The second group of critics argues: (1) There is no real
evidence that the standards and testing movement as it has developed over 20
years has improved education.  (2) The
Common Core will perpetuate “teaching to the test” at the expense of real
teaching.  (3) The overemphasis on
assessments will be used to make inappropriate judgments about teachers and
students.  (4) The more rigorous and
unfamiliar standards and tests will causes more students, teachers and schools
to be unfairly labeled as “failing.”  (5)
The system will force instruction to be focused on a narrow range of skills for
college-bound students, ignoring the diverse needs and interests of other
students.

  1. Is there an alternative to blocking the Common Core?

KASB believes Common Core implementation should be allowed
to proceed, but suggests closer oversight by the Legislature and cooperation
with the State Board.  Kansas can respond
to problems in the Common Core system when and if they actually arise.  No one can know for sure the impact of the
Common Core, but that’s true of any system. 
There are multiple independent indicators (National Assessment of
Education Progress, graduation rates, college readiness tests and completion
rates) that can be used to measure the impact of the Common Core and allow
corrections moving forward.