States Bow to Pressure, Scrap Common Core
Political Posturing Leads to Backpedaling on Educational Standards
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Just five years after signing on to adopt the Common Core State Standards, New Jersey officials are unceremoniously signing out.
To implement the Common Core standards — a set of educational benchmarks aimed at increasing classroom rigor — New Jersey public schools spent five years training teachers, investing in new technology and buying textbooks.
Bowing to political pressure, the state is now reversing course and reverting to a not-so-distant past when New Jersey educators set their own academic bar. A sixmonth review of the existing standards for math, English and language arts commenced last month, with an aim toward putting a New Jersey stamp on new standards.
Despite the about-face, nobody is forecasting wholesale changes in New Jersey. Such 180-degree turns can take considerable time and money. Similar turnabouts elsewhere have mostly amounted to rebranding or cosmetic changes, rather than sharp departures from the status quo.
“We will not be tearing down and starting over, but rather looking critically at where are there opportunities for clarification, for omission and for addition, to make sure that we always have the top standards for our students,” Kimberley Harrington, chief academic officer in the Department of Education, said last week.
In fact, New Jersey is retaining perhaps the most controversial aspect of the education reforms: the standardized tests that large numbers of parents and students boycotted in the last school year. Among teachers especially, those exams have been a lightning rod for criticism because the results are factored into teacher evaluations.
“My sense is that most people are treating this as more of a political statement than one that is based on a detailed analysis of the content of the standards,” said Drew Gitomer, a professor at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education.
Once supported by Republicans and Democrats alike as a tool to drive stronger student performance, Common Core has instead become a political piñata, with critics assailing it from across the political spectrum.
Its critics say the standards are confusing, lead to learning gaps, and diminish the rights of states and local school boards to make educational decisions. Additionally, they have been panned as topdown reforms from Washington, even though the nation’s governors and state education commissioners played key roles in their formation.
Some of the backpedaling — and the fallout — elsewhere:
• South Carolina’s Board of Education voted in March to replace the Common Core with standards written by teams of state residents.
• In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education threatened to force Oklahoma to provide school choice and free tutoring after the state repealed the Common Core. The federal department relented after Oklahoma reverted to its old standards, which were deemed sufficient.
• Indiana dropped the Common Core in 2014 and its Corealigned state test. Schools there struggled to quickly administer a replacement test. For a time, Indiana, like Oklahoma, faced similar threats of school choice and free tutoring from the Department of Education.
“You can’t even mention it in Indiana now,” said Jonathan Plucker, an endowed professor at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut who previously ran the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University.
In Indiana, “a lot of people learned the hard way,” he said. “You can’t do this in a couple months. It takes a lot thought.”
In May, Gov. Chris Christie directed Education Commissioner David C. Hespe to replace the Common Core with the New Jersey College and Career Readiness Standards.
Committees of educators and stakeholders have less than six months to review New Jersey’s existing Common Core math, language arts and English standards.
A report of recommended changes is due to the state Board of Education in January.
“It can take years to come up with really good standards,” said Plucker, from the University of Connecticut. A complete revision “is not that easy.”
Educators review and modify the New Jersey’s academic standards every five years, so the Common Core, which was adopted in 2010, was due for evaluation Word that the state Department of Education plans no major overhaul is unwelcome news to Common Core’s opponents like Paige Vaccaro, who hoped the state would revert to its former set of standards.
“Do you know how much money New Jersey taxpayers are going to lose?” said Vaccaro, an Atlantic County mother formerly of Ocean Township, Monmouth County. “They spent all this money training teachers....Where’s all this money going to go that they spent?” Exactly how much Common Core cost New Jersey taxpayers is unclear, because most districts do not differentiate between regular, annual costs associated with staff development and textbook upgrades, and those driven by Common Core changes.
Common Core critics and supporters suspect little will change in the standards since New Jersey is keeping its Core-aligned state test, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, known as PARCC.
Completely eradicating the Common Core but keeping the PARCC “doesn’t make a ton of sense,” said Plucker.
“It’s like saying we’re going to change the rules of the road but keep the same driver’s test,” he said.
Carolee Adams, president of New Jersey’s Eagle Forum, which opposes national education standards, noted that the turnabout from the governor does not address the complaints with the PARCC. Many parents and educators opposed PARCC’s long hours and two testing windows, which affected months of the 2014-15 school year with testing and test preparation. PARCC officials have since reduced its length.
“This is all about presidential pandering,” Adams said.
“Gov. Christie is hanging by his fingernails right now,” she added. “He knows that the country is still very much opposed to the Common Core and PARCC.” Christie officially launched his bid for the White House in June, joining a GOP field where anti-Common Core sentiment runs high.
Timothy Briles, a professor of education at Georgian Court University in Lakewood who leads courses on curriculum and assessment, expects teachers will see “periphery” changes to the Common Core.
Nonetheless, he called New Jersey’s break with the Common Core perhaps the most politically charged educational standards review in the state’s history.
“The presidential race definitely has something to do with this,” Briles said.
The creators of Common Core, mindful that U.S. students were falling further behind their foreign counterparts, sought to increase academic rigor across the nation and better prepare students for competitive technology-based careers. Despite their intentions, Common Core’s political support has fallen fast.
Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, http://www.app.com