What To Do Once Common Core Is Halted (by Sandra Stotsky)

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What could states do once implementation of Common Core’s standards is halted? Most states are unlikely to want to return to the standards they once had, mainly because their boards and departments of education loudly claimed they were adopting more rigorous standards when they adopted Common Core. In most cases, they would be rightly accused of returning to equally non-rigorous standards.

It will also be difficult for 45 state boards and departments of education to say to the public and their state legislators that Common Core’s standards are really not more rigorous than what they had because they will look foolish. How can they justify having voted to adopt Common Core’s standards and committing the state to huge future technological and professional development expenses in implementing standards that were not necessarily better than what they already had and that had many hidden strings attached.

Nor will they be able to explain exactly how they were not more rigorous. Most states never tried to show exactly how Common Core’s standards were more rigorous than what they had, mostly because they couldn’t. Crosswalks simply showed coverage—broadly speaking—and were dependent on subjective judgments. State boards of education and department of education staff have simply repeated like parrots that Common Core’s standards are more rigorous (clearer, promote critical thinking and deeper learning, etc.). They still don’t understand what to look at for rigor.

As a long-time reviewer of all states’ ELA standards I can agree that most states’ standards were, overall, pretty bad in ELA. So, most of these 45 states need to move on. And move on, they must, because public education is not in good shape and hasn’t been in good shape for over 40 years. What can states do to save face and do the right thing? Here are a few possibilities.

1. Legislatures (not state departments of education) should set up committees of academic experts from a state’s own colleges and universities to work out secondary standards with a range of high school teachers. Their goal would be to prepare different levels of standards for different levels of achievement (some for different colleges and universities), but all of which meet high school diploma requirements. Not all standards need to aim for college admission. Algebra II, for example, should not be required for a high school diploma.

2. Legislatures and governors should work out a plan for a network of specialized high schools across a state, supported where possible by local industry and business, and developed by experts in state industries as well as by academic experts. We need high school curriculum options for young adolescents to choose from, to address the drop-out problem and to allow students with musical, artistic, linguistic, or mathematics/science interests and talents the opportunity to develop them while in their early teens. Governors and state legislatures should oppose the latest administration idea that all American high schools should become technical/career high schools. A place for specialization in the humanities and foreign languages needs to be maintained.

3. If states want state standards, they should adopt their own revisions of the best state standards in the country, revised first for the secondary level by experts in higher education and high school teachers, and then for the elementary level by teachers in K-6. The elementary standards should aim for and connect to the secondary ones (not vice versa). The proposed standards should go through all the procedures used in a state to engage public discussion and agreement.

We don’t need the same standards in every state in the country. We can continue to find out how states compare with each other on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests. We can continue to participate in TIMSS (The Trends in the International Mathematics and Science Survey), as a country and as individual states, to find out how our students as a whole, and in each state, compare with other countries in mathematics and science. And we can continue to let local school boards respond to local needs, something they have always done.

4. To strengthen the mathematics curriculum in order to make all students (including special education and ESL students) internationally competitive, state legislatures could provide funding to local schools for Singapore’s original mathematics program for K-6 and for grades 7 and 8 (all available in English and designed for students whose first language is not English).

5. To strengthen their ELA curriculum and eliminate the pedagogical nonsense propagated by the “chief architect” of Common Core’s ELA standards (e.g., “cold” reading of historical documents and a 50/50 division of reading instruction between “informational” texts and literature), states could begin with the curriculum framework I have made available at no charge on the ALSCW website and encourage local districts to design a coherent curriculum that addresses the standards in this document.  They should build in study of works by authors who were born in and/or wrote about the state. Mississippi had a first-class high school syllabus for a course on state-born authors that could serve as a model to other states.

6. Above all, legislatures need to raise the academic bar for those who are admitted to education training programs in their education schools, whether for administrators or teachers. That should be the first step. This paper contains a number of suggestions that could be put in place by a state legislature.