Common Core State Standards: Doomed to Fail?


A friend of mine asked me yesterday what my thoughts were about CCSS. Coincidentally, that is the topic of today’s Ed Policy class. Interestingly, I don’t have strong opinions about the standards themselves, but I do have thoughts about the implementation of this piece of policy. A lot of the information I include in this post is primarily from Chapter 7 of The School Reform Landscape by Christopher Tienken and Donald Orlich.

But first, let’s make something clear: CCSS are not curricula. These are standards that should be used to guide the development and execution of curriculum. The choice of curriculum still lies with LEAs (districts or individual schools/classrooms).

Okay, now that that is cleared up, let’s move on.

CCSS are interesting for a lot of reasons. Firstly, the creation of them is suspicious. Depending upon your source, you might hear that a team of teachers were recruited to create the standards. Or you may hear that textbook publishers bid for the opportunity to create the standards. Given the way our education system functions, I am inclined to believe the latter. What is clear is that CCSS were supported by an array of private and public entities including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Army, Business Roundtable and Achieve. I highly doubt any of these organizations sought experienced and effective K-12 teachers for their sage guidance.

Keeping in line with the Obama administration’s rhetoric, the theme of the CCSS is college readiness. More specifically, these standards are guided by 5 criteria:

  • Alignment with college and career expectations
  • Inclusion of rigorous content via higher order thinking skills
  • Built upon current state standards
  • Informed by top performing countries
  • Evidence or research-based

The standards are also purported to use inclusionary language and focus on 21st century skills—whatever those are. Perhaps most disconcerting for me is the fact that the standards don’t come with aligned assessments. Word on the street is that LEAs can create their own assessments while the DoE vets proposals from businesses who want to create an accompanying assessment. I don’t understand how we can get reliable data about the effectiveness of these standards when curricula and evaluation of the curricula are unique to school districts. With over 14,000 school districts in the country, we will have no idea how these standards are faring.

Which brings me to my largest issue with CCSS: validity and reliability. Any person who’s taken one measurement design course would have a stroke when thinking about the variability in implementation and evaluation of the CCSS. Quick review: validity basically answers the question does the measure assess what it is supposed to assess? And reliability answers the questions will I get similar results when I use this measure with similar people in different contexts?

Well, since there is no common measure of the CCSS the answer to both of those questions is a resounding NO. There is no way to ensure that the curriculum developed by LEAs will actually align with the standards. We don’t know if the pedagogical methods used to enact the curriculum are aligned with the standards. And most of all, because most people in public education have no idea what measurement design is, the assessments used to evaluate students’ attainment of the standards will likely be invalid and unreliable.

The authors of the book I reference allege that the standards were not piloted in any form. They assert that ‘opinions’ were the primary gauge of quality during the creation of these standards. If this is true, this is very concerning but not surprising. Opinion-based research ought to be the standard phrase in education, not evidence-based research.

My final concern with CCSS is the timeline. I find it amazing that these were released in 2010 and within a few months, you could purchase textbooks aligned with the CCSS. How on Earth did these people whip up textbooks so quickly? Makes me think they already knew the contents of the CCSS…

And the incentives for states to adopt CCSS were so high, they were basically financially coerced into acceptance. States could not apply for Race to the Top monies without indicating how their school reform efforts aligned with CCSS. The Obama administration further incentivized CCSS by telling states they could more flexibly enact portions of NCLB if they adopted CCSS. Needless to say, at present, 44 states, D.C. and 4 territories have adopted CCSS.

While it’s great we are moving toward uniformity (yes, I believe in more uniformity between and within states), I think we are moving way too fast. Given that the CCSS come with no curricula, no assessments and absolutely no training, classroom teachers have been given the weighty responsibility of figuring it out on their own. Better districts try to conduct workshops, but who is qualified to lead a workshop about a set of standards created behind closed doors by special interest groups? What we have are teachers working frantically during the school year to adapt their current curriculum and pedagogy to meet new standards. This will inevitably result in teachers completely ignoring the standards or doing a haphazard job of addressing them. We continue to lay down federal and state mandates without giving LEAs the support they need to adhere to them.

Like other educational policies in this country, we are putting the cart before the horse. As a pedagogue I understand the value in backward design, but sometimes it’s imperative we understand the how before we decide on the what.

This entry was posted in Policy.