Education should be about students and how they achieve success. That means that we, as a nation, must have a common understanding of the academic standards we want our students to reach and our schools to teach. Unfortunately, there are those who drag red herrings into the equation, one of them being the campaign of disinformation against the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Don’t be misled.
As someone who was fortunate enough to serve as Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, later as president of the Maryland State Board of Education, and later still as CEO of the Council for Basic Education, I’ve seen standards up close and know what’s of value – from development through implementation. So, here are the facts:
First, the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics were created through a voluntary collaboration among states. The work was led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Some detractors have implied that the standards must be “federal” because the CCSSO and NGA are somehow pawns of the federal government since they have offices in our nation’s capital. But, that’s like saying that the CATO Institute and the Heritage Foundation are creatures of the federal government because of their zip codes. It’s a ridiculous statement.
Second, while the U.S. Education Department created voluntary incentives for states to adopt college-and career-ready standards, it certainly did not mandate adoption of the Common Core. In fact, the development and adoption of the CCSS started years before federal initiatives like Race to the Top came along. And, most of the states that did not receive Race to the Top funding chose to adopt the Common Core as their standards because they recognized their value. Adoption of the CCSS has always been a voluntary, state-based decision. For that matter, the states that chose not to adopt are the best testament to the Common Core’s voluntary nature.
Third, where assessment is concerned, states can decide whether or not to participate in either assessment consortia. The same goes for whether or not they choose to use the assessments the consortia are developing to align to the Common Core. This is the point where detractors usually chime in with accusations of “national tests force the hand of states on curriculum.” But, we’ve had a national test in place for over four decades. It’s called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and no one claims that NAEP is being used to impose a single curriculum on states.
Last, but not least, while detractors conveniently blur these lines, the distinction between standards and curriculum is huge. For one thing, federal laws prohibit the U.S. Department of Education, quite rightly, from developing curriculum and materials. Not surprisingly, with their new standards in place, states are developing their own curriculum and materials – just as they have always done. And, since the Common Core helps provide important guidance for parents and educators, curriculum is even more likely to reflect local needs, as well as give schools the guidance they need to ensure that their students can lead lives that are both rich and rewarding.
It’s simple, really. The Common Core State Standards have always been about helping students succeed. And, no matter how elaborate the misleading rhetoric of detractors gets, that has to remain our goal.
Christopher Cross is chairman of the education policy consulting firm Cross & Joftus, former President of the Maryland State Board of Education, and former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush.