Common Core was given a failing grade this week from the state of Indiana as it became the first state to formally abandon the standards after agreeing to their implementation in 2010. Governor Mike Pence (R) signed legislation on Monday ending Indiana’s participation in the controversial attempt to create national standards for educational benchmarks. Indiana first agreed to participate in Common Core under former State Superintendent of Education Tony Bennett. Bennett, also a Republican, had endorsed the standards, but growing discontent with Common Core led to his removal from office during the 2012 elections. Subsequently, the Indiana state legislature voted to “pause” the state’s implementation of Common Core. This “pause” became permanent with the legislation signed by Governor Pence this week.
Common Core has become more controversial as key target dates for aspects of its implementation draw nearer. Originally 46 of the 50 states agreed to the standards, proposed by the National Governors Association (NGA.) It is a common misconception that Common Core is a creation of the federal Department of Education and the Obama Administration. It is true that the Department of Education has endorsed Common Core and has tied some aspects of federal funding to its implementation, mostly through the “Race to the Top” initiative. The program itself however was created by the NGA, not the federal government itself. Common Core focuses on establishing nationwide standards for English and math for kindergarten through 12th grade. The concept is to establish common standards and curriculum at each grade level and create consistency in terms of what is taught and when it is taught.
Libertarians and other conservatives view Common Core as yet another example of federal overreach and an attempt to end local control of education. This was echoed in the comments made by Governor Pence as he signed the bill ending Indiana’s participation. He emphasized the need for the citizens of Indiana to determine what should be taught in their schools, not federal bureaucrats. Their argument is that every state, city, and neighborhood has different demographics and different needs. They see Common Core as a “one size fits all” solution pushed by bureaucrats that do not live in the communities that will be affected by the standards. Educational policy should be left in the hands of local stakeholders who are more knowledgeable about the needs of that area. That is why Indiana gave Common Core a failing grade and ended their participation this week.
Criticism for Common Core is also beginning to be seen on the political left as well. Liberals and progressives are generally accepting of concepts like national standards and government regulation, however even some of these groups are beginning to attack Common Core as well. Their criticism mostly revolves around the continued emphasis on standardized testing. These exams have been a part of the educational landscape in the United States for many years, but their use rapidly accelerated with the adoption of “No Child Left Behind” under former President George W. Bush. Common Core continues this trend, placing further emphasis on standardized test scores in order to measure student progress and the effectiveness of their teachers. It is this aspect of Common Core that has attracted the ire of liberals as they argue such exams do not adequately measure student learning, and in addition detract from the educational process by making school itself unappealing to children.
The news of Indiana withdrawing from Common Core was met with cynicism from many critics within the state. They noted that this formal withdrawal amounted to little more than a stunt. Sandra Stotsky, a retired education professor and consultant to the state department of education stated that the “new” standards Indiana would adopt in place of Common Core were themselves drafted almost entirely from Common Core itself. She said there was little difference between Common Core and the so-called locally developed standards calling them a “warmed over version” of Common Core. Stotsky then stated she would not participate in the further development of Indiana’s standards unless more efforts were taken to differentiate them from Common Core.
Indiana is the first state to formally end its participation in Common Core but it may not be the last. Several states are considering similar legislation to either end their participation entirely, or pursue a “pause” of formal implementation. Common Core gets a failing grade from Indiana and it may face similar failures elsewhere in the near future.
By Christopher V. Spencer