March 17, 2018

Higher Ed Administrators Seek To Stem States’ Rush Away From Common Core

Common-Core-logoThe Common Core is set to change the way that K-12 education is administered across the United States. Or at least it was, until a backlash from educators and politicians put the new set of education standards on hold in some states and rolled them back entirely in others. Now higher education officials, who had previously been largely absent from the debate, are speaking up in favor of the standards and working to remind educators and parents why these stricter standards were agreed to by 45 states in the first place.

The Common Core standards were developed in collaboration between educators, parents, and state and local governments, with the National Governors Alliance and Council of Chief State School Officers leading the development. The goal, according to the Common Core website, was to create “a set of clear expectations to ensure that all students have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life upon graduation from high school, regardless of where they live.” That makes the standards important to college educators as well, though they’ve been less vocal about the issue than their K-12 counterparts, who will have to actually implement the new standards in classrooms.

That could be changing, though. Most recently, college and university administrators across the country have formed the group Higher Ed for Higher Standards in response to attacks on Common Core. At press time, more than 200 higher education officials from across the country had signed on to show their support for the standards.

“At the heart of common core, its intended to ensure that larger proportions of high school grads are ready to do college level work. At present that’s not the case,” University of Maryland chancellor Brit Karwin told LJ. “As a result, too many students come to higher education needing to do remedial work that is very expensive and can be an impediment to getting a college degree.”

Karwin, who has signed on as a supporter of Higher Ed for Higher Standards, is among a number of higher education leaders who have spoken up about the need to states to embrace the Common Core standards, which he said will result in high school grads that are more prepared for college and spend less time and money taking remedial classes when they get there. A mass departure from those standards, he said, “would be a calamity.”

As it becomes clear how difficult some of the standards may be to meet, though, some educators are crying foul or asking for more time to implement Common Core. Meanwhile, some state politicians are experiencing cold feet about the program and pulling out altogether. The growing charge away from Common Core began in Indiana, which had, ironically, been an early supporter of the program.

These departures, which strike many observers as being driven by politics rather than policy, are bad news for American education, said Karwin, telling LJ that the Common Core standards have become a “political football,” with mostly conservative lawmakers tying the standards to President Obama’s administration, despite the fact that the standards were agreed on by educators and officials at a state, not federal, level. The Common Core standards also have critics from within education, and opponents on the left have been vocal as well in states like New York.

“I believe our students are best served when decisions about education are made at the state and local level,” Indiana Governor Mike Pence said in a statement in March. At the signing of the legislation, Pence expanded on that idea, suggesting that Indiana’s exit from the Common Core could provide a model for other state governments. “I believe when we reach the end of this process there are going to be many other states around the county that will take a hard look at the way Indiana has taken a step back, designed our own standards,” Pence told reporters at a March 24 signing ceremony for the bill that eliminated Common Core standards in the state.

In the months since Indiana’s exit from Common Core, other states have indeed followed its lead, with South Carolina governor Nikki Haley signing a bill on May 30 rolling back Common Core requirements in that state, and Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin following suit on June 5. And those rollbacks are emboldening Common Core opponents in state legislatures across the country.

“It makes me hopeful now that a handful of states have started to do this, and more and more are discussing doing it, that Wyoming would consider doing it,” Wyoming State representative Hans Hunt told the Casper Star-Tribune of the potential for that state to walk out on Common Core. To Karwin, that sounds like a worst case scenario, and one that could have grave impacts for America’s educational  system and beyond.

“We face a great social issue in our country tied to the under-education of the American public. It threatens national economic competitiveness,” Karwin said. “But it also threatens the social fabric in an age where a college degree is an entry level requirement to a good job and way of life. We face the risk of becoming a nation defined by an economic caste system.”

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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  1. I think saying that national standards becoming an educational football now that it’s one tied to President Obama seems a bit of a stretch. This wasn’t much different from the attacks on No Child Left Behind under President Bush. The article may by necessity be brief, but it also didn’t touch on the fact that the opponents of Common Core that I’ve seen agree that we need higher educational standards. They simply think Common Core isn’t it, but rather appears to be more a convoluted chaotic unteachable mess rather than higher standards and higher expectations.