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States Opinion

The Making of Common Core Creation Stories: Myth or Fact?

By Anthony Cody — December 11, 2013 3 min read
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Perhaps because Common Core standards originated in a secretive process, and were adopted with little public discussion, their origins have become a subject of great interest among educators. As with ancient mythology, we care about where things come from, because the method of creation can reveal the nature of the creator, and the intentions at work. Critics of Common Core have complained about the way the standards were created - in secret, without significant teacher involvement. Many proponents of Common Core have, for this reason, felt compelled to offer some version or other of “Myths Vs. Facts about the Common Core,” attempting to resolve the complaints. The trouble is that, as we learn the true origins of Common Core, we find that most of these “Myths vs. Facts” documents offer up more myths than facts. Here are some examples:

From the Common Core website:

Myth: No teachers were involved in writing the Standards. Fact: The common core state standards drafting process relied on teachers and standards experts from across the country. In addition, there were many state experts that came together to create the most thoughtful and transparent process of standard setting. This was only made possible by many states working together.

From the ASCD, which is an endorser of Common Core and a recipient of more than $3 million in Gates Foundation grants to support implementation, comes a Policy Points memo in October, also entitled Common Core Myths & Facts. Here is their creation story:

States developed the standards. The nation's governors and state education commissioners spear- headed Common Core development to provide clear and consistent understanding of the reading and math knowledge and skills that students need to be ready for lifelong learning and career success. Working through their representative organizations--the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)--state leaders collaborated with educators, subject matter experts, and researchers to write and review the standards. The federal government was not involved with the standards' development.

The Illinois State Board of Education tells us:

Common Core Standards are benchmarks developed by teachers, administrators and other education experts through a national consortium. ...the standards were developed by teachers, principals, parents and education experts with lots of feedback along the way from the general public, not politicians in Washington.

The Wisconsin Education Association states:

Common myths, such as "No teachers were involved in writing the CCSS" and "Common core reduces the reading of fiction and literature" are simply incorrect. More than a dozen teachers were on the writing team for the Common Core State Standards, coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. In Wisconsin, standards leadership teams, made up entirely of Wisconsin educators and content experts in mathematics and English-language arts, provided feedback to multiple drafts of the Common Core State Standards before they were released.

From the American Federation of Teachers, which has also accepted grants from the Gates Foundation for Common Core implementation:

The CCSS is an effort that has been supported by the American Federation of Teachers, beginning with reviews of the College and Career Readiness Standards (the first step in the development process of the CCSS) to the release of the final grade-by-grade standards in June 2010. The AFT gathered a team of 30 teachers from around the nation to work collectively to bring judgment and real-world classroom experience to bear in drafts of the standards before they were released for public review.

In all of these stories about the origins of Common Core there are some common threads, but most of them are false or misleading. Greater detail about the process has been uncovered by Mercedes Schneider, who has done what no other reporter has done - she has gone to the source documents to figure out the process.

Let’s look at the central elements of the Common Core creation story, as told by its proponents:

We are told that teachers were involved from the start in drafting the standards. As I discovered when I heard about the Common Core process back in 2009, there were zero teachers actually writing the draft standards. The AFT calls the review process “the first step in the development process of the CCSS.” How can a review be the first step in a development process?

There are different perspectives from teachers who participated in that review - but one participating teacher, Mike Archer, was among them. He told me in this interview:

As the review unfolded, it became apparent that we were not working with a holistic, integrated application of standards. To Rene and me, it began to look instead like a checklist forming a platform for standardized testing. My input was politely heard. I vaguely recall some wording tweaks from the CCSS folks, but my main issue - that the standards could be a guide to be used creatively and professionally rather than another big "accountability" list - wasn't really part of the review agenda.

We are told the process was “thoughtful and transparent.” In fact, the operation of the Work Groups writing the standards was described as “confidential throughout the process” - which means secret. Not transparent at all. That is one reason so much controversy has emerged on this subject.

Mercedes Schneider’s latest report takes us into the details of the process, and she discovers that the Common Core standards were derived from a project called Achieve, led by a mix of corporations and governors. Schneider notes that all six corporations were also members of ALEC. Achieve sponsored something called the American Diploma Project, the goal of which was “to identify the ‘must-have’ knowledge and skills most demanded by higher education and employers.” This resulted in a 2004 report entitled Ready or Not, Creating a High School Diploma that Counts. Reading this report is an uncanny preview of all that has come with the Common Core.

Schneider provides more specifics about the process, but this is her overall conclusion:

CCSS is not a set of standards that were negotiated by stakeholders. CCSS is the modular home of standards; its frame was prefabricated in 2004 by Achieve. The resulting "work groups" add two testing companies to the mix in order to "develop" standards based upon the ADP frame. Thus, CCSS development was chiefly a corporate enterprise. No wonder the reluctance to publicize work group membership.

Obviously the first question educators will ask when hearing about new standards is “who wrote them?” The reason for this is that previous efforts to “reform” education have come from people with little expertise in the field. It is hugely important that standards represent what educators understand about how children learn, and how to set realistic, age-appropriate expectations. We are finding out that the Common Core standards are, in many cases, inappropriate and unrealistic, as the failure of 70% of students in New York on Common Core tests should tell us.

Origins are of great importance because they tell us so much about the soul, the essence of a project. The essence of the Common Core was developed by a handful of corporations and corporate-funded think tanks who wanted schools to meet certain benchmarks to better prepare the employees of the future. Common Core defenders cannot change that reality by pretending that the first step in a development process is a review, or by repeatedly calling it a “fact” that teachers were involved in writing the standards. We humans are intensely curious about creation stories, and, as always, the truth will come out. Those promoting myths in the name of debunking them are quickly losing credibility.

What do you think? Do the origins of the Common Core standards matter? Why is there so much confusion around this?

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The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.