Standards Opinion

While Other States Fold the Common Core, California Doubles Down

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — June 11, 2014 3 min read
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Heading of support statement signed by more than 300 California organizations. (Photo: Children Now)

One more example of what I’ve been calling the California Exceptionalism was exhibited last week. During a week in which two states caved to political pressure and folded the Common Core, in California the candidate for state superintendent who opposed the new standards finished third, and more than 300 organizations signed on to support it. The state essentially ‘doubled down’ its bet.

In Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin bowed to political pressure and signed legislation requiring the state to come up with new standards that the legislature would approve essentially bypassing the state school board. In January, Fallin had praised the Common Core at a meeting of the National Governors Association, saying: “Local educators and school districts will still design the best lesson plans, will chose appropriate textbooks, and will drive classroom learning.”

South Carolina also dumped the Common Core on May 30.

But in California, Lydia Gutiérrez, who would have brought opposition to the Common Core into the fall campaign for state school superintendent, was eliminated in the June 6 primary. The two remaining candidates—incumbent state superintendent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck—both support it and the associated Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) tests.

In addition, Children Now, a health and education policy advocate, released a statement signed by hundreds of individuals and organizations representing a wide swath of policy leadership in the state including civil rights organizations, prominent school superintendents, several United Way organizations, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Even the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company signed on.

What is essentially a stay-the-course message was crafted during the pilot testing of the SBAC tests this spring. Children Now anticipated a bumpy ride and possible catastrophic failure during the pilot testing. “Fortunately that didn’t happen,” said Debra Brown, Associate Director of education policy at Children Now, “but we decided to go ahead.”

In April, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly had predicted a wave of opposition was about to rise in California. Donnelly, who ran a strong second in last week’s Republican primary election for governor, had introduced an unsuccessful bill to abandon the Common Core. Despite the bill’s defeat, Brown said that we wanted to, “show nationally and in the state, so that there is strong push back against opposition.”

So, why does California not look like Oklahoma? Business and educator support for the new standards there were overridden by political opposition, as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan remarked on Monday.

The state’s Democratic tilt didn’t hurt. “It helps when there isn’t a reflexive opposition,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now. “But the conversation got off on the right foot here; it was generally understood that the old standards were a problem, so ‘let’s update them.’”

“There’s a lot that people disagree on, but the Common Core isn’t one of those things. Both the business and the civil rights community are behind it and so are the various education reformers,” he said.

Does that mean California’s adoption faces a smooth road. Not by a long shot. Knowledge about the Common Core is not widespread in California, and next year the SBAC tests will yield published grades. The shock of new, lower, grades for schools and students has led to massive opposition from parents, teachers, and politicians in other strong adopter states, such as New York.

Children Now has a Common Core education program, but it, and the work of others, isn’t high profile enough. California will face an implementation backlash; that’s part of the process of starting complex projects. To be successful, the state’s educators need to successfully communicate the utility and benefits of the new standards to parents and students. (More about the politics of implementation in a future post.)

But so far the predicted tsunami of opposition hasn’t arrived.

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