Standards

States That Drop Common Core Under Gun in Replacing Them

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 08, 2014 5 min read
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States that drop the Common Core State Standards face the prospect of less time to create new academic standards, and under intense political pressure.

Generally, states have years to review content standards and make major changes if state school board members, those usually charged with ultimate approval of content standards, and others feel it’s necessary. The process usually involves lengthy discussions, drafts, and revisions overseen by teachers at each grade level, as well as content-area experts and others who try to ensure the standards connect across grade levels.

But those features of standards-development may be significantly affected—and reduced—if states have to shift more quickly than normal to new standards.

Time Challenge

That’s the challenge facing Oklahoma, where Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill last month requiring new standards, and South Carolina, where Gov. Nikki Haley signed a similar bill in late May. (Both are Republicans.) Indiana also adopted new standards in April.

States in such a situation shouldn’t act as if “the sky is falling,” given their prior work on standards, but the process is time-intensive and could limit what they will be able to develop, said Patrick Murphy, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco who studies state education departments.

South Carolina’s legislation requires the state education department to develop new content standards in English/language arts and math for the 2015-16 school year. But doing a good job of developing truly new standards in the time allotted is impossible, said Barry Bolen, the chairman of the South Carolina state school board and a common-core supporter.

The cost of developing and implementing new standards could run into the millions of dollars in states like Oklahoma, at a time when the budgets of state education agencies have been “hollowed out,” noted Kris Amundson, the executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, in Arlington, Va.

“If they then want to go with their old standards but then make them better than the common core,” states will find that they probably “don’t have the bandwidth” to do it, said Ms. Amundson, whose organization has also raised concerns that the new law in Oklahoma that repealed the common core is unconstitutional.The standards-adoption cycles in states vary, and some states don’t specify how often standards must be at least reviewed, if not revised.

In Oklahoma, the state board normally reviews or revises standards for each content area every six years at a minimum, while in South Carolina the period is seven years, according to information provided by NASBE. Now, both states will have just over one year to develop new content standards for both English/language arts and math for the 2015-16 academic year.

South Carolina has even less time than that. Melanie Barton, the executive director of the state’s Education Oversight Committee, an independent agency, said that because new standards must be ready for lawmakers to review when they reconvene next January, major changes to the common core are unlikely.

Mr. Bolen, the South Carolina board chairman, indicated that any large-scale changes likely would take place over multiple years, and beyond the 2015-16 academic year.

“Normally, standards-based reforms are one of the most complicated reforms you can do,” because of the challenges associated with ensuring they have an impact in the classroom, said Ashley Jochim, a research analyst at the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, Bothell.

Just as new standards can entail new costs and big changes to accountability and other policies, Ms. Jochim noted that it can take years before teachers truly understand what is expected of them after a significant revision in standards.

Positive or Haphazard?

The issue of legislators’ new oversight powers regarding standards in both Oklahoma and South Carolina could also become complicated. Oklahoma lawmakers will have the power to approve the new standards whether or not they are developed specifically by the state education department. Under the new South Carolina law, any standards not developed specifically in the state must be approved by the legislature.

Both moves are widely seen as a way to prevent those states’ K-12 officials from virtually readopting the common core under a different name.

Lawmakers could simply wave through standards that feature relatively minor changes to the common core, Ms. Amundson noted. Some observers, including common-core opponents, have said that Indiana’s nominally new standards are, in fact,quite similar to the common core.

But if, for example, some South Carolina lawmakers find the ostensibly reworked standards too similar to the common core, a possibility raised by Ms. Barton’s comments, then it could complicate the process.

In fact, four members of the Oklahoma state school board are so uncomfortable with legislative oversight of standards that they (along with parents and teachers) filed a petition with the state supreme court June 25 seeking to overturn the new law repealing the common core. The state board, in turn, agreed to suspend the process of creating new standards until the legal dispute is resolved.

Still, states have been reviewing and revising content standards for decades, and nothing prevents them from making positive changes to the common core, said Kathleen Porter-Magee, a policy fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank and a common-core supporter.

She cited Florida’s move earlier this year to add certain standards related to calculus to the common core as part of a larger process to revise, but not drop, the standards.

But Ms. Porter-Magee warned that states risk trying to reinvent the wheel if they start “haphazardly deleting things” from the common core, or if they overload teachers with more standards than those educators have time to teach.

“That is actually why, prior to the common core, we saw such wild variability in terms of the quality of state standards,” Ms. Porter-Magee said.

A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2014 edition of Education Week as As States Drop Common Core, Replacement Hurdles Loom

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