On any given day, Rian Meadows is checking emails and texts, grading assignments, and answering her “lifeline,” the phone, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Meadows is a government and economics teacher at Florida Virtual School, where students work at their own pace and join her class through live lessons through Adobe Connect or Blackboard. In Florida, the State Board of Education adopted changes to customize Common Core and create their own standards.
“I think everyone has growing pains -- new things can be scary and outside of a comfort zone,” she said. “I’ve been in education for going on 14 years, and good teaching practices have always been around. These standards are things I’ve been doing all along.”
In Florida, graduating high school students in 2015 must take one online course. Meadows said these online courses are ready-made for individualized education plans, as they allow the student to have mastery of content. Under the standards, Meadows teaches economics with financial literacy to her 12th-grade students.
This mastery of skills that will allow students to be college and career ready is what the Common Core aims to build.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative was developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, whose members are state education officials, in 48 states to identify and develop a common set of college and career ready standards for K-12 in mathematics and English language arts in 2009.
The standards were pushed by growing concern that a large number of high school graduates need remedial college help. In order to motivate education reform, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan signaled to states that they should embrace these standards or similar if they hoped to win a grant through the Race to the Top program in 2009.
Currently, 44 states have adopted and are implementing the standards. Minnesota has adopted the English Language Arts standards, but not the mathematics standards. Texas, Alaska, Nebraska are among those who did not adopt the standards.
How Common Core standards were implemented
The implementation of how Common Core standards are taught, the materials and curriculum development is led by the state and local levels. According to the Common Core official website, the standards don’t dictate how teachers should teach but rather establish what skills students need to learn.
Teachers will create their own lesson plans and curriculum and tailor their teaching to meet the needs of individuals and meet the standards. The standards look to build English and math skills as those areas are used to build skill sets for other subjects.
Public schools have begun administering Common Core tests to students of all ages, but Common Core officials say the test scores won’t be counted. The tests will allow education officials to judge the quality of the test questions and technical administering capabilities of the schools.
In most states, state boards of education have the authority to establish or adopt the academic standards. Certain states, such as Nevada, Maine and Texas and Vermont, require legislative action.
Some have chosen to implement the Common Core standards under another name, and other states have repealed the standards.
For example, Arizona’s is called, “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.”
Click here for a closer look at each state’s implementation.
Adopting the standards
Kentucky was the first state to adopt the standards, pulling in representatives from each of the school districts in the state, along with higher education specialists.
Karen Kidwell, director, division of program standards at the Kentucky Department of Education, said the teachers have been supportive and enjoyed that they’ve been able to work and share across network lines for the first time.
More than 90 percent of school boards support Common Core, according to a poll by the Kentucky School Boards Association in Nov. 2013. The results also showed 97 percent of teachers are teaching curriculum aligned with Common Core.
During the first year, test scores dropped because of higher demands of the students, said Kidwell.
“We know that its a challenge, but our educators have been very committed to the process,” she said. “They are leading the way in terms of working together and seeking out really excellent resources and building their own resources to ensure that students stay in the center. We constantly ask the question, ‘Is what we’re designing really going to be better for kids?’”
It is estimated that Kentucky would need a minimum of $35 million to create and fully implement new standards, according the state’s department of education.
While some states have chosen to continue using the Common Core standards, others have repealed the standards and replaced them with their own standards.
On March 24, Indiana became the first state to withdraw out of the controversial grades K-12 guidelines.
While it was one of the first states to adopt the standards in 2010, opposition to the guidelines has been growing since Gov. Mike Pence took office in 2012. The state began to move away from the standards last year.
“I believe our students are best served when decisions about education are made at the state and local level,” said Gov. Pence in a statement. “By signing this legislation, Indiana has taken an important step forward in developing academic standards that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and are uncommonly high, and I commend members of the General Assembly for their support.”
According to the Associated Press, retired University of Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky released an internal Indiana Department of Education report that found more than 70 percent of the standards for 6th through 12th grade are directly from Common Core. Stotsky was hired by Pence to assess the new program.
“Because we are trying to teach the same vocal and grammar and phonics skills, it isn’t terribly shocking that there’s an overlap,” said Timothy Shanahan, distinguished professor emeritus, University of Illinois at Chicago, who helped draft the standards and served on the advisory board for the English language arts part. “In fact, it would be shocking if there wasn’t an overlap. It’s a bit of nonsense on her part.”
On his website, Shanahan wrote, “I support the CCSS standards because they are the best reading standards I’ve ever seen (and, yes, I am aware of their limitations and flaws). But if anyone comes up with better standards, I’d gladly support those, too (no matter how uncommonly high the Hoosiers might have been who wrote them).”
The State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposal on April 28.
“Hopefully we will be more growth-based, instead of measuring exam scores,” said David Galvin, executive director of communications at the Indiana Department of Education.
People behind the scenes
Jason Zimba, a lead writer of the Common Core standards for mathematics, said Common Core is allowing teachers across the country to collaborate and share lessons in ways they never have before. With this in mind, however, he said, there is no single “right” way to teach these standards.
“In both ELA and Mathematics, having more focused, higher standards will allow teachers to focus on critical knowledge, concepts and skills that will provide a stronger foundation for more advanced work and eventually for college and careers,” he said.
Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are among the strong supporters of the standards. On March 16, advertisements ran on FOX News and right-of-center news outlets showcasing the support from the business community and outspoken conservatives.
Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence of Education, which supports the standards said the foundation believes “if you expect more, you get more.”
The key point in Common Core, she said, is that these standards are the expectations to be met by the end of year and that the end goal, ultimately, is preparing these students for college.
Under the new standards, in Florida for example, kindergarten students should be able to count to 100, count by tens to 100 and count from 36 to zero backwards, she said. Under the old standards, kindergartners were required to count up to 20.
According to the ACT, which helped in the process of establishing the standards to make students college and career ready, data has shown that many students are graduating from high school without the skills they need to succeed at the next level.
In the 2012 U.S. grad class, 1.66 million students took the ACT, earning an average composite score of 21.1 (on the 1 to 36 score scale). In the 2013 U.S. grad class, 1.8 million students took the exam, earning an average composite score of 20.9.
“The ACT is and has been curriculum based,” said Paul Weeks, vice president for customer engagement. “Our involvement was providing the research and evidence to be college and career ready.”
Among students in last year’s ACT-tested U.S. high school graduating class (1.8 million students), 39 percent met three or four of the four benchmarks, while 47 percent met one or none of the benchmarks, according to ACT officials.
Shanahan, who currently trains teachers around the country on the English standards, said that even if states aren’t participating in the standards, if they end up standards just as high it might be OK. But pushback from people who say the same skills aren’t needed across the board is difficult to understand, he said.
“The notion that the kid in Arkansas doesn’t need the same skills as some kid in New York doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “Common Core allows textbook companies to stop trying to meet requirements of dozens of states, but rather focus on quality. As a result, tests are more reflective of that. It’s the first time that we’re telling the truth for parents.”
Because Common Core would result in national consistency in standards, this would be the first time that students of military families wouldn’t have the same learning “dislocation” that they had before, he said.
In his training, Shanahan said that some teachers have fears about not being prepared to implement these skills. On any given day, he trains teachers for a day or a half-day, which he says is not enough time. He suggests schools use ongoing training to implement the new standards into their curriculum.
“I think its interesting that so much of the controversy around it has nothing to do with Common Core,” Shanahan said. “Many of the complaints -- how it was adopted or who adopted it or the testing or scheme for collecting data for schools -- are somehow linked to Common Core, and yet people aren’t looking at the standards and saying it’s a bad standard. The arguments are more about process, but not about what kids need to learn, which is what’s really important.”
A peer-reviewed study found that states whose previous standards more closely matched the Common Core tended to have higher National Assessment of Educational Progress scores. The study also found that Common Core agrees with high performing countries better than any previous state standards.
It’s these skills that link them to appeal to supporters such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“Let me tell you something. In Asia today, they don’t care about children’s self-esteem. They care about math, whether they can read -- in English -- whether they understand why science is important, whether they have the grit and determination to be successful,” he told the Miami Herald.
Levesque agrees with Bush, as she said her son and daughter aren’t just competing with Florida or Georgia kids, but are competing internationally for jobs in the future. She said too many parents seem to be concerned about the self-esteem of their children and aren’t thinking about the future of his/her education.
“In America, we tend to be more concerned how little Johnny is feeling, instead of how we are providing him with the education so that he can be a competent grade-level reader,” she said.
A tempest brews on the standards
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has said that implementation of Common Core is “far worse” than Obamacare.
But what concerns her most is that implementation has been messed up, and there is fixation to test, instead of teaching.
“Not everything is frozen in the process of education through this transition,” she said. “I don’t know any other business or endeavor which is so, so important that we don’t allow a transition, and that’s why there’s so much agida.”
As a result, she said there is a great distrust in the standards.
Donna Harris-Aikens, director of the education policy and practice department at the National Education Association, said educators need to pay attention to transition time and realign their standards to make sure that support for students is there, as they are going through this transition along with the teachers.
Those against Common Core believe it’s a federal takeover of local education, and some believe it’s a way for the government to get more data. As a result, disputes are spreading across the country.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 200 bills on the national standards were introduced this year, and around half would either stop or slow implementation.
Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Kentucky all have measures in their state legislatures to halt and, if possible, abolish the standards.
Some who oppose the standards take issue with the tests and how the results will be used, as the tests are designed to replace the annual state assessments.
Christina Brown, senior director for instruction and assessment at the Center for Collaborative Education, said that Common Core can change the way we think about the role of students and teachers in assessment practices and move toward more open-ended assessments.
According to the Washington Post, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state school superintendents he found it “fascinating” that some opposition to the standards has come from “white suburban moms who -- all of a sudden -- their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”
Anthony Cody, a former teacher and co-founder of the Network of Public Education who identifies himself as a progressive, said there’s a “grain of truth” to Duncan’s statement, as the tests are “stigmatizing high poverty schools, but also suburban schools.”
In his mind, the most fundamental problem with the standards is that they are designed to rank.
“I have lost my capacity for good will for the people who are running the education reform in this country, after seeing No Child Left Behind,” he said. “If three-fourths of the students are failing, I would see this as a disaster and a catastrophe. They are perfectly happy to see public schools fail and are exploiting this disaster to promote changes.”