What’s Left: Correcting Common Core

   Workforce preparedness stems from a strong primary education. The Common Core is a federal education initiative instituted in 2010, and currently forty-two of the fifty states and Washington D.C. are members of the Common Core Initiative. On one hand, the standardization of the education system shows promise. According to US News and World Report, 45 states have raised their standards for student proficiency in reading and math, with the greatest gains occurring between 2013 and 2015. Since 2013, the average difference between National Association of Educational Progress (NAEP) and state proficiency levels has plummeted from 30 percent to 10 percent. The Common Core aims to combat the immense disparities within the public education system through a standardized curriculum. Thus, a sense of equity exists amongst public schools in states that have adopted the initiative.

   While it is clear that the standardization of the American education system curriculum has produced positive results, there has been much pushback. George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top Act have combined to produce a disciplinary regime of standardized testing. NCLB required schools to test every child from grades three to eight; by 2014, the law stated that every child must be “proficient” or the school would endure increased sanctions. The most extreme sanction for failure to raise test scores was firing the staff and closing the school. As a result, public school teachers focused on teaching to the Common Core assessment tests. This immense pressure on public schools resulted in cheating scandals in school districts in Atlanta, El Paso and the District of Columbia.

   These two programs combined have undermined educators, resulting in an unprecedented exodus of experienced educators who were replaced with inexperienced, low-wage teachers. Failure to meet Common Core standards also resulted in the closure of public schools in particularly poor, minority-rich districts, and the opening of thousands of privately managed charter schools. In an attempt to reform the public education system, there is too much focus on testing and not enough on individual student and teacher needs. Amidst the quest for educational success, the integrity of the education system has been compromised.

   The goals of the Common Core system are worthwhile. The initiative strives to create a unified curriculum in an attempt to increase workforce readiness. However, in the process of standardization, states have been subjected to excessive pressures. Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced and updated the NCLB; ESSA was signed into law December 10, 2015. This act rolls back much of the federal government’s involvement in education policy, on everything from testing and teacher quality to low performing schools. States have increased leeway and control over public school curriculum. ESSA identifies the weaknesses in the Common Core system and works to combat the inherent flaws of public education standardization.

   The ESSA takes full effect in the 2017-2018 school year. President Trump has taken a strong stance against a standardized education system. Therefore, the potential benefits of the ESSA could go unrealized if the Common Core system is to be gutted entirely. One of Trump’s campaign platforms included dismantling the Common Core. Contrary to President Trump’s bold presumption, only the states, not the federal government, have the power to do this. Chad Colby, a spokesman for Achieve, a national nonprofit that helped develop the Core, stated, “it remains to be seen if the new administration will use the same federal overreach to try and get rid of the Common Core in states the way they accused the Obama administration of coercing states to adopt it.” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has a fluctuating stance on this matter. She was once head of the board of trustees of the Great Lakes Education Project, a strong Common Core supporter. But after being nominated for Secretary of Education, she spoke out against the initiative.

   Common Core standards have noble goals, but the execution of such plans are flawed. While striving for increased college and workforce readiness, the integrity of the public school system has been compromised. ESSA shows promise for the Common Core system, giving more power to the states in the execution of Common Core standards. Thus, public schools have the ability to combine elements of the Common Core with their own teaching. In this way, there is hope for the Common Core education initiative.  

   With Trump’s delusion regarding federal government’s ability to dismember the Common Core, and DeVos’ unclear stance on a standardized public education system, a question mark looms over the entire public education system.