Florida eliminated the Common Core State Standards this year with an executive order from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, but in Alabama, getting rid of the standards is taking a more indirect route.
Next March, Alabama voters will decide on an amendment to the state constitution that would eliminate the elected state board as well as the state superintendent position. In their place, the governor would appoint an education commission and secretary of elementary and secondary education — all to be confirmed by the state Senate.
Then that new commission would be required to replace the Common Core with a “course of study standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside of the state.”
Alabama Sen. Del Marsh, a Republican and the lead sponsor of the bill calling for the amendment, initially introduced legislation that would have scrapped the Common Core, but that effort didn’t make it through the House.
And now with an administration that no longer provides incentives for states to adopt the Common Core — as was the case under President Barack Obama — and a shift back toward more local control, it’s not a stretch to wonder whether similar efforts are building in other states.
“I do believe that more states will likely drop Common Core mainly because the results are so poor, especially in math and for those students who are average or lower performers,” said Theodor Rebarber, the CEO of nonprofit AccountabilityWorks.
Rebarber said he was aware of “various efforts” to repeal the standards brewing in other states, but could not provide details. Two years ago, Republican members of the Michigan legislature also launched an effort to drop the standards and pick up those developed by Massachusetts before it adopted the Common Core. But opponents of the plan said such a move would reverse the progress Michigan has made toward training teachers and revising curriculum, and the bill didn’t pass. South Carolina also repealed the standards in 2014.
Last fall Rebarber co-published for the conservative Pioneer Institute in Massachusetts that linked several years of Common Core implementation with flat overall performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as well as declining rates of proficiency among students who were already low performing. In addition, U.S. students have made only modest gains on the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the authors note.
“Common Core was launched on an explicit premise that it would address our internationally uncompetitive mathematics curriculum, which has most of our students taking Algebra I in 9th grade, two years later than students in high-achieving nations,” they write.
Blame it on poor NAEP scores
Blaming the Common Core for low NAEP scores has also been a driving force behind the Alabama effort to toss out the standards. In math, the state’s most recent average scores on the NAEP in both 4th and 8th grade were among the lowest in the country. In 4th grade reading, the average score for the state was only higher than that of Louisiana, New Mexico and Alaska. In 8th grade reading, only the District of Columbia had a lower score.
Conservatives also point to a yet-to-be-published study conducted by the American Institutes for Research and the Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction and Learning (C-SAIL), which finds “significant negative effects” in NAEP 4th grade reading and 8th grade math scores in the years after Common Core adoption.
The authors write that “grade 4 reading achievement in the treatment states would have improved significantly more after the adoption the new standards had the states continued with their old standards, thus reflecting negative effects of the new [college- and career-ready] standards.”
Negative effects, but not as significant, were also seen in 4th grade math and 8th grade reading. But the researchers note that a limitation of the study is that many of the test items in NAEP are not covered by the Common Core standards, or at least not in those tested grades. States also faced a “multitude of challenges” during the transition from their previous standards to the new ones.
In a March article, researcher Mengli Song with C-SAIL also advised that studies of the Common Core or college- and career-ready (CCR) standards, in general, be "interpreted with a large grain of salt" because they are descriptive comparisons between groups and don't prove that the standards caused student performance to remain flat. Also, she said it's not possible to apply the "gold standard" of research design, a randomized controlled trial, to a statewide intervention.
Song also stressed that not only is more research needed, but that it needs to reach policymakers quicker. "CCR standards have been an area where research activities seem to have lagged behind legislative activities," she wrote.
Revisions are ‘typical’
Politicized almost from the start, the Common Core standards in math and English language arts (ELA) were a National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) effort to say that all students, regardless of where they live and whether they move from state to state, should acquire the same knowledge and skills. While 45 states initially adopted them in 2010, eight states and Puerto Rico are now non-adopters. Minnesota has adopted only the ELA standards, and many initially gave the standards a more state-specific name to distance themselves from what was becoming identified as a union- and Obama-backed reform.
Nancy Rodriguez, press secretary for CCSSO, suggested that revisiting the standards — even if it means repealing the Common Core — is a natural part of the process. “It is typical for states to review and revise their standards in cycles, often every three to five years,” she said. “States determine what standards to adopt based on what’s best for their state and their students and teachers.”
Modifying standards, however, doesn’t always mean rejecting the Common Core. Colorado recently went though a revision process that didn’t result in a repeal.
In math, the state turned to a National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ (NCTM) publication and its section on “Essential Concepts for High School Mathematics” for guidance in adding, deleting, revising and reorganizing its math standards at the high school level.
"I do still consider them to be very closely aligned, although not exactly the same as, the Common Core," said Joanie Funderburk, president of the Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Robert Berry, president of NCTM, said debates over the Common Core have often been about politics and “less about math.” “Regardless of the standards — whatever set of standards — look at the mathematics,” he said. “That’s where we can have a conversation.”