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Some states push back against new school standards

By Heather Hollingsworth

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, May 28 2013 6:35 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this April 13, 2013 file photo, Nacala Spiegler-Frederick, right, daughter of Jinnie Spiegler, left, talks about the new Common Core standards that replace a hodgepodge of educational goals that had varied wildly from state to state. Spiegler, like many New York state parents, is worried about the new set of uniform benchmarks for reading, writing and math that have been fully adopted in most states and are being widely implemented this school year.

John Minchillo, File, Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Some states are pushing back against a set of uniform benchmarks for reading, writing and math that have been fully adopted in most states and are being widely put in place this school year.

The new Common Core standards replace a hodgepodge of educational goals that had varied greatly from state to state. The federal government was not involved in the state-led effort to develop them but has encouraged the project.

While proponents say the new standards will better prepare students, critics worry they'll set a national curriculum for public schools rather than letting states decide what is best for their students.

There was little dissent when the standards were widely adopted in 2010, but that begun changing last year and debate picked up steam this year. The standards have divided Republicans, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush championing them and conservatives such as Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, opposing them.

Lawmakers and governors are reviewing the standards in Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Alabama, South Carolina and Utah. Grassley, meanwhile, persuaded eight other senators to sign onto a letter in April asking the Senate Appropriations Committee to stop the Education Department from linking adoption of the standards to eligibility for other federal dollars. That same month, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution calling the standards an "inappropriate overreach."

Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Bush-backed Foundation for Excellence in Education, said conservatives historically have supported higher standards and greater accountability.

"The fact that they are opposed to Common Core now is a little surprising and disappointing given the fact that states came together to solve a need," Campbell said, adding that the new standards will allow for state-by-state comparisons that haven't been possible before. "We are going to have more rigorous assessments that are going to test kids against those higher standards and hopefully achieve what we all want, which is a dramatically greater quality of education in America."

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative, Washington-based think tank that espouses conservative policies in state legislatures, debated in November whether to oppose the Common Core standards. The group ultimately decided to remain neutral, but its discussion, along with concerns raised by conservative groups such as the Goldwater and Pioneer institutes, caught the attention of lawmakers.

States that adopt the standards are supposed to use them as a base on which to build their curricula and testing, but they can make their benchmarks tougher than Common Core. While the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, found the new standards to be more rigorous than those that had been used by three-quarters of all states, critics question what will happen in states whose previous standards were tougher.

"So in that regard we really viewed Common Core as the race to the middle, not to the top," said Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at the Pioneer Institute.

Questions about testing also have arisen. In New York, among the first states to test students based on the standards, some students complained this spring that the Common Core-aligned English exams were too difficult to complete in the allotted time, and there were reports of students crying from stress.

Jonathan Butcher, education director for the Goldwater Institute, based in Phoenix, said opposition also is gaining traction because states and districts are at the point where money has to be appropriated to pay for the standards.

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