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Last month’s election spells trouble for the Common Core, a set of expectations for what students should know in English and math by the end of each grade. With the standards increasingly being assailed by conservatives as an unwanted federal intrusion into public education , the Republican sweep of state legislatures – the party is now in control of over two-thirds of state lawmaking bodies – will likely lead to a new round of scrutiny of the standards and the tests tied to them.

“To be clear there will be bills in some states,” said Michael Brickman, national policy director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and member of the ever-shrinking chorus of conservative Common Core supporters. “But once you get past the politics, once you get past the history of the Common Core, there is near universal support for high college and career ready standards.”

Thus far, anti-Common Core politicians have chosen from a few paths in their efforts to undermine the influence of the standards: some states have formally dropped the standards but replaced them with standards that are not a great departure from the Common Core, others have put the standards under review or convened committees to write new standards, and some have kept the standards but dropped the tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced – the two federally funded state-led groups that created Common Core tests.

People protesting the Common Core education standards demonstrate near the hotel where the meeting of Tennessee’s Education Summit is taking place on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. Thursday’s event titled “Progress of the Past, Present and Future” will involve elected officials and representatives from 24 organizations focusing on K-12 and higher education. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Credit: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

While the standards originally enjoyed broad bipartisan support from education reform communities on both sides of the aisle, elected officials across the country are lining up to demand changes ahead of legislative sessions starting in January.

In many states, party leaders are placing vocal Common Core opponents in key positions.

In West Virginia, for example, the incoming vice chairwoman of the state senate education committee, Republican Donna Boley, has promised to push a bill that would delay testing students on the new standards. Last session, when Democrats controlled the chamber, she unsuccessfully attempted to put the standards under review.

To the southeast, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Tennessee, a Republican, isn’t mincing words; he told local media, “Common Core is going to be replaced. It’s just a matter of what we replace it with.”

Related: Tennessee’s Common Core backtrack strands teachers, students

After years of support, the state’s Republican governor has been backing away from Common Core in recent months, calling for a review of the standards.

Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress and a Common Core supporter, doesn’t think that many states will move too far from away from the Core, however.

“There is nothing wrong with a review process, standards should be reviewed,” said Martin at a seminar for reporters hosted by the Education Writers Association. “Except Oklahoma [which repealed the standards last summer], at the end of the day when conservatives have asked themselves what is the best thing for our students, they have kept the standards or something very close to them.”

While three states have repealed the standards, only Oklahoma has adopted standards that are substantially different from the Common Core, says Martin.

After dropping Common Core, Oklahoma lost its waiver from federal requirements that all students be proficient in math and English by 2014 – putting some federal funding in jeopardy. The U.S. Department of Education has since granted the state a new waiver, after the state’s higher education system deemed the state’s decade-old standards, which are currently in place, sufficient. The state’s education department is currently in the process of writing yet another set of standards to take effect in 2016. Oklahoma’s waiver may embolden more states to move away from the Common Core.

“All states need is to get their higher ed system to say yes these kids will be ready,” said Brickman, who spoke on a panel with Martin at the conference. “There is no Common Core policeman.”

Oklahoma State Board of Education member Cathryn Franks holds a glass with ice to her head during a board meeting in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (AP Photo)

The opposition isn’t just limited to Republicans in red states.

“There is not only conservative pushback but liberal pushback as well,” said Carol Burris, principal at South Side High School in Rockville Center, New York and a frequent Common Core critic, at the same event. “Look what happened in the New York [Democratic] primary with Zephyr Teachout. The group she most courted was teachers, she made a big deal about teacher evaluations and Common Core, and she got 35 percent of the vote.”

Toward the end of his reelection campaign this fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, called for a moratorium on using scores from Common Core tests in decisions about whether to promote students to the next grade after opponents attempted to link him to the controversial standards.

Burris is hopeful that elections will force politicians to review problems with the standards.

“I think it will be an issue in close races,” said Burris. “And I think over time there will be revisions especially around making sure the standards are developmentally appropriate for the younger grades and around calculus readiness in the higher grades.”

Related: Educators question future progress if Mississippi backs away from Common Core

Even before the onslaught of anti-Common Core rhetoric in the recent election cycle, the original promise of the standards’ commonness had already been compromised says Michael McShane, an education policy researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, speaking at the EWA seminar.

“Forty-three states and D.C. nominally say they are part of the Common Core, but only 27 are using [PARCC or Smarter Balanced] tests. That’s a big change from a couple of years ago,” said McShane. “If a state is using its own tests, setting its own [pass] scores, and using its own materials, to my view that is not common.”

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Emmanuel Felton is a former staff writer. Prior to joining The Hechinger Report, he covered education, juvenile justice and child services for the New York World. He received a bachelor’s degree from...

Letters to the Editor

8 Letters

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  1. Conservatives don’t object to common standards in K-12 education. We do object to the required teaching methods that go along with this in Common Core. The insane math teaching methods is a prime example.

  2. There is a lot of criticism of Common Core State Standards. When it was the latest and greatest new thing, every governor wanted to jump on board and be one of the first. Now that it has been universally adopted, to stand out in the political field, governors attempt to undermine it. When all is said and done, Common Core raises the standards substantially so that we can compete in a global environment. Shame on teachers and politicians who want to take the easy way out. The only valid criticism is the implementation. And by the way, there are no required teaching methods that go along with Common Core – it is only the standards. There are many new math models that do a great job of helping students move from the concrete to the abstract; yes, they are “insane” – insanely effective for those who can open their minds to them.

  3. While consultants and politicians continue discussion, teachers still benefit from a classic collection of activities. Lasting through the decades is The CompuResource Book: A Collection of Activities to Integrate Curriculum and Computers. Kids need hands-on activities, they need memory work, they need problem solving, they need independent work, they need group work, and they need instruction. The CompuResource Book was acclaimed by teachers when it was first printed and it is still a “must have” now.

  4. The major disappointment of the Common Core for me, an early supporter of the idea, is that the standards are NOT globally competitive, regardless of ignorant assertions to the contrary. So-called “college ready” students at the end of their high school educations will be three years behind Chinese students and two years behind pretty much everyone else in east Asia; this includes the Asian-Americans who currently stand at the top, as a group, of the American rankings, but who find they compete very poorly with their cousins when they reunite for family occasions like holidays — or when they compete in mathematics beyond the SAT (which is currently being dumbed down under the leadership of the central organizer of the Common Core) in university college institutes of technology.

  5. I am upset at the way Common Core is being taught in California. I see where, in my opinion, the school districts are trying to save monies by not ordering any common core textbooks. Then, I see where teachers are too tired to teach and create all the lessons (like opening a bakery and mixing up things from scratch). I see where administrators have just let teachers do what ever they wish, and this means that each classroom is not teaching the same or in any uniform fashion within schools, from school to school, and from district to district.

    Now, we do have say 60% highly dedicated and sincere teachers tht want to help. They try hard. They find ways to teach well. However without a clear framework of yearly curriculum, taught with some kind of oversight, then. some radical districts will stunt the learning of math especially by two years by a the time a child reaches fifth grade.

    It is a big mess.

    I think the teachers need to band together more and speak out. I believe they are afraid.

    Parent

  6. Conservatives (rightfully) object to the federalization of education, which is prohibited by the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. That makes ANY federal involvement – from common core to the very existence of the Dept. of Education – in violation of the LAW. And, along with liberals, we object to the “Borg-ification” of our kids. Each human being is a unique individual, not a robot to be put on an assembly line to make each one learn the same things in the same way at the same rate and time.

  7. I don’t like what the change to Common Core has done to high school math in North Carolina. The North Carolina legislature has voted to review the standards. That’s a step in the right direction. Why did states adopt a set of standards that cannot be revised, except by abandoning the standards, and are not managed by any committee? Doesn’t anybody find it strange that we now have national standards that are not managed by any federal agency? If we want to have a democratic society, then we need a democratic process for coming up with educational policy local, state, and national levels. Common Core, like anything controlled by billionaire philanthropists, intends to circumvent our democratic processes. Ultimately, I believe that ordinary people, from all political groups are revolting against Common Core because they realize that they are powerless to change it because of its non-democratic nature.

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