Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Common Core: An Issue for the School Board Elections? Part 1

I first became aware of the intense emotions and controversy over the Common Core State Standards (“Common Core,” “CCSS” or “the Standards”) at an information session for parents, teachers and community members at the Collier County School District Administrative Center in May 2013.

During the Q&A that followed, “the discussion got heated,” reported WINK News (putting it mildly), citing among the concerns raised at the meeting:
  • It takes away control at the local level.
  • We shouldn’t be “forced to be under the gun of the federal government.” 
What is Common Core and who developed it? When and how did Florida get involved? Are the concerns raised at that meeting valid? And should Common Core be an issue for the School Board elections?

What is Common Core?

Common Core is a set of education standards for the areas of English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics that were voluntarily adopted beginning in 2010 by 44 states, DC, four US territories and the U.S. Department of Defense schools.  (The states that have not adopted the Standards are Alaska, Indiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Minnesota adopted the English Language Arts/Literacy Standards only.)

The Standards were designed to result in students graduating from high school “career- and college-ready,” i.e. able to meet employer expectations and/or be prepared for college-level work without needing remedial classes.

By way of background, the Common Core grew out of a 1983 report titled “A Nation at Risk” by a commission established by President Reagan.  That report called for setting standards for what students should know and be able to do and marked the starting point for standards-based education reform in the U.S.  Following publication of “A Nation at Risk,” individual states began adopting standards. In 2001, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act which strengthened requirements for the kinds of standards states set and required states to test students in specific grades and subjects, while leaving states free to set their own standards and create their own tests.

Who developed the Common Core Standards? 

According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative website (www.corestandards.org):
By the early 2000s, every state had developed and adopted its own learning standards that specify what students in grades 3-8 and high school should be able to do. Every state also had its own definition of proficiency, which is the level at which a student is determined to be sufficiently educated at each grade level and upon graduation. This lack of standardization was one reason why states decided to develop the Common Core State Standards…. 
The effort … was launched in 2009 by state leaders, including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, through their membership in the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. 
States across the country collaborated with teachers, researchers, and leading experts to design and develop the Common Core State Standards. Each state independently made the decision to adopt the Common Core. Local teachers, principals, and superintendents lead the implementation of the Common Core in their states. The federal government was not involved in the development of the Standards.
When and how did Florida get involved?

Florida got involved in two ways: by participating in the development of the CCSS, and by applying for a $700 million Race to the Top grant and including in the grant application a plan to adopt the CCSS and meet certain requirements as to assessment.

Participation in development of the Standards
As part of the nationwide movement to develop standards for learning that followed the publication of “A Nation at Risk,” the Florida Legislature had adopted its own “Sunshine State Standards” in 1996. Those standards identified what Florida public school students should know and be able to do during each grade cluster in the areas of language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, the arts, health and physical education, and foreign language.

The Florida Board of Education then adopted a six-year cycle of review and revision, including the alignment of the standards with assessments, instructional materials, professional development and teacher licensure exams. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) was first administered in 1998 to measure student progress in meeting the Sunshine State Standards. The test results formed the basis for the school accountability program.

Fast-forward ten years to the early discussions about the need for common standards. “Florida was well represented in the development of the [Common Core State Standards] from the earliest conversations to the now adopted Florida Standards,” according to a June 2014 report by the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations (“The Florida Standards: What they mean. Why they matter. What’s happening now.” or the “CFEF Report”):
Experts from across higher education—including the University of Florida, Harvard and UC Berkeley—as well as state departments of education (with Florida as a lead state), local educators, parents and students all developed and vetted the CCSS. In fact, Florida’s Next Generation process of standards development guided the CCSS development process and was cited as a resource for writers. Florida educators were continually tapped as content experts, writers and reviewers from start to finish.
(Note: Whether or not there was enough teacher involvement is a topic of much debate, including here in Collier County.)

Application for a Race to the Top grant
As part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA or Stimulus), through a program called Race to the Top, $4.35 billion of federal funding was made available to states to pursue a plan to improve student achievement. As explained in the Race to the Top Executive Summary, Race to the Top was
a competitive grant program designed to encourage and reward States that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform; achieving significant improvement in student outcomes, including making substantial gains in student achievement, closing achievement gaps, improving high school graduation rates, and ensuring student preparation for success in college and careers; and implementing ambitious plans in four core education reform areas:
  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy; 
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction; 
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and 
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools. 
While no state was mandated to adopt the Standards to receive the funding, many states chose not to pursue the federal grant and others chose not to adopt the Standards, Florida chose to both apply for a Race to the Top grant and adopt the Common Core Standards.

Florida won a $700 million grant to be spent in three areas outlined in the grant application, including implementation of the Common Core Standards. Florida adopted the Common Core in 2010 and began implementing it in the 2011-2012 school year, beginning with kindergarten and first grade with a gradual phasing-in for higher grades and eventual full implementation in 2013-14.

Recent developments in Florida

By 2013, concerns and misconceptions about the Standards, and the assessments and data-collection that would be used to measure progress toward meeting them, had started to build nation-wide, including in Florida. (The May 2013 information session I attended may have been a reaction to the growing unrest.)

In response, per the CFEF Report, “Governor Rick Scott directed the Florida Department of Education to pull back from the consortia of states committed to [the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessment Florida had chosen] and to hold a series of public hearings on the Standards in late 2013.”

More than 19,000 comments were made in person or 
submitted online. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart contracted for a review of the comments by outside experts and ultimately recommended 99 changes to the Standards. Per the CFEF Report:
These changes were predominately made through the addition of Calculus Standards in Math with cursive writing being added to the English/Language Arts Standards. The State Board of Education [in February 2014] unanimously voted to adopt these revised standards.  (Note: The addition of Calculus Standards does not mean students are required to take this level of math, they simply define the expectations for students who choose to do so.) 
While the changes and additions are highly consistent with CCSS, they now include standards specific to our state. Hence, they are now known as the Florida Standards, which will also encompass already adopted standards in other subject areas such as science and social studies.
Specifically, the Florida Standards now consist of Mathematics and Language Arts Standards modified as described and adopted in March 2014; standards for Science, Social Studies, Physical Education and Health Education, adopted in 2008; and standards for World Languages and Fine Arts, adopted in 2010. For the specifics of these Standards, click here.

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In my next post, I’ll share my answers to the questions “Are the concerns valid?” and “Should Common Core be an issue for the School Board elections?” In the meantime, I hope this review has been informative.

1 comment:

  1. This helps a lot for those of us with short memories or limited insights into the State legislature's actions. Thank you for spelling out how we got here, as it helps illuminate the principles at stake. The question remaining is how the principles - at face value not objectionable - are implemented at the school level.

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