Playing Defense on Common Core

The Gazette published an editorial yesterday under the headline ‘Common Core’ fears seem overblown.

Written in response to Republican legislators’ circulation of a letter critical of Common Core and Iowa’s membership in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, it reads as a bit of an unquestioning rehash of an Iowa Department of Education post, Common Core in Iowa: What you need to know.

While it may be technically true that no federal dollars are at stake at this time, adoption of common standards was a requirement for Iowa to compete for Race to the Top funds [see F-1]. Adoption of common standards was also part of Iowa’s ESEA Flexibility Request (NCLB waiver) [see page 13]:

The State has adopted college- and career-ready standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics that are common to a significant number of States, consistent with part (1) of the definition of college- and career-ready standards.

As it happens, Iowa won neither a Race to the Top grant nor an NCLB waiver, but I think the DE/State Board obviously hoped to reap benefits from the federal government for having adopted the Common Core standards.

One might also note that while the federal government has not given money directly to Iowa to implement the Common Core, the US Department of Education has funded the development of Common Core assessments through a $330 million grant, split between PARCC and SBAC [see FAQ number 2].

Whether the Common Core ensures success in post-high school education is actually a matter for debate; the Common Core math standards are arguably grossly inadequate for students intending to pursue STEM careers or hoping to gain entrance to selective colleges and universities. (Take a few minutes to read James Milgram and Sandra Stotsky on the subject here, and, if you need a refresher on entry-level math requirements for various degree programs at the University of Iowa, I have a summary of them here.)

Whether or not the Common Core explicitly tells teachers how to teach–though it wouldn’t necessarily have to be spelled out in the standards documents themselves, just quietly enforced through Common Core assessment items–I have seen many raising concerns about how the Common Core standards are or may be interpreted. See, for example, Louisa Moats on reading instruction and Diana Senechal on a Common Core poetry lesson.

Finally, I would note that there are critics of Common Core across the political spectrum, although, it does appear that in Iowa, those critics in the Republican party are better organized.