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CSBA at issue: Common Core: Assessing some common criticisms 

Winter 2013

The Local Control Funding Formula is a sea change in school governance, and implementing the Common Core State Standards is one of its principal accountability components. There has been a national buzz about the standards since they were initially proposed in 2009—not all of it supportive. As California’s local school boards begin to develop Local Control and Accountability Plans under LCFF, it’s important for them to have accurate information about CCSS. This article, adapted from the forthcoming CSBA governance brief “Common Core: Addressing the Criticisms,” explores some of the main themes of resistance.

The Common Core will be in full implementation in California beginning in the 2014-15 school year. Although it was not required for states to adopt the new standards, 45 states and the District of Columbia did, including California in 2010. Since then, a growing number of states have chosen to either back out of or slow down on implementation as critics have raised doubts of the appropriateness of Common Core as an education reform.

Is CCSS a federal intrusion on state and local rights?

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the U.S. Department of Education created the Race to the Top Fund, enabling states to compete for their share of $4.35 billion to reform and improve their K-12 education standards. One major way for states to gain points was to adopt the Common Core. Although that was a particularly powerful incentive due to funding cuts in California and other states, it was not mandatory. States would not have had a chance to compete for Race to the Top grants if they did not adopt the new standards, but the final decision to adopt Common Core in California was a choice of the State Board of Education, not a federal mandate.

Are local districts required to adopt CCSS?

Although the state of California chose to adopt the new standards, school districts are not required to adopt them at the local level. However, all students in California will be required to take new standardized tests being created around the new standards.  

What’s CCSS got to do with LCFF?

Under the state’s new formula for allocating funds to school districts as laid out in Assembly Bill 97, each district is required to have a Local Control and Accountability Plan, which addresses the goals that school districts need to meet each year. Each year, local educational agencies must approve an updated LCAP and improve the services the LEAs provide to students in proportion to students’ needs (see for details and resources). There are eight priority areas that must be addressed in the local LCAPs—including showing progress in the implementation of CCSS.

Does CCSS create a nationally mandated curriculum?

Some have expressed concerns that these new standards are going to manipulate what is being taught in the classroom, creating a “nationally mandated” curriculum. In response, it is important for educators, board members and parents to understand the differences between standards and curriculum.

To put it simply, standards are the goal, and curriculum is how you reach that goal. In other words, on a road map the standard is the end point, or the destination, and the curriculum is how you chose to get to the destination. It could be driving straight up the mountain, or it could be taking a detour through the desert. Common Core lays out the new standards for math and English-language arts, and each individual district can determine locally how to teach those standards and create a curriculum to fit the needs of the students.

Is CCSS an unfunded mandate?

Implementing the new standards will cost a lot of money. Schools will need to purchase new learning materials to accommodate the new standards. New standardized tests will be administered electronically, which will require more resources to be allocated towards technology improvements. Finally, teachers will need professional development to learn instructional strategies needed to teach to the new standards, which will cost districts time and money. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated implementation would cost about $3.1 billion in the first two years.

From the adoption of CCSS in California in August 2010 until 2013, there was no funding attached. In the 2013-14 state budget, Gov. Jerry Brown allocated $1.25 billion over two years to fund the implementation of Common Core. This translates to about $200 per student, to be used for professional development of teachers, new instructional materials and the integration of education through technology-based instruction. So although it is not fully funded, Common Core is now slightly more achievable than before. Local boards will have to prioritize how much to invest in the new standards relative to other district needs.

Is there proof that having these standards will lead to higher student achievement?

Whether Common Core will help raise student achievement will be impacted by two factors: the quality of the development process and the quality of the implementation process. The new standards were developed in a thorough process that allowed for multiple opportunities for feedback from educational experts, teachers and the public. Nearly 1,000 parents and school employees from across the country submitted comments.

The National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers—the official groups that spearheaded the state-led effort to develop the Common Core—assembled a 25-member validation committee. It included state superintendents, education commissioners, teachers, professors, and principals. The committee’s purpose was to examine the standards for evidence they could instill college and career-readiness skills and to assess the evidentiary base for the standards. Once validated by this committee, the NGA and CCSSO assembled to develop the K-12 standards that are now the Common Core State Standards.

The creation of the standards was inspired by other top-performing countries’ educational standards. Today’s job market has increased the demands for citizens with higher skills and knowledge that current education standards just don’t meet anymore. In “Benchmarking for Success,” a report put out by NGA and CCSSO, Michigan State University researcher Bill Schmidt stated that there are three characteristics that are present in international standards but missing in most state standards: focus, rigor and coherence. In response, the Common Core standards shift the focus on education to prepare students equally well to either enter the work force immediately after high school or to enter a higher education institution without needing remedial classes. This means the new standards are built on evidence of scholarly research, surveys of skills required by colleges and job markets, assessment data and comparisons to high-performing nations.

How does this help boards?

It is important for all board members to be able to articulate the role of the Common Core in responding to the community, and it is important to understand that some criticisms are legitimate and members should acknowledge them. When the board has a clear vision and a common, consistent message, the public can feel confident that during the challenging months ahead, the district will still be able to serve its purpose: educating the students. 

Christopher Maricle is a CSBA Policy and Programs officer. Jessicca Mosack is an intern in the Policy and Programs Department.

Governing to the Core

This is excerpted from the forthcoming CSBA governance brief “Common Core: Addressing the Criticisms.” It will be posted on CSBA’s Governance Briefs Web page ( Briefs), where you can also find these other Governing to the Core governance briefs:

Issue 1: The Common Core
Issue 2: Setting Direction for Common Core
Issue 3: Acquiring Instructional Materials
Issue 4: Professional Development for Common Core
Issue 5: The Year Ahead