Not one TV camera was present. No newspaper headlines carried the news. But it was a decision with more ramifications for Kansas school children than the evolution-creation debates of 1999 or 2005, or the recent funding cuts. On the afternoon of October 12, the Kansas State Board of Education became the 38th state to adopt the “Common Core” standards in math and language arts.
Board member Sally Cauble moved, with a second by Carolyn L. Wims-Campbell, that the State Board of Education adopt the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts, including the Kansas additions to the standards referred to as the State 15% option. Members Sue Storm, Kathy Martin, Jana Shaver, Janet Waugh and David Dennis provided more than enough votes to pass the measure 7-to-1. Only Walt Chappell was present to oppose the motion. It takes six State Board of Education members to pass a motion so the absence of John Bacon and Kenneth Willard did not make a difference although both had expressed concerns with the federal takeover of education in previous meetings.
States adopting the Common Core are to implement a student assessment system aligned with the core beginning in the 2014-15 school year. Over $350 million has been allotted to various groups to develop the tests to provide a “common yardstick,” including “Achieve” and the “SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium.” Several Board members who voted for the Common Core expressed a desire to keep the local test agent. But the current administration has signaled a clear intention to continue to tie Title I money to adoption of common assessments.
Several Board members have stated that they would not adopt the Common Core in science and social studies that is under construction. Reasons are fairly clear: to avoid the disruption of the creation-evolution debates as well as the embarrassing skirmishes currently occurring in Texas over the portrayal of Muslims in social studies textbooks, etc. Nevertheless, as long as federal education dollars remain tied to requirements for a common curriculum and nationwide assessment, states must buckle and join, or lose big money. With 41 states now adopting the math-English core, there is no reason to believe states will resist nationalizing the rest of the school curriculum.
The October 27, 2010 Education Week summary of the Thomas Fordham Foundation report “Now What? Imperatives and Options for ‘Common Core’ Implementation and Governance” makes clear the next steps to be taken: setting up a governing board to oversee standards and assessments, updating the standards every five to 10 years, and setting up a governing body supporting state implementation. Clearly, the oversight of this national curriculum will be decided at a national level.
Other national education groups are pressing forward with a national teacher assessment for measuring all teacher education with a common yardstick, the same mentality that has driven the national curriculum. A cookie-cutter curriculum requires cookie-cutter teachers.
In Kansas where “local control” is every Board member’s middle name, and in an election cycle where anything federal is being thrown out, it is astounding how easily 40 states have rolled over and meekly handed the core of their educational jurisdiction to national bodies. The fact that Common Core was facilitated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers is no less ironic.
The last decade has seen state and local school boards spending more and more time implementing federal No Child Left Behind mandates. Now that Kansas has adopted Common Core standards, the State and local school boards will have even fewer policy decisions to make.