As more states race toward the Common Core’s first spring testing season, the academic standards’ most ardent critics are looking for every chance to eliminate them from state policies.
Advocacy efforts are bruising the image of Common Core and affecting its implementation in states around the country. Anti-Common Core messaging is now boilerplate for many lawmakers looking to fuel the fiery education battle across America. Dozens of measures have been introduced in state legislatures to repeal adoption of the tougher benchmarks.
While most of those efforts have failed, some states are making changes, and about half have renamed the standards – to reflect state independence and to appease political critics. But as this battle is raging, most Americans aren’t directly involved in the process. Gallup polls in October found that both parents and teachers are divided on the issue of Common Core: 35 percent of surveyed parents viewed the standards negatively, 33 percent view them positively, and another third either don’t have an opinion or aren’t familiar with the benchmarks. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam just unveiled a website last month to seek public input on the state’s Common Core standards.
Now empowered with a Republican-controlled Congress in Washington and big wins for the GOP across gubernatorial midterms, education analysts are speculating about how much risk Common Core faces over the next few years. To gauge how the Common Core is faring across the country, RealClearEducation compiled a (unscientific) heat map that measures risk of repeal in each state.
To visualize how much ire and risk there is for the Common Core across the country and try to cut through some of the political noise and competing claims and counter-claims of advocates on both sides, RealClearEducation assessed Common Core’s risk for each state based on a number of measures, including the stances of state governors and superintendents, legislative warmth for the standards, and how previous attempts to edit or repeal the standards have fared in state legislatures. The states are rated on a scale of 0 (no risk of repeal) to 10 (very high risk of repeal).
Hover over the heat map below for more information about each state’s risk of repealing the Common Core. Zoom controls are at the top left. To drag the map, hold down the shift key, click, and pull with your mouse. Select consecutive groups to highlight by clicking while holding down the shift key, or highlight nonconsecutive groups by clicking while holding down the control key.
The Common Core is a set of academic benchmarks -- not a curriculum -- that lays out what American students should know by the end of each grade level to ensure students are college-and career-ready by the time they graduate high school. Individual states and districts determine how to teach and assess their students to meet those standards, which were developed by education experts and interest groups representing state leaders.
Two federally funded consortia of states are developing assessments for use with the Common Core but some states are electing to use other assessments developed by commercial vendors. Click here to see RealClearEducation’s interactive map of state Common Core assessment activity.
Nationally, 45 states, Washington, D.C. and three territories originally adopted the standards between 2010 and 2011. In March, Indiana became the first to withdraw from the standards. Oklahoma followed suit just a few months later. Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is suing the Obama administration over the Common Core, and Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage -- once not only a Common Core supporter but also an original adopter – is now against the standards.
But heavyweight Republican Common Core supporters like former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), both of whom have been named as possible 2016 White House contenders, aren’t budging on their commitment to the standards and appear indifferent to the partisan implications of their Common Core support. Elsewhere, governors are “playing possum” to avoid being pinned into a position on the contentious issue, said Bobbi Newman, a research specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education.
As the country inches closer toward the 2016 general election, the fight over Common Core in the states is less likely to be about full-on repeal and more about implementation related to student assessments and teacher evaluations, said Michael McShane, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning nonprofit think tank. States are likely to start editing the Common Core “by a thousand cuts” to the standards, McShane added.
Something else for states to consider is impact to their bottom line: the investment of time and funding into repealing the Common Core, then developing and implementing entirely new standards could cost states substantially more than tweaking the Common Core standards that are already in place and nearly fully implemented.
“The Common Core got grafted into a broader narrative of overtesting, Obama circumventing the democratic process, and federal overreach into American classroom, and that just poisons the whole thing,” McShane said. “The commonness of the Common Core is also at risk, even if a state shaves the standards to make the words look mostly like the Common Core but put a different title on top and use their own tests and cut scores, they’re not really participating in a common enterprise.”
Underneath all the noise, more than 40 states are still advancing with the Common Core’s standards for students despite the controversy. As states ready themselves for their first Common Core-aligned tests this coming spring, some states might peel away from the standards, but Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education policy think tank, predicts an overwhelming majority will continue with the Common Core.
“There were probably at least 10 states last spring that had tough fights, and you’ll have tough fights again, with the biggest ones in the most conservative states and mostly in the south. But politicians respond to voters, and pro-Common Core politicians won midterm elections across party lines,” Petrilli said. “At least two-thirds of states will stick with Common Core. That’s pretty remarkable for a country that’s been allergic to common standards.”
*The states are rated on a scale of 0 (no risk of repeal) to 10 (very high risk of repeal).
**Alaska is not reflected on this graphic -- the state never adopted the Common Core.