Common Core knowledge uncommon
By Heidi Marttila-Losure
As Common Core standards went into effect in Dakota classrooms this fall, state education leaders probably expected to spend some time explaining what the standards are.
But Ryan Townsend, director of academic standards for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, said he’s spent a lot of time lately explaining what the standards are not.
The standards had support from many corners until this fall, when educators started hearing a lot of pushback, according to Townsend.
“A lot of it is based on misinformation, unfortunately,” he said.
He’s had to combat a lot of myths: No, there’s no mandate in the standards to teach sex education in kindergarten. No, the Qur’an is not a mandatory text, and the Bible is not banned. No, the standards are not mandated by the federal government.
“I’m really glad people are calling,” he said. “When they call, I get a chance to talk to them. I can explain why the Common Core is so important.”
A Gallup Poll released in August suggested that most Americans are not getting reliable information about the Common Core standards. In fact, 62 percent of Americans had never heard of it.
And of those who had heard of it, many had key facts about it wrong (for example, many thought — incorrectly — the federal government requires states to adopt the standards).
Even after the misinformation about the Common Core is cleared away, debate about its purpose and how to implement it remains.
The Common Core standards began from conversations that state education leaders and governors were having about their schools in the late 2000s.
First, it was clear that U.S. students were not doing well compared to students in other countries, and years of reform and effort hadn’t moved the needle much.
Second, because each state had different standards, what the typical high school graduate knew when going on to college or into the workforce varied greatly.
The results of 2012 ACT scores “show alarming gaps between the knowledge and skills needed to earn a diploma and the knowledge and skills to actually be prepared for education and training after high school,” according to a PowerPoint presentation by the nonprofit group Achieve the Core, whose founders were involved in writing the Common Core standards.
High rates of remediation, including at Dakota colleges, result from that.
Third, these different standards are especially difficult for children who move from one state to another. About 13 percent of children move across state lines each year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and those children are likely to be from lowincome, military or immigrant families.
“Many of them lose their place in the educational order and never recover,” writes Bill Keller in the New York Times.
This is part of the reasoning that prompted the states, along with teachers and experts, to work together to form new standards.
The federal government had no role in the standards’ development and did not mandate their adoption.
There were some “carrots” from the federal level that might have encouraged states to adopt the Common Core:
The Race to the Top initiative, which was from the federal level, encouraged states to develop higher standards as part of the competition for more funding.
Some states applied for waivers to the No Child Left Behind requirements, which were more likely to be granted if states raised their standards.
But neither of these programs was mandatory, and neither required that the higher standards be the Common Core Standards.
Neither Dakota is a Race to the Top state; South Dakota did receive a No Child Left Behind waiver in 2012. South Dakota adopted the Common Core Standards in 2010, and North Dakota did so in 2011.
— With reporting by Garrick Moritz, Faulk County Record; George Thompson, Reporter & Farmer; and Sarah Gackle.