College Leaders Try to Save Common Core

June 11, 2014

A new coalition of Common Core supporters, this time from the higher-education community, announced itself Tuesday. Its mission: to raise awareness about the importance of the standards and try to counter the spread of misinformation and the growing backlash against the standards.

It's a battle that has become central in the education world lately, and is spilling out into more general debate, as Common Core becomes a key issue in many midterm campaigns.

In the past two weeks, South Carolina and Oklahoma have joined Indiana in dropping the standards, bringing the number of states with Common Core down to 43. Tea Party candidates and many Republicans have started using opposition to Common Core as a sort of litmus test, with many referring to it as "ObamaCore." On the left, a growing number of educators have raised concerns over the standards for early-elementary grades, and have pushed for a slow-down on Common Core implementation and high-stakes accountability. And a number of states have announced they no longer plan to use one of the two big assessments being developed to align with Common Core.

"For supporters of Common Core, the November elections can’t come soon enough," says Patrick McGuinn, a political science and education professor at Drew University. "Common Core has become a real symbol, and is being talked about in this ideological way. The debate is not about the standards."

Common Core was the result of a state-led effort to develop a uniform set of high-quality standards that built on each other, emphasized critical thinking skills, and prepared high school graduates to be ready for college and careers, and was initially adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia – a remarkable achievement, especially given how quickly the adoption occurred.

But over the past year, backlash to the standards, both from the right, who tend to see Common Core as the sign of federal intrusion into education, and the left, who view it as a sign of privatization of education and another piece in a growing body of accountability reforms, has ballooned. Common Core advocates have been slow to respond – in part, notes Professor McGuinn, because they are so decentralized – and are now working to put out flames and spread a different message, explaining to the public both what the standards are, and what they aren't.

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