Parsing Common Core: An Education Program Under Fire

The state-led education standards program formed with the help of two associations is facing criticism and charges of government overreach into the schools. As a new school year gets underway, associations are working to calm fears.

With just a year to go until it is fully implemented, the Common Core State Standards Initiative for K-12 education has critics questioning the effort.

But the associations that helped launch the program, along with others, are working to clarify its goals and address misunderstandings. More details below:

What it is

In 2009, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), a voluntary state-led program focusing on language arts and mathematics education. The program’s goal is to “establish clear and consistent goals for learning that will prepare America’s children for success in college and work,” according to a press release from the two associations.

After collaborating with teachers, parents, and community leaders to draft the standards, then seeking comment and revising them, the groups issued the finalized version in June 2010. The initiative’s FAQ page lays out the standards, the people involved in setting them, and how the program works. According to, 45 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the standards.

The criticism

In recent months, concerns have been raised by some conservative voices that Common Core constitutes government overreach into classrooms. (Groups such as the Home School Legal Defense Association also have come out against the program for this reason.)

Many critical reports have surfaced—some inaccurately implying that the program is federally backed. Critics cite a 2010 speech President Barack Obama gave before the National Governors Association as proof of his support for the program, and they point to federal financial incentives offered to encourage states to take part in the CCSSI testing, Bloomberg reports.

With increased public scrutiny and media attention, the standards have become increasingly politicized—and, in some states, stalled. Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin this year halted or delayed implementation, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. Republicans control the legislatures and the governorships in those states.

Responding to the criticism

Prominent business groups—as well as those that took part in creating the program—defend the results.

In a June Washington Post op-ed, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat who is the former CCSSI cochair, says the critics misunderstand the program’s mission. “Rather than representing a takeover by the federal government, Common Core shows why states have always led in the area of education policy,” he wrote. “State leaders realized that we can best accomplish our goals by working together with common guidelines that allow us to raise the bar for our students and share resources without interference from federal mandates.”

Meanwhile, the initiative’s website has launched a “Myths vs. Facts” page to help clarify the details of the program.

There’s business group support as well: In an August syndicated op-ed, U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas J. Donohue and Business Roundtable President John Engler (a former Michigan governor) asserted that the Common Core standards would help raise education levels nationally.

“Opponents of the initiative are propagating the falsehood that these standards are a federal takeover of education,” they wrote. “Some even suggest it is a top-down effort to indoctrinate students with slanted ideology. This is flat-out wrong. Common Core was created at the state level—where our most innovative policies often originate—by governors and state officials. And no state is required to participate.”

Members of the Education Writers Association, meanwhile, heard from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who spoke at its recent annual meeting. Duncan encouraged the journalists in the room to “make sure you investigate what’s true and what’s not.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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