The Kansas Legislature is scheduled to hear a bill today (Feb. 19, 2014) that seeks to repeal Common Core academic standards throughout the state. The standards have become quite a divisive issue.
Cathy Granell has been a teacher for 18 years and has been at Stanley Elementary for four. She says that the adoption of the Common Core standards forced her to change her approach to lesson planning.
While some say Common Core standards restrict teachers by dictating what should be taught, Granell says that, for her, they actually offer greater freedoms in the way she conducts her daily classroom.
“Before it was, here's your skill that they need to master and it was, just do this, do that. And you were successful if they could do it, if they could follow those steps,” she says. “Now it's a completely different way of thinking. I feel like I'm doing less thinking for them. I stop and I have to make myself be quiet, and make them think, ‘What would you do now?’
This Spring marks the first time Common Core will be seen on standardized tests. In October 2010, Kansas approved a policy known as the ‘College and Career Ready Standards’ which include the Common Core Standards. They were drawn up to be a rigorous set of benchmarks, dictating where students should be academically in both Math and Language Arts at the end of each year.
Diane DeBacker, the Kansas Commissioner of Education, says the approval of the new standards was not taken lightly.
“I describe it is as: literally, we went into a room and everyone put their standards on the table and we started taking the best out of the best. And we came up with a set of standards a year later that represented higher standards, internationally benchmarked, to those countries that are beating us in math and reading,” DeBacker says.
One outspoken critic of the Common Core Standards, Walt Chappell, was a member of the State Board of Education in 2010. He remembers the original process of approving the new standards as one shrouded in secrecy.
“We had the opportunity to see the process developing very clandestinely” Chappell says. “We didn’t have much understanding of what was going on behind the scenes until we were actually able to get a look at the standards about three weeks before we had to vote on them.”
“One size does not fit all kids. Pretty simple,” he says.
The standards themselves are not the only concern opponents of Common Core have. The expense of administering the tests, as well as the personal data students are asked to provide, are raising eyebrows. Chappell calls it ‘data mining’ – the Common Core tests are administered through computers and students are asked for some personal and household information.
Commissioner of Education Diane DeBacker says Kansas has been gathering student data from standardized tests for years, and that they have no intention of collecting any more or different data than before.
The opposition to Common Core has been seen throughout the country. Of the 45 states to adopt Common Core standards, nine have seen legislation introduced to repeal, defund or put on hold the new standards. And a state-wide teachers' union in New York recently withdrew their support of Common Core.
DeBacker says that, even if a bill to repeal Common Core passes, that doesn’t necessarily mean Common Core will go away. That’s because the State Board of Education is charged with deciding what the state standards are, while the legislature allocates the funds.
The criticisms of Common Core are expansive, and while the future of academic standards is being debated, the teachers themselves will carry on. They are preparing their students for the first Common Core aligned test this spring. They will find out the results later this summer.
This story originally aired on Morning Edition on Feb. 19, 2014.