In recent weeks, there has been a great deal of discussion about the core standards movement and how “public” the development of these national standards will truly be. Those who see such standards as a needed pathway to lead us to real, tangible improvement and focus on quality believe the process is just underway. Those who see monsters under the bed and hear things that go bump in the night are certain that the deck is already stacked, the standards are already written, and we’re merely going through the motions.
If core standards are like most education “movements” in Washington, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Yesterday, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Schools Officers announced a new website for information on all things related to core standards — www.corestandards.org. The new site provides a few pieces of interesting information, including a tentative development schedule and those involved with its development.
Currently, the Common Core Standards Initiative (as dubbed by NGA and CCSSO) is sticking by its story that college- and career-ready standards will be completed by the end of the month, by July 2009. Such an aggressive timeline may lend a little credibility to the notion that these standards are already in the can, pulled mainly from work already done by Achieve, College Board, ACT, and others. More interestingly, the Initiative is also promising grade-by-grade standards work will be completed by the end of the calendar year, or by December 2009.
In looking at the members of both the Work Groups and the Feedback Groups, one thing is clear. Grade-by-grade standards will be limited to English-Language Arts and mathematics. By the end of the year, we will not have grade-by-grade standards for science, social studies, foreign languages, arts, or any of the other subjects that our K-12 students are currently engaging in. How do we know? Both the Work Groups and the Feedback Groups are divided into two camps — mathematics and ELA. Eduflack can’t imagine that the math groups will be working on science standards, or the ELA groups will be working on social studies expectations. So for now, our core standards are designed to model our current AYP efforts.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Moving AYP beyond grades three through eight into a full K-12 education continuum is an important thing. But if we are going to truly get buy-in for the core standards (and more importantly, get states to adopt them and the common assessments that will need to be developed with them), we need to hit all of the key subject areas. In Eduflack’s home state of Virginia, for instance, we can’t have core standards for math and reading, but then offer the state’s SOL for social studies. It just doesn’t make sense for the long term. The minds behind the Core Standards Initiative understand that, but we are still waiting for the explanations and the timetables that will align with all of the other academic subjects our students learn.
It seems most of the heavy lifting will be done by the Work Groups. So who is on these groups? A run-through of the rosters (available on the website) shows teams consisting primarily of staff from Achieve, College Board, and ACT. Student Achievement Partners made the cut, and America’s Choice has a few slots in there (which may also speak to why outgoing Arkansas Schools Chief Ken James is headed to America’s Choice), and there is an academic or two added to each for good measure.
The feedback groups represent a strong list of academics and researchers who know the literature and the research base behind the subject matter. The ELA Feedback Group, for instance, has two members of the National Reading Panel, as well as the chair of NRC’s reading research effort.
Folks are going to read into this announcement what they want to. Some will continue to question the sunshine put on the process and whether the “education blob,” particularly the content-area organizations, will have a real role in the development of the proposed standards. Others will question whether their is a particular political slant to the approach. And still others will beat the drum that classroom educators, the ones who will ultimately need to teach to these standards, are not represented at all.
Regardless, it is a first step. The second step is seeing the work product that will be released at the end of the month. But soon, we’ll be expecting to hear how the Initiative is going to address subject areas beyond math and reading. Soon, we’ll want to hear how these standards will be incorporated into current and future curriculum. And real soon, we’ll need to start discussing how one assesses student proficiency of these standards. A long to-do list, particularly in light of potential ESEA reauthorization this fall. Time will tell ….