The Common Core: Will It Affect You?

Last month, we hosted a webinar called “What the New SAT Means for You” (watch it on demand here), during which we discussed the link between the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the new SAT (learn more about the new SAT here). During the Q&A period of the event, we discovered a common question:

Will the Common Core affect students in states that don’t use the Common Core State Standards?

The short answer: Yes.

The long answer: Well, it’s sort of long. As with most big policy issues, the issues surrounding the Common Core aren’t black and white.

A glance at top news stories suggests that states are dropping the Common Core left and right. Indiana, South Carolina, and Oklahoma all dropped out. North Carolina and Missouri both passed legislation that requires a reevaluation of the standards. The governors of Wisconsin and Utah want to drop the standards. And in Louisiana, the school board is suing the governor over whether the governor is allowed to drop the standards. Add in Texas, Nebraska, Alaska, and Virginia, which never adopted the standards to begin with, and it becomes clear that the Common Core is in some troubled waters.

What is less clear is what these non-Common Core states will do in the absence of the standards.

Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina — all states with strong resistance to the Common Core — provide some answers. These states have come out against the standards, maintaining that they alone have the right to set standards for their students. Each state has created a group to review and revise the Common Core standards. In other words, although their posturing and policy language suggests that these states are walking away from the Common Core, they are really just putting their own stamps on the existing standards.

States like South Carolina are following a different approach. South Carolina’s Common Core legislation calls for entirely new standards, not simply a revision of existing standards. Yet the executive director of the state’s Education Oversight Committee, Melanie Barton, has said that there is not enough time to make significant changes to the Common Core before the new standards are to take affect in the 2015-16 school year. In other words, Common Core implementation is too far along to simply apply the brakes and reverse.

Consider also how broad the Common Core standards are. For those who haven’t read the entire 149 pages, they include things like this:

(9th-10th grade) Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience.

(11th-12th grade) Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text.

(8th grade) Apply the Pythagorean Theorem to determine unknown side lengths in right triangles.

By and large, the standards are a fairly decent reflection of the things that most students already learn in school. Significantly deviating from these standards (without lowering the bar) would be fairly difficult if only because they proscribe the same basic knowledge and skills that most schools already strive to provide to their students. The standards could be revised or personalized to reflect specific concerns within a given state, but to establish learning standards that are vastly different from the Common Core standards would be a challenge.

Which brings us to those states that never adopted the standards in the first place. For an example, let’s mess with Texas. Texas never adopted the standards. In fact, Texas passed a law that clearly states that they are never, ever allowed to use the Common Core. Yet Texas students will STILL be affected by the Common Core. First, the existing Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills already has significant overlap with the Common Core State Standards (one state curriculum expert estimated that two-thirds of the math standards are practically the same). Second, major textbook publishers are highly unlikely to produce separate non-Common Core materials just for use in the few states that insist that they aren’t Common Core aligned, so students in states like Texas will most likely study textbooks that are Common Core aligned.

Finally, let’s consider the new SAT’s role in all of this. The new SAT will premier in spring of 2016 and will impact any student currently in 9th grade or below who plans to take the SAT on the road to college. The new SAT is also a very close reflection of the Common Core State Standards (which shouldn’t be surprising, since the President of the College Board is also an architect of the Common Core State Standards). This means that any student planning on taking the new SAT will be affected by the  Common Core no matter where they live or what their home states’ policies may be.