How did Common Core State Standards get started? This is part 1 of a series of articles written to give some background to how CCSS were created, how they got into our schools, and who is involved in their creation. Keep in mind, this article just touches on the issues. We will have more detailed information in the various areas later.
Federal Involvement in Schools
Before we dive into how Common Core came about, it’s best to review who is supposed to be in charge of directing education. In the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, education is not listed, which leaves the responsibility up to each individual state, not the Federal Government. However, Congress has the right to pass legislation regarding education.
There are three areas where the Federal Government’s involvement led to Common Core State Standards in the local schools (1):
– Race to the Top Funding
– State Fiscal Stabilization Fund
– Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
Race to the Top
Race to the Top was started in 2009 when Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), known more commonly as the Stimulus Bill (2). This provided $4.35 billion in grant money for states to reform their education systems (5).
The application process required states to commit to six different areas of concern (with the “absolute priority” being the comprehensive approach to education reform”) and a binding agreement to implement common standards and assessments. The standards “ define what students must know and be able to do and… are substantially identical across all States in a consortium. A State may supplement the common standards with additional standards, provided that the additional standards do not exceed 15 percent of the State’s total standards for that content area.”
In order for States to receive much-needed Federal dollars, they had to agree to adopt common standards in a very short time frame. There were two phases: the notice for Phase 1 went out in November 2009 and applications were due by January 2010. For Phase 2, the notice went out in June 2010 and applications were due by September 2010. In addition, the standards hadn’t even been written yet, preventing states from evaluating them prior to agreeing to the implementation.
State Fiscal Stabilization Fund
Published in March of 2009, the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program had $53.6 billion dollars under AARA (the same place the Race to the Top Funds came from) and pledged $48.6 billion to Governors who agreed to advance essential education reforms (6). The remaining $5 billion was to be awarded competitively under Race to the Top. Included in these reforms were standards and assessment, as well as career data systems. The funds were to help stabilize budgets, avoid reduction in education, and make repairs to aging schools and public safety (3).
It appears this program was intended to be a short-term quick solution to prevent states from having to lay off employees in the education field. In return, the states agree to advance the following four areas of education reform:
1) Making progress toward rigorous college and career ready standards and high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students, including English language learners and students with disabilities;
2) Establishing pre-K to college and career data systems that track progress and foster continuous improvement;
3) Making improvements in teacher effectiveness and in the equitable distribution of qualified teachers for all students, particularly students who are most in need;
4) Providing intensive support and effective interventions for the lowest-performing schools.
To apply for funding, states were given notice on May 13, 2009 and had to have their application submitted by July 1, 2009. Again, this was a very tight window to understand the implications and complete the necessary paperwork.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
Although we all desire privacy for ourselves and our children, there are two amendments to FERPA which took effect on January 3, 2012 that are cause for concern (4). The final regulation, which is 58 pages long, states that the amendments were needed to ensure privacy for education records while allowing for effective use of data. They say the use of the data will ensure the best education for our children, but what does that mean?
Included in the changes are definitions for “authorized representative” and “education program,” terms that were previously undefined. These definitions allow greater access to student data and clarify the means in which states can collect and share information under FERPA.
The most troubling of the changes is the data mining that will undermine our privacy. Schools will collect “personally identifiable information,” including a biometric record, which consists of one or more measurable biological or behavioral characteristics that can be used for automated recognition of an individual. Examples include fingerprints, retina and iris patterns, voiceprints, DNA sequence, facial characteristics, and handwriting.” (8).
The Federal Government offered the states a tempting solution during a time of economic collapse. In return for agreeing to implement the “common standards” in schools, states hoped to “win” Race to the Top grant funds. What is so troubling is that the states agreed to adopt these standards through a “binding agreement” when they hadn’t even been written yet, on a timeline that did not allow for questions to be asked or research to be done, and in a time when they were desperate for money.
In Part 2 of this topic, we will look at where the Common Core State Standards came from, who wrote them and what process was used to ensure these were the best standards for our children.
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