by Representative Albert Sommers, House District #20 media release
July 24, 2013
There has been much discussion around the state this summer regarding the appropriateness of the Wyoming State Board of Education adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for school districts in Wyoming. The CCSS are a set of K-12 academic standards in mathematics and English language arts, which were developed in a state-led process under the leadership of governors and state superintendents from 48 states.
In 2009, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top competitive grants to enhance education reform. To be eligible, states had to adopt "internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the work place." This meant that in order for a state to be eligible for these grants, the states had to adopt the CCSS or a similar career and college readiness standard. Race to the Top grants provided an incentive for states to adopt these standards, and may have been the impetus for creating the CCSS. The Race to the Top program was announced on July 24, 2009 and CCSS development was announced on June 1, 2009, which seems too close of a time frame to be unrelated events.
Race to the Top grants were rated based upon the following criteria:
• Great Teachers and Leaders
• State Success Factors
• Standards and Assessments
• General Selection Criteria
• Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools
• Data Systems to Support Instruction
Race to the Top criteria mandates teacher, principal, and school accountability and reform, as well as the CCSS. Wyoming has responded by creating teacher and school accountability statutes, which likely will comply with Race to the Top granting protocols. Wyoming is also developing statewide longitudinal data systems and is in the process of joining a national assessment consortium (Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium), both of which link to more points in the granting protocol. Wyoming currently has not applied for Race to the Top grants, but other states involved in the CCSS development have applied.
In 2001, President Bush proposed legislation entitled No Child Left Behind, and that legislation passed Congress and was enacted in 2002. The legislation created a multitude of benchmarks that K12 schools must meet over a defined timeline, or risk further limitations on how federal funding can be utilized. Those benchmarks were ambitious at best, and for the most part undeliverable in the timelines put forth. In 2012, President Obama developed a No Child Left Behind waiver for states if they submit and get approval for a plan that addresses four principles. The State Education Agency (SEA) (Wyoming Department of Education) must ensure that Local Education Agencies (LEA) (local school districts) fully implement the principles. These four principles are (for more information http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/esea-flexibility/index.html):
1. College- and Career-Ready Expectations for All Students
2. State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support
3. Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership
4. Reducing Duplication and Unnecessary Burden
Principle #1 mandates that states adopt college- and career- ready standards, which the Common Core State Standards comply with. Not only have states been offered a federal government carrot, Race to the Top grants, but they have also been offered a waiver from the big federal stick (No Child Left Behind) if they adopt the CCSS. Principle #2 mandates school accountability, which Wyoming is implementing with the Accountability I legislation. Principle #3 mandates teacher and principal accountability, which Wyoming is developing through the Accountability II legislation. The Race to the Top grants and the waivers to No Child Left Behind mandate the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and statewide education accountability, unless states and school districts are willing to forgo federal dollars, and/or fight the system.
Nearly every educator in Wyoming I have talked to has told me that the Common Core State Standards are highly rigorous standards that will advance education in Wyoming and are a student-support for children who change schools, thus assuring that they have not lost ground (or must repeat) curricula.. However when we join a national assessment consortium and invest in high stakes testing through accountability legislation, then the result could be a very narrow set of curriculum which will fit the assessment protocol for the CCSS. Once curriculum is narrowed around the nation to fit these national assessments it only stands to reason that text book companies will narrow what they provide, which will further narrow curriculum development. Therein lies the rub and my concern about too stringent of an accountability system coupled with national assessment consortiums. We still have the opportunity in Wyoming to utilize our accountability system as a means to assess where we need to provide supports to local school districts, and not head down the path of a system designed to punish and humiliate districts. We want innovation, we want diversity of thought in how to educate students in this state and country, and we do not want a one size fits all system that fits nobody. We need to stay vigilant, keep asking tough questions, and be ready and willing to not follow the national path if that path does not fit Wyoming. One district superintendent in Sublette County told me they have titled their effort as Common Core-Common Sense, and I believe if we allow local districts the opportunity to implement the Common Core with common sense, then students will benefit.
Representative Albert Sommers
House District #20