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At the Chalk Face: A July 21, 2014, Update on Common Core, PARCC, and Smarter Balanced

On Sunday, July 20, 2014, I took the day off from writing. No book editing; no blogging.

I think I have done so only for one other day since May.

Instead, I read a book for the sheer enjoyment of reading. I chose my all-time favorite, a work of fiction by C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.

In the preface, Lewis makes the following statement:

A wrong sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.

And so it is with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). CCSS was a train wreck waiting to occur from inception (see here, as well). Thus, to borrow Lewis’ math analogy, the CCSS error occurred in the planning stages. To try to “correct” CCSS at any subsequent point is an utter waste.

When 46 governors and state superintendents decided in 2009 to sign their states up for CCSS, not only did they have no idea what the final product would be; they had no clue concerning the public uproar that would ensue nationally over this supposed “state led” CCSS and its associated assessments.

Let us examine the July 21, 2014, condition of said “uproar.”

Common Core Reflux

CCSS is educational digestive upset. For example, consider the battle over control of the senate in New York state: A powerful driving force is public displeasure over CCSS– not CCSS implementation, either– CCSS existence.

And what of the rest of the 45 states plus DC supposedly committed to CCSS?

Indiana: In April 2014, Indiana became the first state to formally pass legislation to drop CCSS and replace it with state standards that some say continue to closely resemble CCSS.

Add to that US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s threat to withdraw Indiana’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver if he does not approve of Indiana’s state standards.

South Carolina: On May 30, 2014, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed legislation to replace CCSS with committee-created state standards. However, CCSS is to remain in place for the 2014-15 school year. We will have to wait to see how this turns out.

Oklahoma: On June 5, 2014, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation repealing CCSS. Until new standards and assessments are in place, Oklahoma will return to its pre-CCSS standards. Duncan– who insists that CCSS is not a federal program– criticized Fallin for the CCSS repeal and hinted at NCLB waiver issues for Oklahoma. Fallin responded to Duncan’s criticism, renaming federal “assistance” as “coercion.”

Louisiana: On June 18, 2014, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal canceled the CCSS MOU (memorandum of understanding) and pulled Louisiana out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing consortium. He also called for investigation into Louisiana assessment contracts. The state board of education (BESE) and state superintendent, John White, are fighting Jindal on both CCSS and PARCC removal.

Prior to his moving to remove Louisiana from PARCC and CCSS, Jindal hoped that the Louisiana legislature would do so.

It was not to be.

As of June 18, 2014, BESE and the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) have their assessment contracts frozen by Louisiana’s Division of Administration (DOA). As of this moment, Louisiana has no assessments for the 2014-15 school year. (Click here for an update of the situation as of July 18, 2014).

Though a BESE majority and White maintain that Louisiana is still in CCSS, the Louisiana register fails to include the specific naming of either CCSS or PARCC as a mandated component of Louisiana K-12 public education.  This failure to include specific language is a major opening for a lawsuit against BESE for improper procedure regarding CCSS adoption.

NOTE: Even as I was drafting this post, such a lawsuit has indeed come to pass. As of July 21, 2014, 17 Louisiana legislators are suing BESE and LDOE for improper adoption of CCSS.  BESE (the majority) and LDOE responded with this memo, in which they appear to conveniently confuse the terms “national standards” with “nationally recognized standards.” The two terms are not the same, even though BESE (the majority) and LDOE would like for them to be.

Three BESE members agree that proper procedure was not followed and therefore support the July 21, 2014, lawsuit against BESE and LDOE.

Lesson leaned:

Being “state led” from the top down gets messy.

Missouri: On July 14, 2014, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon became the first Democratic governor to sign legislation for creation of work groups to write standards in four subjects, including English and math. CCSS will remain in place until 2016– and possibly beyond.

The legislation specifies that “active classroom teachers shall constitute the majority of each work group” and “shall be selected by professional teachers’ organizations of the state.” The state board of education will be allowed to appoint teachers who are not members of Missouri professional teacher organizations.

One of the risks of the rewrite– especially given that CCSS will remain in place for years until it is completed– is that CCSS could be written into the “new” standards.

Another issue with this plan is that the “professional teachers’ organizations” can drive this bus back to CCSS if they so desire based upon their appointment choices.

North Carolina: In a move similar to that of South Carolina, as reported on July 16, 2014, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory agreed to sign into law a compromise bill that leaves CCSS in place while a committee rewrites North Carolina’s state standards:

The bill repeals Common Core for the state’s K-12 standards and directs the State Board of Education to come up with new ones. A new standards advisory commission would be formed to make recommendations to the board. The commission would be made up of 11 members, some appointed by legislative leaders, one by the governor and others by the State Board of Education.

Common Core, which schools began testing two years ago, would remain in place until the new standards are completed.

Wisconsin: On July 17, 2014, in an effort resembling that of Louisiana Governor Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has formally asked the Wisconsin state legislature to remove Wisconsin from CCSS. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Madison — Republican Gov. Scott Walker said Thursday he wants Wisconsin to repeal the Common Core education standards it has adopted along with most other states, making his strongest statement on the issue yet.

“Today, I call on the members of the state Legislature to pass a bill in early January to repeal Common Core and replace it with standards set by people in Wisconsin,” Walker said in a written statement.

The declaration comes after months of virtually no public debate among Wisconsin lawmakers on the standards; earlier this year, a proposal in the Legislature to undo them went nowhere, with Walker saying little.

As noted above in regards to the NY state senate races, CCSS has become a major political issue– especially for those vying for election or re-election.

The Guvnuhs Just Ain’t So Sure No Mo’

Years ago, the nation’s governors were virtually unified in their promotion of CCSS.

Times, they are a-changin’.

Consider the mood at the June 2014, National Governors Association (NGA) convention in Nashville, as noted in the July 11, 2014, Wall Street Journal:

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The National Governors Association was one of the founders of Common Core, a set of academic standards aimed at raising student achievement. But as Democratic and Republican governors gathered here for summer meetings, Common Core wasn’t on the official agenda, a sign of how the bipartisan idea has become a political minefield. …

Now, the governors’ group is staying out of the fray as states decide how to implement the Common Core into curriculum and whether to offer tests aligned to the new standards. …

Complicating the issue is that both political parties are internally split over Common Core, making it harder for governors to find safe ground, especially if they are eyeing presidential bids in 2016. [Emphasis added.]

 Ironic how it takes an upcoming presidential election to keep NGA “out of the fray as states decide.”

Recall that it was the upcoming 2008 presidential race that placed NCLB reauthorization “out of the fray.”

When Oklahoma Governor Fallin signed to repeal CCSS, US Secretary of Education Duncan dismissed her decision as “politics.”

When Louisiana Governor Jindal turned against CCSS, BESE President Chas Roemer called Jindal’s decision, “presidential politics.”

Of course it is. Funny how it wasn’t “politics” when 46 states and three territories had signed on with NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in 2009 for an as-of-yet unwritten CCSS (and as-of-yet unwritten, federally-funded, consortia-created CCSS assessments) that was supposedly “state led” and that “just happened” to be connected to an upcoming federal Race to the Top.  It’s all right here in this 2009 NGA symposium report. Here is an excerpt:

At the Symposium, Secretary Duncan made an important announcement regarding these funds: $350 million of the Race to the Top funds has been earmarked to support the development of high-quality common assessments. With 46 states and three territories already signed on to the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association-led initiative to develop a set of common core standards that are fewer, clearer, and higher, this announcement was greeted enthusiastically by Symposium participants. 

Yep. No “politics” then, in June 2009. Just now, in summer 2014.

How about those federally funded consortia, PARCC, and Smarter Balanced (SBAC)? How are they faring as of July 21, 2014?


In September 2010, when Duncan awarded $330 million to PARCC ($170 million) and SBAC ($160 million), according to the USDOE press release, the following states were signed on for each of the two consortia:

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is a coalition of 26 states including AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, DC, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, MS, ND, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC and TN.

The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium is a coalition of 31 states including AL, CO, CT, DE, GA, HI, IA, ID, KS, KY, ME, MI, MO, MT, NC, ND, NH, NJ, NM, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, UT, VT, WA, WI, and WV. 

In 2010, some CCSS states had not yet decided upon a single consortium, and they did not know which consortia USDOE would approve for funding; so, 12 states belonged to both PARCC and SBAC: Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

From the outset, PARCC was at a disadvantage since it started with only 25 states and DC (as compared to SBAC’s 31 states).

Let us fast forward to July 2014, when not only have all overlapping states decided upon a single consortium, but also a time when some states have dropped the consortia altogether.

As of July 2014, PARCC appears to have been hit the hardest.  At the time of its US Department of Education grant award in September 2010, PARCC consisted of 25 states and DC. In order to qualify for the total $186 million ($170 million plus $16 million toward CCSS and PARCC implementation), PARCC must consist of 15 states, five of which must be “governing” states (see page 14 of this 250-page application).

In September 2010, PARCC’s governing states were Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and also DC.

CORRECTION 07-22-14: In July 2014, the PARCC website 14 governing states. However, not all (i.e., Indiana and Louisiana) continue to belong to PARCC.

Even though the PARCC continues to list 14 states and DC as consortium members, it must be doing so to try to fool Uncle Sam.  Of the 14 states plus DC listed, Indiana has dropped out, as has Louisiana. It appears that Pennsylvania has also exited both PARCC and SBAC.

PARCC is below the federal 15-state requirement. Wonder what Arne will do? He loves assessments, and especially consortium assessments, so I’m wondering if he will let PARCC slide by as a means of trying to Save the Point of Having a Common Core.

Politics, eh?

On to SBAC.

USDOE funded SBAC $160 million, plus that additional $16 million for CCSS and PARCC implementation.

In 2010, SBAC started with 31 states, 17 of which were designated as governing states (see page 12 of this 200-page application).  Recall that 12 states also had overlapping membership in PARCC; so, it was expected that SBAC might lose some member states.

As of July 21, 2014, SBAC notes 22 states on its website, plus the US Virgin Islands. SBAC is still including Pennsylvania, but as an “advisory state” even though Pennsylvania appears to have exited. The remaining 21 states are listed as SBAC governing states.

SBAC has not dipped down below the 15-state mark as has PARCC.

I wonder, since the nation has been Racing to the Top of somewhere, are the two consortia in a competition of their own? Sort of a Survivor, Consortium Edition?

We’ll just have to keep watching.

My Exit

I realize that what I have posted above does not cover the continued brewings over CCSS and PARCC/SBAC in some states.  What I have tried to capture were definite or impending repeals of CCSS and exits from the associated consortia. If  I have missed something, please let me know in the comments section of this post.

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Mercedes Schneider

Mercedes Schneider is a Louisiana public school teacher and education activist. She holds a Ph.D. in applied statistics and research methods and has taught for th...