Why Haven’t We Seen Common Core Standards Until Now?

Efforts under the administrations of President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton to establish Common Core Standards among the states failed because of a few key elements. Take a look at these issues:

  • State leaders want to retain oversight. In general, each state has a department of education, although the name sometimes varies from state to state. Among other things, the departments of education oversee education policy, administer statewide assessments, distribute federal and state funding, and monitor compliance with state and federal laws.

    State lawmakers, policymakers, and leaders oversee a majority of the decisions relating to education. Differences of opinion over what’s best for students and a desire to remain competitive with other states have made agreeing on national reforms very difficult.

  • Educators want to maintain local control over curriculum. Some teachers and parents feel threatened by standards because they see standards as the government’s attempt to dictate curriculum. They don’t realize that standards dictate only what students need to know upon completion of each grade level.

    Curriculum choices, including which materials are used to teach certain subjects in each grade, are still left up to schools and districts. However, fears of government overreach are still a barrier for some people.

    Common Core Standards don’t dictate curriculum — how teachers teach and the specific materials they use to help their students meet the expectations outlined by the standards. The standards establish expectations for what students know and are able to do academically at different grade levels.

  • Reaching consensus is difficult. National leaders find it easier to agree that all students should be proficient in reading than to reach a consensus on what they should read. The same is true in other subject areas. Tensions over nailing down the specifics of what should be taught nationwide have been a major contributing factor to the failure of previous education-reform efforts.

    For the most part, Common Core clears this hurdle by focusing on what students should know and not how they come to know it.

Recognizing these barriers, you can better understand why the discussion of standards common to all states raises concerns. In the 1990s, several efforts to rally support for common standards were put on hold because of fears that local control would be compromised.

Who decides what goes in the standards? What materials will be used to teach? When is a student supposed to know certain material and master certain skills? Differences of opinion over the answers to these questions represent some of the reasons that previous efforts to develop common standards were unsuccessful.

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