Culture

Actually, No, Governors & Classroom Teachers Did NOT Write the Common Core Standards

Ohio Governor John Kasich appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace in January and made a claim about the origins of the Common Core State Standards. “These were governors who helped create Common Core,” insisted Kasich, who is pondering a presidential run. “That up-close involvement means they know Common Core wasn’t Obama-driven.” He went on to say that the standards were “written” by state education superintendents and local principals, a claim he has made repeatedly as he has stubbornly defended the standards in the face of growing public resistance. For emphasis, he added that the standards were “created by local school boards.”

Try to imagine for a moment the hilarity that would ensue during a giant conclave of governors (from both parties), state school superintendents, local principals, and local school boards tasked with writing national education standards.

But that’s not all.

The Common Core State Standards website claims that the National Governors Association was involved in writing the standards, as was the Council of Chief State School Officers, teachers, parents, school administrators, standards experts from across the country and the alphabet soup of education special interest groups — the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) along with “other organizations.”

If that sounds like way too many cooks in the kitchen, you’re right. A group that large with a myriad of diverse and competing interests could not possibly be expected to sit down in a room together (if a large enough room could be found) and agree upon a list of all the things every student in the nation should know before they graduate from high school. Sure, those special interest groups could give input and make suggestions, but when it came time to sit down and actually write the standards, that responsibility fell to a pair of workgroups and a handful of individuals who received their marching orders from three groups: the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and Achieve, Inc.

It started with the Memorandum of Agreement (MOAs) that 46 states signed in 2009 when they agreed to take Race to the Top funding in exchange for implementing the not-yet-written Common Core standards. The “owners” of the copyrighted Common Core States Standards (CCSS) are named in the title of the MOA: The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices Common Core Standards Memorandum of Agreement. 

Neither group has any authority to make decisions that are legally binding on the states; nevertheless the states agreed when they signed the MOAs that the writing of standards could be assigned to a pair of “work groups” — one for the math standards and one for English Language Arts. 

It’s important to note a few things about the NGA. Though governors do vote to express some measure of solidarity with shared priorities during the group’s two annual meetings, details about how the governors vote (or whether individual governors even show up to vote) are not released to the public, despite the fact that the group is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Five Republican governors — from Florida, Maine, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Texas — have publicly withdrawn their membership from the group in recent years, saying membership in the group was a waste of time and taxpayer money. So when Common Core supporters try to say that the effort to create the standards was “led by the nation’s governors” and they cite the NGA’s involvement as proof, it must be understood that the NGA’s support is not necessarily representative of the nation’s governors and it certainly does not represent the will of state legislatures, which did not have a say in signing the MOAs.

Achieve, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to promoting higher educational standards, joined with the NGA and the CCSSO in 2009 to begin working on the CCSS standards, but again, the actual work of writing them fell to the two work groups. (A year later, Achieve, Inc. signed on as a “Project Management Partner” for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers [PARCC] tests.)

Mercedes Schneider described the 24 individuals who participated in the work groups (all of whom had to sign confidentiality agreements about what went on at the meetings). She said that instead of teachers with classroom experience, the groups were stacked with individuals with “ACT” and “College Board” credentials.

In the math work group:

In sum, only 3 of the 15 individuals on the 2009 CCSS math work group held positions as classroom teachers of mathematics … Only one CCSS math work group member was not affiliated with an education company or nonprofit.

And in the English Language Arts work group:
In sum, 5 of the 15 individuals on the CCSS ELA work group have classroom experience teaching English. None was a classroom teacher in 2009. None taught elementary grades, special education, or ESL, and none hold certifications in these areas. Five of the 15 CCSS ELA work group members also served on the CCSS math work group. Two are from Achieve; two, from ACT, and one, from College Board.

Within the work groups there were a handful of lead writers who did the bulk of the work: David Coleman (who is now president of the College Board, which administers the SAT) and Susan Pimentel in English, and Jason Zimba, Phil Daro, and William McCallum in math.

There were also two feedback groups, which, like the work groups, were stacked heavily with professors and included only one math teacher. These groups were tasked with providing research and advice to the writers. Finally, there was a validation committee which was supposed to sign off on the standards after ensuring they were “research and evidence-based.” Five of the 29 members of the validation committee refused to sign off on the CCSS, though the final report failed to mention that fact.

Last week Kasich defended the statements he has made about the the genesis of the Common Core standards, telling reporters at Nashua Community College, “I said, ‘If I don’t know what I’m talking about, please correct me,’ and I was met with profound silence.” He said that concerns about the standards are a “runaway internet campaign.” If Kasich were so inclined, he could, with just a few simple Google maneuvers, discover plenty of evidence (on that internet he so quickly dismissed) that would “correct” his mistaken statements about who wrote the standards, including these articles from Neal McCluskey at U.S. News and World Report and Joy Pullman at The Federalist, education activist Diane Ravitch, and Steve Byas at The New American.

Today, I add my voice to those telling Kasich he’s dead wrong about who wrote the Common Core State Standards. While he’s correct to say that President Obama didn’t write them, neither did Kasich. Nor did his predecessor, Democrat Ted Strickland, or any other governor. And the claim that the standards were written by teachers only rings true if by “teachers” you mean experts in testing and assessment.