This prediction will puzzle, upset, and maybe infuriate a great many readers—and, of course, it could turn out to be wrong—but enough clues, tips, tidbits, and intuitions have converged in recent weeks that I feel obligated to make it:
I expect that PARCC and Smarter Balanced (the two federally subsidized consortia of states that are developing new assessments meant to be aligned with Common Core standards) will fade away, eclipsed and supplanted by long-established yet fleet-footed testing firms that already possess the infrastructure, relationships, and durability that give them huge advantages in the competition for state and district business.
In particular, I predict (as does Andy Smarick) that the new ACT-Aspire assessment system, which is supposed to be ready for use in 2014 (a full year earlier than either of the consortium products) and which some states are considering as their new assessment vehicle, will be joined by kindred products to be developed and marketed by the College Board. And the two of them will dominate the market for new Common Core assessments.
One straw in the wind: Alabama’s
Count us as among those surprised and alarmed by the Republican National Committee’s ill-considered decision to adopt a resolution decrying the Common Core standards as a “nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.” There’s little doubt that this action will bestow a degree of legitimacy upon the anti-standards coalition—and put pressure on Republican governors and legislators to fall in line.
Which is something approaching tragedy. It was Republicans, even conservatives, who first blazed the trail toward higher standards and rigorous accountability in education—the likes of Ronald Reagan, Bill Bennett, Lamar Alexander, and Jeb Bush. To cede this ground to Democrats is an enormous policy and political mistake.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The Common Core standards are worth supporting because they’re educationally solid. They are rigorous, they are traditional—one might even say they are “conservative.” They expect students to know their math facts, to read the nation’s founding documents, and to evaluate evidence and come to independent judgments. In all of these ways, they are miles better than three-quarters of the state standards they replaced—standards that hardly deserved the name and that often pushed the left-wing drivel that Common Core haters say they abhor.
No, they’re not perfect. They can be undermined by curriculum directors who assign teeny-bopper romances, sports bios, and car-repair manuals instead of the good stuff.
I think there’s now a one in three chance that we’ll look back in a year and say that this story was the beginning of the end of the Common Core testing consortia.
PARCC and Smarter Balanced were designed to serve as the cornerstone of the new standards: They were to ensure that the new standards were actually taught, that we collectively set the expectations bar at college- and career-readiness, that states lost the incentive to lower their cut scores, and so on.
Alabama’s decision to drop out of both consortia and choose a battery of ACT exams is enormous. This is the “Plan B” that many states—concerned about the reliability and cost of the consortia-developed tests—have been looking for. It enables a state to remain committed to tough standards and rigorous assessments without putting all of their eggs in the basket of a fragile multi-state entity.
From this point forward, more and more states may reason that ACT is likelier to have its tests ready to go come spring 2015 at a price that is certain and without all of the potential problems inherent in a multi-state procurement-practice-policy initiative.
Translation: There’s a nontrivial chance that we’re about to see an exodus from PARCC and SB. If that happens, the implications will be profound and the questions numerous.
How many and which states remain? Will the consortia be financially sustainable? Will we be able to compare state results? Do states also start to
It was one thing—and a legitimate thing—for Texas to opt out of the new Common Core academic standards for English language arts and math that forty-five other states have embraced. Although the rigorous and generally admirable Common Core is the work of states themselves, Governor Perry and then-commissioner Robert Scott viewed it as federally inspired mischief and an assault on the educational sovereignty of the Republic of Texas. They chose instead to adhere to the Lone Star State’s own expectations for what schools must teach and children should learn.
Well and good—because at the time of those decisions (and still today), Texas could boast strong standards in English language arts; so-so ones in math; solid assessments; and a forceful, results-based accountability system, including the tough part that state after state (including top-scoring Massachusetts) has shown to be key to actual achievement gains: requiring kids to pass the tests and meet the standards in order to graduate.
Then and now, Texas has a “default” high school curriculum designed to prepare students for college-level work and modern careers—the kind with futures—as well as
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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