Guest column: Getting at the truth

The truth about the Common Core State Standards is more complicated than the viewpoints of detractors and advocates would lead you to believe, writes Dawn Anderson in the first of a two-day series.

Few educational topics get people worked up like Common Core State Standards (CCSS), currently being implemented across 44 states and the District of Columbia. The standards were debated in the Republican race for governor between incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter and challenger Russ Fulcher and also were a central topic in the GOP superintendent of public instruction primary.

Anyone giving even a fraction of their attention to public schools has an opinion on CCSS. Some claim that CCSS will cure much of what troubles our public schools. Others believe that the government is one brain chip away from data-collecting using Common Core assessments. Like all vigorous debates, the truth is more complicated than the polarized viewpoints would have you believe.

Is Common Core just another top-down federal mandate? No. CCSS was developed and approved by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. According to, “The Common Core is a state-led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. The federal government played no role in the development of the Common Core.”

Does Common Core dictate content and curriculum? No. Common Core is a set of achievement goals based on what students will be expected to do upon entering college. There is no methodology. There are no specific reading content requirements. Appendices include lists of readings that serve as examples only. No school is required to teach anything from the reading lists.

Where does Common Core funding come from? Several places. Much of the funding and push behind CCSS comes from the Bill Gates Foundation, which infused $147.9 million into private companies. These companies endorse CCSS for various reasons, including capitol ventures. Matched by federal monies from the National Department of Education as part of the race-to-the-top qualifiers, the funding to implement CCSS is hard to resist by cash-strapped states, including Idaho.

Have the Common Core standards been vetted? According to the CCSS website, yes. But the evidence that CCSS will improve education is speculative at best. Diane Ravitch, education policy analyst for the Bush and Clinton administrations, argues, “The biggest fallacy of the Common Core standards is that they have been sold to the nation without any evidence that they will accomplish what their boosters claim.”

One thing is sure: this will not be an inexpensive or trouble-free roll-out. Will Common Core work the way it has been billed once the money is spent and the schools are fully committed to the change? That remains to be seen. In any case, the State Department of Education needs to slow it down and hold off on high-stakes testing until we know if CCSS is really going to work.

Tomorrow: the reality of implementation.