Reagan Study Transformed into Reform Movement: Common Core Standards
A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform is the title of the 1983 report of American President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education. Its publication sparked a renewed interest in education reform efforts. But those efforts were hampered by a splintered discussion of how, when and where the education reform should focus.
Sometime in the next decade, political will began to focus around some key issue for education, specifically, what sort of student should emerge from a high school education. Key business leaders, including technology CEOs entered the debate:
Bill Gates < of Microsoft, Craig Barrett of Intel and Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. of IBM.
The result was the formation of Achieve, Inc. in 1996. Their website describes the formation of this entity:
Created by the nation’s governors and business leaders in 1996, Achieve, Inc., is a bipartisan, non-profit organization that helps states raise academic standards, improve assessments and strengthen accountability to prepare all young people for postsecondary education, work and citizenship. Achieve has helped nearly half the states benchmark their standards and tests against the best examples in this country and abroad and work in partnership to improve teaching and learning. Achieve serves as a significant national voice for quality in standards-based reform and regularly convenes governors, CEOs and other influential leaders at National Education Summits and other gatherings to sustain support for higher standards and achievement for all of America’s schoolchildren.
In short, Achieve brought together business and political concerns in a non-profit organization to design new academic standards. They began with five states in a project to develop the American Diploma Project (ADP).
Here’s the basis of what eventually became the Common Core Standards Initiative. They developed a series of rigorous standards that presented the skills and knowledge that should be exemplified by every student given a high school diploma.
Right from the start, business and political men have been involved in thie ADP efforts. Former Co-Chairs of Achieve, Inc. include Louis V. Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel, and several state governors.
Political Legs to Ideal Education Standards
Still, developing a set of standards for high school graduates isn’t enough. Open debate on the subject of national standards for education could often erupt in arguments. Those involved found a back-door into reform through the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Working through the state governors, Achieve’s staff strongly encouraged the ADP and eventually–at the insistence of governors–state department of education personnel in many states started working with Achieve, Inc. to “align” state standards to the ADP.
As momentum grew, more and more states had their curriculum’s aligned, so that by 2009, about 30 had already been aligned and it was time to announce to the world that reform was at hand.
The announcement was low-key and anticlimactic: the Common Core Standards Initiative stressed, “The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.”
Yes, there were teachers, administrators and experts involved; but the Achieve, Inc. experts– through the governors who strongly encourage state departments of education to comply with the ADP–who ruled the day. The back-door of governors was effective. Today, in 2011, 44 states, plus the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core Standards, at least in name.
Was this a true grass roots effort? No.
Is it a bad effort? Not necessarily.
The back-door implementation of national standards has merely meant that the open discussion of education standards was circumvented. Instead, we have standards that suit the business and political community–which may or may not be in the best interest of students, families, and our country. We don’t know, because there was no discussion. It will come. But way too late to make changes in the Common Core Standards Initiative.
Also, it is already resulting in a backlash: some states are facing legislative bills to rescind the adoption of the standards.