While the federal regulation leading to Common Core started way back in 2001, the actual Common Core State Standards were birthed by the Gates Foundation in 2008. Since then, Common Core has changed education, elicited backlash, and sparked controversy. Still, the Common Core State Standards have continued to progress.
Education was largely reserved for local municipalities and states from the inception of our nation – explaining why homeschool laws differ from state to state. But the federal government became more involved with education in 1953 when President Eisenhower organized a new Cabinet department: Health, Education and Welfare. Federal involvement again leapt forward when Jimmy Carter established the US Department of Education in 1979.
Federal education bills date back to the 60’s. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 has been re-authorized by Congress about every five years since its inception. When the act was reauthorized in 2001 under George W. Bush, it was dubbed No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Striving to ensure that all children in America would be educated equitably (none “left behind”), NCLB required each state to establish clear educational standards, ensure that those standards were taught, and then annually test students to demonstrate certain levels of student mastery. Tests like the WESTEST were produced to demonstrate mastery of individual states’ standards.
The percent of students mastering the material was expected to rise each year or federal funding would decrease. Suddenly, individual children’s needs took a back seat to meeting federal requirements; within a few years, several states were poised to lose their funding because not enough students were testing at mastery levels. These tended to be the poorest states, West Virginia included. They frantically scrambled to improve test scores, only to realize there was too much to accomplish in too little time. As a result, West Virginia and other states hoped to either get new federal legislation with fewer requirements, or else standardize requirements in such a way that mastery requirements were attainable. This need, common to several states, set the stage for a massive change – and a massive marketing strategy.
In 2008, the Gates Foundation began development of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). With universal state standards, a common test and corresponding curriculum could be marketed across many, if not all, states. Every state would need and want the same things. West Virginia adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010 with full implementation to occur by the 2014-15 school year. The WESTEST was subsequently replaced with a Common Core test (General Summative Assessment) developed by one of two national consortia.
The CCSS Initiative proved to be incredibly profitable when in 2009 President Obama embedded a new program, Race to the Top, into the Stimulus Bill. Race to the Top provided several billion dollars that poorer states could compete for if they would commit to adopting the Common Core State Standards. This notable, frightening change in education essentially allowed the federal government to pay states to participate in a private enterprise. West Virginia, as a participant in RTT, is one of thirty-one states receiving federal grant money to replace paper tests with computer adaptive technology.
This shift is a game changer on several levels. Whether the increasing amount of federal initiative in education is an improvement over the education previously driven by local concern and local teachers is hotly debated. By all accounts it is changing the face of education nationwide by creating a national “one size fits all” scenario. Indeed, curriculum providers have since rushed to align their books with standards mandated by Common Core. Since mastery of Common Core State Standards is the goal, the marketable curriculum must teach those same standards. College entrance exams are following suit. For example, Pearson, arguably the largest book publisher in the world, nearly retired its long-standing Stanford standardized test last year in order to focus funds on tests aligned with Common Core.
Back in 2012, CHEWV voiced concern over whether the Common Core State Standards would affect curriculum, standardized tests, and college expectations. Common Core has in fact affected at least two of those three in the interim. Homeschooling parents now ponder how CCSS may impact how homeschoolers are accepted into and flourish in college. Some worry that if they teach traditional and Christian curriculum that does not align with CCSS, their children may be disadvantaged when CCSS drive college admission. Still, there is no evidence thus far that homeschoolers are scoring lower on college entrance exams since these changes began. To the contrary, homeschooled students scored higher on the SAT college entrance exam in 2014 compared with the national average.
Although CCSS have not negatively affected college-bound homeschool students to date, will Common Core adversely affect homeschoolers in the future? We suspect that the superior education that homeschoolers receive (on statistical average) compared with public education will prove to insulate them. Some homeschool leaders indeed project that homeschool students will do even better by comparison in this environment. Although that’s yet to be determined, it seems safe to assume that as we educate our children for God’s glory, the Lord will provide!
For more information about Common Core, visit http://www.hslda.org/commoncore/. For how WV homeschoolers are faring compared with their public school counterparts, see CHEWV’s report at http://www.chewv.org/Study_Brochure5.pdf.