The Common Core and the Private School: The Overreaching Effects of a National Standard
This is part of a series of research reports on the Common Core.
As parents, educators, and legislators learn more about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and doubts continue to rise, the fact that the CCSS have become a national standard presents real challenges to a group that is already providing excellent education—private, faith-based schools.
These schools are successful because of their ability to maintain autonomy, and, in the case of religious schools, their faith-based mission. They enjoy the freedom to make decisions regarding curriculum and teaching methods that best follow their mission. This kind of “local control” allows them to best meet the individual educational needs of their students, and, in the case of faith-based schools, provide an excellent education from a religious worldview. They are not funded by tax dollars, and their accountability is to the parents— the strongest accountability a school can have. Although these schools are not required to follow government direction regarding standards and curriculum, the CCSS as a national standard will negatively affect the autonomy of these schools, chipping away at the religious freedom enjoyed by faith-based schools.
The CCSS began as a joint effort between the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSSO) to design a set of curriculum standards that could help all students reach the same base-line goals. This collaboration was initially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and resulted in the publication of the Common Core Standards, issued in April 2010. The first two sets of standards published were in Mathematics and English Language Arts. Remaining to be published are standards in Science and Social Studies, both of which arguably could be the more controversial of the four standards, especially for faith-based or classical curriculum-based schools.
Since the release of the CCSS in 2010, there has been a growing controversy surrounding the standards. Supporters claim the CCSS will allegedly raise the standard of education in America, increase literacy, and prepare students for college and global competitiveness, while the opposition argues that the standards are nothing more than a national standard that impedes educational progress by imposing a “one size fits all approach” from the federal government. Educational experts have pointed out that the goal of a national standard inevitably will be to close the achievement gap, which will result in mediocre academics and a “race to the middle.”
More specifically, the English Language Arts standards have been criticized for being heavy on the technical and informative writing, and lacking in the classics. The Mathematics standards received criticism for only taking students to math skills of Algebra 2, rather than reaching for skills developed through trigonometry and calculus. Additionally, there has been a flurry of state legislative pushback as states realize the high cost of implementation and assessments for the CCSS. The American Federation of Teachers called for a moratorium on the CCSS due to a lack of professional development to prepare teachers for implementing the CCSS.1 Even several U.S. Senators have written a joint letter opposing the standards based on the fact that the standards are tied to federal dollars which means they are not simply a “state-led” effort.
This may be the most troublesome problem with the CCSS – the strong ties to billions of federal dollars. While the CCSS may have started out as an effort between the NGA and the CCSSSO, the federal Race to the Top funds – for which states competed in 2010 through 2012 – were contingent on states’ adoption of the CCSS. Adoption of “college and career ready standards” constituted 40 of the possible 500 points in the Race to the Top application, and the CCSS were the only standards that met the criteria for that definition. Indeed, this “dangling carrot” in the form of billions of dollars caused 45 states and the District of Columbia to adopt the CCSS before they were even released (and, as noted earlier, are still not finalized as in the case of the social studies and science standards). An additional $350 million was awarded to two consortia of states through the Race to the Top Assessment competition to develop an assessment that was aligned with the CCSS.
Then, in the spring of 2013 the U.S. Department of Education established a federal review board whose sole purpose is to assess the assessment for the CCSS. With the amount of federal funds being poured into the CCSS adoption, the assessments, and the review of the assessments, the CCSS really cannot be called a “voluntary, state-led” effort. Rather, it has become a standard with the financial backing and support of the federal government. One could arguably call this a federal standard.
This is not the first time a national standard has been considered by the federal government. In 1995, a national standard for social studies was voted down 99-1 by the U.S. Senate because the standards had become too politicized. This is one of the problems of a national standard: It easily becomes politicized and influenced by controversial societal norms. Such politicization will undoubtedly conflict with traditional values and beliefs undergirding the teaching-learning process. In 1995, political correctness rose up against historical fact, weakening the educational value and demonstrating the danger of politicization when government decides standards.
Another major problem with the CCSS lies in the fact that a national standard by default will bring a national curriculum and a national test. (What good is the standard without a curriculum to meet the standard and a test to ensure the standard has been met?) As previously mentioned, the U.S. Department of Education has not only incentivized the creation of a national test for the CCSS, it also established a review board to assess the assessment! With an endorsement like this from the federal government, the standards and the tests will clearly be controlled from the federal level, rather than the local level where the best educational decisions can be made.2 3
So what does the CCSS mean for private, faith-based schools if they are not required by the government to follow the standards? Consider a few important facts: Recent announcements reveal that the ACT, SAT, and GED tests will be aligned to the CCSS. Students in private, faith-based schools take these tests. As teachers in these schools prepare their students for these tests, they will need to include the information which is necessary to succeed on these tests and this could potentially conflict with their freedom to teach from a religious worldview or in a way that best reflects their core educational beliefs. When students apply to colleges and universities, their transcripts are considered for acceptance. Students could face discrimination by a higher education entity if they graduated from a school that did not adhere to the CCSS. Scholarship money for students desiring to be teachers could be tied to whether or not the college to which the student is applying is teaching the CCSS and the methodologies necessary to work in that environment.
The University of California already refuses to accept some high school credits that follow certain Christian-based textbooks, so it is not a far-fetched idea that colleges will accept only those course credits that follow texts and content aligned with the CCSS. This is all ironic of course, considering that it is a well-known fact that students from private, faith-based schools generally do much better on college entrance tests and are much better prepared for college.4 This all places a burden on the private, faith-based school to prove its academics are of a higher quality, exceeding the standards.
Education in America has always thrived because of its diversity and freedom. Improved educational quality will not result from federally-coerced uniformity. Rather, a better path to raising standards would be to establish educational options that would not only improve education in all schools but would also protect the autonomy and religious liberty that allow private, faith-based schools great success.