Common Core Education Standards

This week I got a campaign questionnaire from a group I hadn’t heard of before about the common core standards and a few other educational issues, wanting my answers to a set of questions they posed.

The group is Washington State Against Common Core so you can probably predict the direction they would like the answers to go. In general it’s better if I don’t answer questionnaires where I categorically disagree with the entire premise of the group as it doesn’t improve world harmony. In this case I thought it would be useful to talk about this topic as it has kicked up some dust lately.

Here are the questions:

  1. Please state your position on Race to the Top reforms, including the Common Core Standards, student data collection, and high-stakes testing.
  1. Please explain your support of or opposition to charter schools as established in Washington state by I-1240.
  1. If elected, would you sponsor or support legislation to withdraw Washington state from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and repeal the Common Core State Standards?

The “Common Core Standards” are a set of expectations about what a child should know and be able to do at various points in their academic career. This is not a complete list of things you’d like your kid to know, but a set of key concepts in mathematics, English and language arts. As with most education topics, this one is highly contentious. The standards were developed by a bipartisan group of states under the auspices of the National Governor’s Association. 45 states adopted the standards, though a couple have dropped out lately for what look like odd political reasons to me.

Learn About Common Core State Standards in 3 Minutes (video)
Learn About Common Core State Standards in 3 Minutes

This is not a list of crazy things, it’s stuff like specific concepts in algebra, being able to read both fiction and non-fiction for meaning, etc. – the things your child needs to know to do well in whatever their post-secondary aspirations are.

My answers are below.

1. Common Core Standards

The common core set of expectations for Washington’s children were a dramatic improvement in the quality of our learning standards. Preparing children for their future is our responsibility, and ensuring that they have the skills and knowledge to succeed in what they do after high school is crucial. With large fractions of the jobs that will be available to our children requiring some kind of post-secondary education, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that they have the educational tools to succeed in college, community college, or technical training that prepares them for a living wage job. These standards do exactly this.

The common core standards were developed by the states and were adopted here in our Washington by a broad bipartisan coalition.

In addition, using common core standards and assessments saves the state a lot of money. Consistent standards should make high-quality educational materials that work for our students more widely available, as they don’t have to be customized for every state. Algebra isn’t different in Minnesota than it is here. By developing tests in conjunction with the other states in our consortium we save tens of millions every year and have higher quality, more adaptive tests. Previous tests didn’t provide much useful information to educators, but the new tests should be able to provide formative tools to teachers to help kids.

Collection of data on both outcomes for students and on how schools spend state dollars allows us to do the kind of research that can aid school districts in improving instruction. We’ve worked very, very hard to collect data in responsible ways, to manage the availability in ways that are 100% compliant with FERPA, the federal student privacy law. Data released by the state never allows identification of individual children.

Prior to this collection school districts routinely ignored terrible educational outcomes for disadvantaged children. By looking at the data by both economic and ethnic subgroups we are able to direct resources and attention to places that aren’t succeeding with ALL of our children.

As we work to ensure that all of our children are able to succeed in the world outside K12 we have to have expectations for everyone in the system, both adults and students. Our testing model tries to ensure that students have achieved a basic level of educational skills.

2. Charter Schools

I supported initiative 1240, as did most other legislators on the Eastside, regardless of party. The initiative allows for a minimal number of charter schools to be created, schools that meet every interesting definition of “public school.” They accept all students, are publicly accountable for the money spent on them, etc.

There are a lot of super-exciting examples of charter schools in America that I’d like to see in Washington. KIPP Academies are providing a great education to low-income middle school students of color, achieving outcomes that are vastly better than traditional public schools in their areas serving similar children. I’d love to have several in Washington. There are many other positive examples.

Of course, there are negative examples as well. Badly run charter schools can be just as bad as badly run traditional schools. Unlike the traditional schools however, we can close badly run charters, and well-run charter networks do exactly this. Washington’s experiment will depend on our willingness to do the same.

  1. Repeal?

As you might expect from these answers, if re-elected I will actively block all attempts to repeal the Common Core standards or our participation in the Smarter-Balanced Assessment Consortium. I would rather spend the tens of millions of dollars necessary to write state-specific tests on educating children than on test development.

I like the article the Chicago Tribune wrote on this issue and agree with them:

Author: Ross

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.

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