The Problem with Common Core Standards

Post submitted by Yong Zhao, author of the upcoming ASCD book Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization.

Yong ZhaoOn Friday, Missouri became the latest state to join the common core standards initiative led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It now seems inevitable that all states (except Alaska, Texas, and South Carolina) will have common standards for English language arts and mathematics. My concern is that this push for state standards is just the first break in the dam before the eventual acceptance of a national curriculum and national testing for these subjects.

For me, the problem is these standards arrive without open discussion. After Education Week’s Sean Cavanagh wrote about the lack of transparency, the group released a preliminary draft of the standards (PDF) to the public late last week. But without a proper channel for such discussion, I am wary of the outcomes. Those groups leading the charge are nonprofit organizations, not government agencies, so they do not have to be held publicly accountable. As such, they do not have to accept any feedback on either the process or content of the standards. Although it seems that the project plans to invite public input, whether such input will be taken seriously is completely up to the project team.

The Obama administration, the nation’s governors and top education officials in 50 states and territories are wagering that, for now, a standardized focus on math and English language arts will make American children globally competitive. Given the significance of such standards, the American people—whose children will be living the consequences—deserve to have some serious input. And the millions of educators who will be held accountable for implementing these standards should be involved in the process and be providing feedback along the way.

Yong Zhao is a university distinguished professor at Michigan State University. His book will be available in late September 2009.