While hundreds of higher education leaders from across the country are intensifying their support of the controversial Common Core State Standards, a major financier of the academic benchmarks is expected to urge states to slow down and delay high-stakes consequences tied to them.
More than 200 leaders in 33 states Tuesday announced the formation of their coalition – Higher Ed for Higher Standards – urging states reconsidering whether to adopt the standards or the aligned assessments to stay the course and make adjustments with implementation along the way. The Common Core standards, they said, are necessary to improve college completion rates and economic success.
"This is a great pathway for our young people realizing their dreams of graduating high school, attending college and preparing for careers," said Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York, during a call with reporters. The standards, Zimpher said, are "a blueprint, a pathway for, quite frankly, sealing the leaks in the educational pipeline."
Common Core opponents have listed a number of concerns during the last several years, ranging from concerns with the content and rigor of the standards themselves, to the perception that the Obama administration's support of the standards is a federal takeover of education.
John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, emphasized the role high elementary and secondary school standards can have in reducing the need for remedial education in college. Currently, half of students entering two-year colleges and about 20 percent of those entering four-year colleges need to take remedial courses, Morgan said. Those students also have much lower course completion and graduation rates than students who do not take remedial courses.
The "sad truth," Morgan said, is that fewer than 10 percent of those students graduate from community college within three years, and just more than one-third complete bachelor's degrees in six years.
"Every institution of higher learning has a clear and compelling interest in changing this trend," Morgan said. "While our colleges are working very hard to re-engineer our remedial and developmental education approaches … there's really no possibility of matching the results that will be achieved by having students actually enter our institutions ready for college-level work."
Meanwhile, it's expected that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – which was instrumental in providing financial support for the standards – will call for a moratorium on the high-stakes consequences of the standards, such as linking assessment outcomes to graduation requirements or teacher evaluations, to give states more time to fully implement the standards.
Education leaders and teachers unions across the country that have supported the standards recently have changed their tune somewhat – they're less forgiving of how the standards are being implemented and are calling for similar slowdowns. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in 2013 delivered a speech calling on states to delay the consequences of Common Core assessments for teachers and students.
"If we're able to step on the accelerator of quality implementation, and put the brakes on the stakes, we can take advantage of this opportunity and guarantee that deeper, more rigorous standards will help lead to higher achievement for all children," Weingarten said.
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, in February called the implementation of Common Core in several states "completely botched."
"It would be simpler just to listen to the detractors from the left and the right who oppose the standards. But scuttling these standards will simply return us to the failed days of No Child Left Behind, where rote memorization and bubble tests drove teaching and learning," Van Roekel said. "NEA members don’t want to go backward; we know that won’t help students. Instead, we want states to make a strong course correction and move forward."
But Zimpher, who also chairs the National Association of System Heads, said there is confusion over what problems stem from the standards themselves.
"That's not a problem of the standards, that is a problem of the implementation schedule, and quite frankly, the last several decades of assessment-driven instruction that has got everyone a little bit worried," Zimpher said.Proponents of the standards have said delaying implementation or temporarily de-linking accountability measures from the aligned assessments would derail things even further, and the higher education supporters agreed.
"That’s what we’re trying to clarify here: hold fast on the standards and then as we implement the assessment strategy, if it doesn't work for all the stakeholders, we’ll slow it down, or we’ll amend it, or we’ll learn from current practice," Zimpher said. "We’re trying to manage the implementation, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath – we need the standards."