The Common Core State Standards Initiative, more commonly known simply as “common core,” is a voluntary program to align education curriculum standards across American states. As of mid-2013, the vast majority of American states have adopted the common core framework. However, the program remains extremely controversial in some circles, and some states which joined the program are examining options to reduce their participation or drop out altogether.
Common core, which has been eagerly promoted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, began in the 1990s, but the first common curriculum standards documents have only been drawn up over the past five years. Formal documents lay out standards in math, English, and so on, which the states must then meet. The common core standards do not prescribe exactly what must happen in every classroom in a state, but they do establish certain expectations which the state curriculum must be able to meet. Because the program is voluntary, at least for the time being, states that sign on are also free to leave or to develop their curricula in ways that only implement the standards selectively.
As of mid-2013, the official website of the Common Core State Standards Initiative shows that “forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity,” which provides schooling on military bases, have adopted common core. Only the states of Alaska and Texas, and the territory of Puerto Rico, have so far refused to join common core outright. Minnesota is selectively implementing common core standards in mathematics only, while Nebraska and Virginia joined the common core organization but have not yet chosen to implement the standards.
From the perspective of the promoters of common core, this track record seems to be one of great success. However, there has also been a backlash against common core, led by Republican politicians in some states, who argue that it is a national or federal intrusion into an area where states should reserve the right to make their own choices. The education sector is not unanimous in its support for the specific standards that were drawn up, and many worry that a single national standards document leaves insufficient room for state schools to emphasize particular issues of local importance.
With those concerns in mind, the future of common core remains uncertain. Recently, according to the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, politicians in several common core states have begun to urge separation from common core. Indiana’s senate has already passed legislation suspending implementation of the program. When the bill was first introduced, by senator Scott Schneider (Republican), the Heritage Foundation says it used much stronger language that would have pulled Indiana out of common core altogether. The Heartland Institute has also reported that Alabama is leaving the national testing groups formed as part of common core, although it, too, is not yet pulling out completely. Legislation to restrict common core has also been tabled in Georgia, Indiana, and South Dakota.
For the moment, common core appears to be growing in importance, with the vast majority of American states committed to developing a single set of educational standards for all students in the nation. However, whether it will successfully unify schooling across the country, or eventually collapse like so many other educational initiatives, remains to be seen.