WASHINGTON, D.C., November 18, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Once deemed inevitable, the new national “Common Core” education standards are being challenged by grassroots pressure in states across the country amid concerns that the standards are insufficiently rigorous and represent a troubling overreach by the federal government.
In Tennessee, one group of citizens fighting the standards are parents who home-school their children.
According to the Tennessee Department of Education’s official policy, parents who home-school their children in Tennessee have been assured that “adoption of Common Core State Standards has no impact on homeschooling.” However, a post published by the Home School Legal Defense Association’s (HSLDA) Senior Counsel Dee Black is pushing back against this claim.
Black writes that “state law requires that students not being homeschooled through enrollment in a church-related school but through their local school district must take the same standardized tests required of public school students in grades 5, 7, and 9.” Since the state requires a test for 5th-graders, a small percentage of the state’s home-schooled students must take the Common Core standard test in February 2014.
Across the country, however, that small percentage adds up to big numbers. HSLDA shows 27 states require test scores be sent by parents who home-school their students.
Adopted by Tennessee in 2010, and 45 states in total, Common Core is an international standard for math and English education deemed too big and ineffective by opponents and a necessary across-the-board improvement in education standards by supporters. In recent months, Republican-controlled states have pushed back against Common Core, most prominently in Indiana, Michigan, Georgia, and Florida.
In Florida, Governor Rick Scott has signed an Executive Order removing his state from national Common Core tests, citing state independence. Indiana governor Mike Pence has put Common Core implementation on hold while the state implements an examination of the financial cost of Common Core and compares the state’s existing standards to Core standards.
Those standards are strictly limited to math and language areas of education, but according to two prominent critics – the only members of the Common Core math committee’s eight standard creators to not approve the standards – the standards are well below those accepted by “selective colleges,” and would not compare well to East Asian nations, respectively. They are also below those seen in some Catholic schools.
Eagle Forum Executive Director Glyn Wright says that Common Core’s standards “are subpar to the standards that were already used by many states. The standards are not internationally benchmarked, and there is no empirical data or even a study that proves the standards will improve anything.”
Common Core was adopted by cash-strapped states in 2009 and 2010 as part of requirements under Race to the Top, a federal education grant program started under President Obama. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also been prominent a supporter of the program, and has provided funding in support of Common Core. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush-founded Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) has also stood behind Common Core.
According to FEE, adoption of Common Core standards is “at the discretion of state-level policymakers to either join or withdraw from participation.” While this is technically true, Texas Governor Rick Perry wrote to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in 2010 that such independence is ultimately illusory. According to Perry in January 2010, “[Race To The Top]…effectively mandates adoption of…national curriculum standards being developed through the Common Core Initiative.”
Common Core backers have defended this de facto “national curriculum” as exempting privately educated students. Kristy Campbell of FEE told LifeSiteNews.com that “some who oppose higher standards, and the Common Core State Standards, have misrepresented how this initiative affects schools that are not traditional public schools. State standards already exist, and raising [a state’s] standards does not change the current environment when it comes to parental choice, and private, faith-based and home schools are not required to adopt the new standards, although many are doing so willingly because they are higher standards.”
HSLDA’s Director of Federal Relations, William Estrada, differs on the impact that non-publicly educated students will face from Common Core. He wrote to LifeSiteNews.com that “while the Common Core does not currently apply to homeschools or private, we are seeing tests like the SAT, ACT, and others being aligned to the Common Core. HSLDA is very concerned that this will be a back door way in which the Common Core will affect homeschool families. In addition, we are very concerned that if the Common Core Standards, and the tests and curriculum which are following them, truly do become a national curriculum, pressure will build for homeschool and private school students to be taught according to the Common Core.”
Glyn Wright told LifeSiteNews.com that Common Core “will eventually affect homeschools, private schools, and parochial schools through the state longitudinal databases, revised standardized tests, updated curricula, and the alignment of college admissions testing like the ACT and SAT to the Common Core.”
Critics of Common Core’s future impact on national tests point to how one of Common Core’s leading proponents, David Coleman, is now head of The College Board, which has a monopoly on the SATs and Advanced Placement exams. The Board is already looking at changing the SAT for 2015’s students.
In an e-mail, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Senior Communications Officer Deborah Robinson told LifeSiteNews.com, “The Foundation focuses its investments on public schools, and not issues specifically related to homeschooled children. We support the implementation of the Common Core State Standards because we believe there should be clear guidelines for what college ready students should know and be able to do at each grade level in math and English – no matter where a student lives in the country.”
But according to Wright, “college ready” does not equate to being ready for rigorous higher education programs. “In fact, one of the creators of the Common Core admitted in 2010 that ‘college ready’ under the Common Core means ready for a non-selective two-year community college instead of a selective four-year institution.”
Catholic schools have not proven immune to the appeal of money from the Gates Foundation and the federal government to implement the standards. Anne Hendershott of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University writes that over 100 dioceses across the nation have accepted the standards. This is also facing pushback, by parents and top Catholic education scholars alike.
According to Patrick J. Reilly, president of The Cardinal Newman Society, Common Core standards are unnecessary and won’t benefit Catholic school students. “On the federal NAEP tests, Catholic schools have significantly outperformed public schools for 20 years, especially in reading scores.”
Reilly said Catholic schools have also outscored public school students on the SAT. In 2011, Catholic schools outscored public school students by 82 points in reading, 27 in math, and 55 in writing. “Catholic school parents care about Catholic identity, school environment and learning outcomes. But they have never clamored for conformity to public school standards, and Common Core can't help Catholic schools on any of these points.”
Another major criticism of Common Core is that its implementation was never fully debated or discussed. A recent poll shows 62% of Americans have never heard of Common Core. Most states adopted it through governors’ offices and state education boards, not legislative efforts or votes by citizens. This lack of involvement has been reversed, with critics on the left and right getting involved, and many on-the-ground educators pointing out how their input was not requested.