This morning, the Governor’s Council on Common Core Review, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin, voted on a set of “final findings and recommendations” regarding the contentious Common Core State Standards. The decision by the 17-member board to accept Griffin’s draft recommendations was unanimous. (Charisse Dean, a member of the council who was recently appointed to the State Board of Education, was not present.)
The council recommended Arkansas stick with Common Core while the Arkansas Department of Education conducts “a comprehensive review of the standards with the goal of revising, improving and replacing, as warranted, both the Mathematics and ELA [English Language Arts] standards… .”
Education Commissioner Johnny Key, although he’s not a part of the council, presented a letter that included a timeline for review of the standards by his department. ADE will survey educators and districts and share results with the state board in November, it says.
The council also recommended that “the Governor maintain the current [Common Core State Stndards] until changes, revisions and improvements to the standards are implemented.” That is, no changes to standards will be forthcoming in the upcoming academic year. There may be tweaks and additions down the line, but an actual overhaul is hard to imagine, considering the Education Department has been working to implement Common Core for years now. I doubt they’ll suddenly gut the standards.
In other words, the group formed to conduct a review of Common Core, after 40 hours of hearings held around the state over the past few months, has concluded that the Education Department should review Common Core. So what exactly happened here?
The short answer is “very little.” Common Core is a political hot potato, especially among certain Tea Party-affiliated elements of the GOP’s base, and the past several months of “study” have been intended to absorb some of that heat by routing the “decision” to keep the standards (which many, including me, have always assumed was a foregone conclusion) through a convoluted process and a “listening tour” around the state. Honestly, it seems to have worked. Even among the Republican Party’s restive right wing in the legislture, strident opposition to Common Core hasn’t congealed in the way it has in other states. It’ll be interesting to see if anti-Common Core activists raise a fuss about today’s recommendations, but folks in the audience didn’t seem particularly perturbed at this morning’s meeting. Maybe they’ll be content with the illusion that the council had real decisionmaking ability.
Or maybe that’s too cynical. Although the political shell game is obnoxious, this isn’t a bad outcome in the end. On one level, it’s hard not to relish the division between top-down education reformers like the Walton Family Foundation (a strong proponent of CCSS) and conspiracy-minded conservative activists. But really, what matters for Arkansas schools is having good educational standards and a good assessment by which to test whether students have achieved those standards. As a matter of policy — and standards have always been much more of a technical policy decision than anything else, despite their bizarre politicization in recent years — maybe it’s best that a protracted public squabble has been avoided. I’ll give Griffin credit that he’s at least allowed people to be heard on this issue.
We’ll see whether the new assessment — the ACT Aspire — is decent, or in any case better on balance than the ill-begotten PARCC test thrown out the window by the governor on the previous advice of Griffin and the council. But it appears the standards themselves at least will be sticking around, although they’ll very likely be rebranded as something other than “Common Core.”
Still, there’s a pronounced irony in the fact that the recommendations today say the governor should direct the education experts at ADE to review Common Core. Wasn’t the point of the council to create a citizens’ group of “parents, educators and concerned Arkansans” as an antidote to the technocratic process by which the common standards were originally created? The crafting of the standards, by the way, was not directed by the federal government, but by a collaboration of state-level education officials, including delegates from Arkansas.
When I asked Griffin today whether the recommendations essentially put the decision for the future of the standards back in the hands of experts at the state Education Department, he disagreed. “It’s up to the governor. ADE works for the governor,” he said.
UPDATE: Hutchinson issued a statement praising Griffin and the council’s work. “My next step is to review and discuss these recommendations with the Department of Education and the Board of Education to determine the timing and specifics of proposed changes,” the governor said.