What does it mean that Kansas walked away from the Common Core?

Common Core is essentially a national slate of education standards that essentially says what kids should know at the end of each grade from K-12. So far it’s been formally adopted by most states, although reviews are mixed — some believe it’s basically a power grab by the federal government, while others think the standards, so far, are working. It was the subject of a 12-minute year-in-review type segment on PBS Newshour the other night, to boot:

One interesting element is that Kansas recently (about two weeks ago) bowed out of the process. They’re going to use the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas to make assessments for students, as opposed to the Smarter Balanced State Consortium that is developing Common Core assessments elsewhere. As with everything in life, the issue was ultimately money. The current tests cost about $9-$25 per student to administer; the Smarter Balanced tests might cost in excess of $30 per student to administer, whereas the University of Kansas tests would be back closer to the normal, current range. All told, going with the CETE (KU) route will save the state about $1 million (the CETE tests are still more expensive than the previous option, but they save over the Smarter Balanced option).

Here’s the essential paragraph of the article about the switch:

The plan would change the face of statewide high school testing data, which is currently easily comparable because all students take the same tests. In order to proceed with the plan, Kansas will need to win the approval of the U.S. Department of Education.

If the approval is won, you have an odd situation where you can compare students from Abilene, Kansas and Topeka, Kansas but you can’t compare them to students in Boise, Idaho or Seattle, Washington — and you can’t compare Kansas to other countries. Essentially, Kansas calls it “a journey of flexibility” (which in some ways it definitely represents), but they’re also opting out of something that America — and American education especially — loves to do, which is compare oneself directly to others or a group of others.

Here’s the current state of testing in terms of what states are going what routes:


Interestingly, the entire Plains area isn’t part of an assessment consortium. Each had different reasons — for example, Nebraska didn’t adopt because they saw states adopting “before the standards were written.”

Broadly speaking, and I say this with about 2 years of experience as an inner-city public school teacher and someone that’s been connected to education initiatives for most of my adult life, I think there’s often too much partisan rancor about tests, titles, names, regulations, etc. The decision about where to school a child should be made by the child’s parents. The decision about how to school a child should likely come from the states; they have a better understanding of the context of knowledge within that state and broadly, and the federal government getting deeply involved seems to add more clutter. You can talk idealistically about how a child in Alabama should know the same things as a child in Oregon, and to a point, that’s true — but Alabama is different than Oregon, and the path from sixth grade is likely to be different, so imposing one set of standards is a tough sell logistically. That’s just my take. Plus, education is such a tough sell in general — we live in a world focused on the now (social media) and the quarterly report (business). How do you get people to care about something where you’re not seeing the results for 10-20 years? (Yes, I realize there are annual ranking-of-countries-and-states reports, but in terms of one child in kindergarten, we’re not seeing broader outcomes for a decade.) The whole system is rooted in farming cycles anyway, which shows how quickly we’re adapting to changing circumstances; it might be best to re-think the entirety of practice anyway.

I’m not sure the Kansas bow-out means much more than geographic shifts in how people are perceiving assessments, the need for specific assessments, who they’ll make assessments with, and more. It’ll be interesting to see what continues to happen with Common Core, and whether it really can help America’s students achieve more. I’m kind of dubious right now, but as the Incas said, Hope dies last.

Ted Bauer