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Evaluating Common Core: A Holistic Understanding of Educational Standards

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Evaluating Common Core: A Holistic Understanding of Educational Standards
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Journal of Undergraduate Research
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Gettenberg, Mia
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Gainesville, Fla.
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University of Florida
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The goal of this project was to discover how and why the Common Core State Standards were created and implemented in Florida public schools, namely in the local Gainesville area. In particular, this study focused on the various educational philosophies that may have contributed to the development of the Common Core guidelines and utilized previous research literature to observe how Florida adopted these standards. Further, this study attempted to look at a wide array of perspectives on the standards themselves, comparing political voices in support of and against Common Core. At the local level, this project incorporated more detailed answers from several educators in the Gainesville, Florida, community. Interviewees, like their counterparts in previous studies, had mixed reactions: While most educators in the primary and secondary data understood and supported the overall motivations of Common Core, some (a) felt inadequately prepared to teach to these standards, (b) expressed concerns about budgetary issues surrounding new standards and resources, or (c) some combination of these two. With more time, researchers can perhaps evaluate the short- and long-term effects of Common Core with greater accuracy and offer realistic policy implications to supplement or improve the current standards and their use in the classroom.

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University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 1 9 Issue 2 | Spring 2018 1 Evaluating Common Core: A Holistic Understanding of Educational Standards Mia Gettenberg College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Florida The goal of this project was to discover how and why the Common Core State Standards were created and implemented in Florida public schools, namely in the local Gainesville area. In particular, this study focused on the various educational philosophies tha t may have contributed to the development of the Common Core guidelines and utilized previous research literature to observe how Florida adopted these standards. Further, this study attempted to look at a wide array of perspectives on the standards themsel ves, comparing political voices in support of and against Common Core. At the local level, this project incorporated more detailed answers from severa l educators in the Gainesville, Florida, community. Interviewees, like their counterparts in previous stud ies, had mixed reactions: While most educators in the primary and secondary data understood and supported the overall motivations of Common Core, some (a) felt inadequately prepared to teach to these standards, (b) expressed concerns about budgetary issues surrounding new standards and resources, or (c) some combination of these two. With more time, researchers can perhaps evaluate the short and long term effects of Common Core with greater accuracy and offer realistic policy implications to supplement or improve the current standards and their use in the classroom INTRODUCTION ow a hot button issue in public debate, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) originally set out to provide improved unified educational standards across the United States, offering students more consistent, valuable assets so they could compete on a glob al stage (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2017). Since the development of the standards in 2009, the Common Core State Standards Initiative (2017) reports 42 states, four territories, and Washington, D.C., have accepted the guidelines and begun imp lementing them in their classrooms. Florida took on the standards in 2010 with the plan of full implementation beginning in the 2013 2014 school year. This paper will address a multitude of factors contributing to the formation and implementation of Common Core to better answer the following questions : What are the Common Core State Standards, how are they understood by different educational perspectives, and how are they functioning? Research Goals To analyze how the Common Core State Standards have been realized in Florida, my research focus es on how educators created the standards and how teachers and administrators have adopted those standards in their schools and classrooms specifically in the context of English Language Arts skills in elementary schools. According to official statements made by the Common Core Initiative these English Language Arts skills have experienced three major changes from previous state standards to CCSS: xts, State Standards Initiative, 2017 ). In addition, this paper will explore the political and philosophical contexts of devising and adopting new educational standar ds. I briefly relate the historical background preceding Common Core, explore the mentalities and methods used in its creation and implementation, and ultimately illustrate through primary and secondary research how we use the standards both in the Southea st and in surrounding Gainesville, Florida. Through these avenues, I expect to form a more holistic understanding of the Common Core State Standards why they were created, and their perceived advantages and disadvantages. Background Although states utilized their own sets of educational standards throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, state officials discussed the value of creating standardized educational guidelines at a Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) forum in 2007 (Co mmon Core Sta te Standards Initiative, 2017 ). According to the Common Core official website, by 2008, those same officials completed a report urging states to begin the process t oward a common set of standards. T hroughout 2009, the CCSSO and the National Go vernors Association (NGA) worked with teachers and educational groups to develop the standards, N

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M IA G ETTENBERG University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 1 9 Issue 2 | Spring 2018 2 receiving input from educators and the general public along the way (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2017 ). In February 2009, President Barack Obama sig ned the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to revive a struggling economy and bolster lagging national industries and institutions including the U.S. educational system. Through this act, the U.S. Department of Education received $4.35 billion and dev eloped the Race to the Top fund, a competitive initiative granting states money if they improved certain elements of their educational systems (U. S. Department of Education, 2016 ). T he fund asks states to make educational improvements in four areas : adopt ing new standards, measuring student success, hiring and retaining helpful teachers and administrators, and bolstering poorly performing schools. The program, still in prepare students to succeed i n college and the workplace and Education, 2016). While the fund does not explicitly require states to use the Common Core State Standards to fulfill this element of the Race to the Top grant, 42 states the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity chose to implement Common Core as a means of satisfying this specific element (Com mon Core States Initiative, 2017 ). Since the program began, 46 states and the D istrict of Columbia have entered the competition to secure Race to the Top funding, and 19 states have received money ( Race to the Top | The White House ). The CCSSO and the NGA finalized and published the Common Core State Standards in 2010 ; b y 2015, most U.S. states and territories had begun or completed the process of instituting the standards in their schools (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2017 ). In Florida, though the state officially adopted the standards in 2010, an abundance of public sugge stions to the standards led to changes approved by the Florida Department of E ducation in February 2014. The Mathematics Florida Standards (MAFS) and Language Arts Florida Standards ( LAFS) were implemented at the start of the 2014 2015 school year. Because of the far reaching scope of the Common Core State Standards, researchers have begun to assess student success with the new standards. After the new Florida Standards were adopted in February 2014, the state replaced its former standardized test, the FCAT 2.0, with new Florida Assessments test language arts, math, and the End of Course (EOC ) subjects, which include algebra 1, algebra 2, and geometry (Florida Department of Education, 2016). EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHIES The philosophies underlying education in the United States can translate into implementable policies for our current educational system or become unclear amid the background and effects of the Common Core St ate Standards, I also seek to discover and describe the more abstract goals of U.S. education to determine what our federal and state educational systems aim to accomplish. With this knowledge, we can compare the goals of Common Core to the overall goals o f the national educational system and form a clearer understanding of what education should accom plish In their writings and studies on potential educational reform, philosophers Jaime Ahlberg and Harry Brighouse oadly speaking, the aims of education should be to equip children to flourish in the society they will inhabit, and to equip and incline them to treat other people well, both in personal and in impersonal phil osophers go on to discuss three different types of educational improvements: school size, cross school standards and assessments, and expanded school s Focusing on common standards and testing, Ahlberg and ign provided by cross school common standards and assessments enables policy makers to make more vivid the 2014). In other words, not only do com mon standards provide for educational consistency, but they also allow for greater knowledge of which specific students are trailing their peers. F urther, (Ahlb erg & Brighouse, 2014). Common Core draws on its own form of educational philosophy to explain its motives. On its website it describes the process of developing the standards led already 2017 ). The website also features a list of criteria used in drafting the standards: goal, es sential, rigorous, clear and specific, teachable and learnable, measureable, coherent, grade by grade standards, and internationally benchmarked (Common Core State Standards Initiative 2017 ). According to the website, the CCSSO and the NGA worked alongsid e and with feedback from teachers to create the college and career readiness standards first, then integrated those standards with the K 12 standards to create the Common Core guidelines used today. POLITICAL DEBATE Even with the 2016 2017 school year wel l underway, the Common Core State Standards remain shrouded in public dispute and muddled by contradictory evaluations, particularly in the political sphere. Common Core presents a

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E VALUATING C OMMON C ORE : A H OLISTIC U NDERSTANDING OF E DUCATIONAL S TANDARDS University of Florida | Journal of Undergradua te Research | Volume 19, Issue 2 | Spring 2018 3 rare issue in which neither political party, R epublican nor Democrat, can q uite agree what to make of it. Most Republican candidates running during the 2016 U.S. primary elections aligned under an anti Common Core stance; during the Republican primary debate in August 2015, Senator Marco Rubio, R Fla., echoed much of the Republic curriculum reform. And it should happen at the state and Department of Education, like every federal agency, will Republican Debate 2015) With the exception of former Governor Jeb Bush, R Fla., the candidates strongly advocated for less federal control over state policies, especially in the area of education. Gov. Bush, however, did not directly support or oppose the standards, saying the to opt out of Common Core, Republican Debate 2015). Gov. Bush appears to be the outlier rather than the norm, with most prominent Republicans recommending less federal involvement in the development and adoption of state educational standards. On the other side of the political aisle, Democrats have pushed for the creation and implementation of national educational guidelines. During a roundtable discussion in April 2015, former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton, D NY, expressed dis dain for the politicization of curriculum in organizing state education systems ( Hillary Clinton on Education 2016). President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed for more liberal educa tion reforms throughout Democratic tenure in the White House. I n a statement issued in 2013, Secretary Duncan rebutted criticism of the Common Core State Standards, asserting that the reasons: because these standards were rigorous enough to prepare students for the real world, and because they would be shared among a number of states (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). The Obama adm inistration encouraged but did not require states to adopt the Common Core standards, particularly through the competitive Race to the Top fund (Whitman, 2015). Local governments also feel the tug of politics surrounding education. In 2014, Florida Gov Rick Scott signed three education bills designed to reaffirm his rejection of top down, Washington, DC management of of the bills, CS/HB 864, p rovides more power to district school boards in deciding classroom materials, including the allow for parental objection to adopted mater Governor Rick Scott, 2014). The second bill, CS/CS/SB 188, requires random identification numbers for students without the use of social security numbers or biometric references to the Com (Florida Governor Rick Scott, 2014). While Florida educational standards lack the Common Tampa Bay Times reported that the official Florida he Common Core with the addition of 98 items, mostly related to cursive handwriting and Florida State Board of Education adopted Common Core in 2010, all updates to the standards since this adoption have revised not done away with the Common Core State Standards. In other words, the current Florida Standards have built on the same Common Core standards the state of Florida took on in 2010. Hence, the political conversation surrounding Common Core in F lorida remains very much alive and relevant. OVERALL OPINIONS educational standards, their implementation, and their implications. Those themes are as follows: a notion of theoretical consistency when usin g common standards across state and district lines, an overall challenge in implementing those standards at the classroom level, some general support for Common Core in both theory and practice, and concerns about the cost of Common Core resources and poli cies. I also observed some overlap in these themes, with primary and secondary sources indicating both support and concern for various elements of the Florida standards as well as conflicting ideas about Common Core in theory vs. Common Core in practice. S ome current literature surrounding the Common Core State Standards focuses on the adoption and implementation of the standards in different states, comparing former and current state educational guidelines. In their research on the implem entation of Common Core in the s outheastern U.S., Anderson, Harrison, & Lewis (2012) set out to examine the processes by which the states began adopting the standards in the classroom. They then compiled similarities and differences between states to facilitate cross state learning and help officials make informed decisions while implementing the standards in their respective states. The researchers spoke with officials in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Florida. One of their key findings, a fact reported by all six state leaders, maintains that each state took the step of determine the extent of alignment between the common Anderson, Harrison, & Lew is, 2012). Florida did not report that the Common Core standards aligned closely to its own; however, the state

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M IA G ETTENBERG University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 1 9 Issue 2 | Spring 2018 4 affirmed that adhering to the standards would bolster its application for Race to the Top grant money and asserted that a previous revision of i ts standards would ready the state for new standards. In addition, the researchers found that all six states supported the initiative for Common Core to provide for ucational goals ( Anderson, Harrison, & Lewis, 2012 ). This notion of consistency, specifically consistency as a prominent rationale for the Common Core State Standards, was echoed by Mayor Lauren Poe of Gainesville, Florida. Poe, who also works as a professor for dual enrollment students at Santa Fe Colleg e, expressed a similar sentiment regarding his experiences with Common Core in the classroom. Poe said he has supported Common Core in theory for its ability to handle mobility and credit transfer (personal communication, January 3, 2017). Retired teacher Kelly Haynes, who currently works in an after school program in Gainesville, addressed the idea of consistency in an interview as well, stating that part of the intent of Common nal communication, November 30, 2016). In fact, Anderson and Mira (2014) found that consistency facilitated by interstate collaboration indeed helped both state officials and educators in their implementation of the standards. In his survey of about 80 tea chers at the elementary middle and high school levels, Cheng (2012) sharing of instructional materials more some sources expressed hope in Common Core on the basis of bringing collaboration and consistency across the national educational system. However, some remain worried about the challenges in implementing Common Core. In a survey of 35 s econdary school teachers working in four states, Burks, Beziat, Danley, Davis, Lowery, & Lucas (2015) found that 55 (2012) reported similar results in terms of teacher preparedness; out of 83 teachers, 33.7 percent said they disagreed and 24.1 percent said they strongly disagreed w I am sufficiently prepared through professional development to transition from tea ching current standar teachers in the study, in effect, did not feel ready to switch to teaching new e ducational standards in their classrooms. Questions regard ing Common Core are not limited to teacher training. Poe and Haynes both related concerns how that might impact its overall success. In partic ular, Further, Haynes spoke a bout the switch from the FCAT 2.0 to the Florida Standards Assessments. She remarked that one year, the mathematics FSA administered to the fifth given to the fourth r 2016). This made her question the apparently quick change in standardized testing. Poe, whose educational work focuses on social studies, found a similar issue one year in which the End of misspelled words and poorly shaded illustrations; he said it was later replaced with a much fairer exam (personal communication, January 3, 2017). In addition to problems pertaining to training teachers and creating exams, some raise concer n about budgetary issues brought on by the switch in resources before and after Common Core. In his classroom, Poe had to select a new social studies textbook for his students to adhere to the new standards; the school, supplying the textbooks for its dual enrollment students, then had to spend money on books that January 3, 2017). On the other hand, some expressed supportive views in both the theoretical and realistic implications of Common Core. Bill Hutchinson, the executive director of Kids Count in Alachua County, works with elementary school students in after school and summer programs. He reported that the curriculums used during Kids Count activities attempt to rds that the students learn in class, though those activities have not changed drastically since the onset of Common Core (personal communication, December 9, 2016). He also said his experiences with the more December 9, 2016). Hutchinson is not alone in his support of and ease in utilizing Common Core. Despite their findings concerning the apparent lack of Common Core training, Burks et al. (2015) also reported 57 percent of teachers replied they were 2012 study discovered similar feelings among teachers surveyed despite their apprehension about implementing the standards: When adjusted to remove respondents answering a positive step DISCUSSION With these themes in mind, a more complete understanding of Common Core, its benefits, and its

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E VALUATING C OMMON C ORE : A H OLISTIC U NDERSTANDING OF E DUCATIONAL S TANDARDS University of Florida | Journal of Undergradua te Research | Volume 19, Issue 2 | Spring 2018 5 challenges forms. A comprehensive view of the standards considers some specific concerns provided by educa tors at all levels of school, including monetary issues related to new textbooks and standardized tests that align with the new guidelines. Further, through this view we understand that some educators feel both unprepared and modestly optimistic when imple menting Common Core in their classrooms. C hange is welcomed to a certain extent, though some feel wary of the switch and look on with some apprehension as to how the standards will look in practice an d hopes for Common Core. With standardized tests shifting at a relatively quick pace to account for adapting standards, it does not appear feasible to determine the success or failure of Common Core quantitatively, such as through exam scores. Even with se veral years of practice underway, schools continue to adapt. This research sought to describe Common Core from various angles, including philosophical backgrounds, political standpoints, previous research, and the accounts of several local educators who he lped illustrate some primary expectations and worries related to the standards. With more time, researchers can perhaps evaluate the short and long term effects of Common Core with greater accuracy and offer realistic policy implications to supplement or improve the current standards and their use in the classroom. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The researcher would like to acknowledge Dr. Creed Greer, who served as the faculty mentor for this project and whose guidance made this research possible. REFERENCES Ahlberg, J. & Brighouse, H. (2014). Education: Not a Real Utopian Design. Politics & Society, 42 51 72. doi: 10.1177/0032329213512979 Anderson, K., Harrison, T., & Lewis, K. (2012). Plans to Adopt and Implement Common Core State Standards in the Southeast Region States. Issues & Answers. Regional Educational Laboratory, 136. http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs Anderson, K., & Mira, M.E. (2014) Common Core Aligned Teaching Resources. State Implementation of Common Core Standards. Southern Regional Education Board. http://publicans.sreb.org/2014/ccss_summary_sreb.pdf Burks, B.A., Beziat, T.L.R., Danley, S., Davis, K., Lowery, H., & Lucas, J. (20 15). Adapting to Change: Teacher Perceptions of Implementing the Common Core State Standards. Education, 136, 253 258. Retrived from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1095525 Cheng, A. (2012). Teacher Perceptions of the Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED532796.pdf (2014). Retrieved from http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5390/urlt/0081009 qa 03 17.pdf Common Core State Standards Initiati ve. (2017). Retrieved from www.corestandards.org Florida Department of Education. (2016). K 12 Student Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.fldoe.org/accountability/assessments/k 12 student assessment Florida Governor Rick Scott Signs Bills that Push Back on Federal Intrusion into Our Public Schools and Further Ensures Local Control. (2014). Rick Scott: 45 th Governor of Florida. Retrieved from http://www.flgov.com/fl governor rick scott signs bills that push back on federal intrusion into our public school s and further ensures local control/ Hillary Clinton on Education. (2016). OnTheIssues. Retrieved from http://www.ontheissues.org/2016/Hillary_Clinton_Education.htm Race to the Top | The White House. The White House: President Barack Obama. Retrieved from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/issues/education/k 12/race to the top Republican Debate Primetime Transcript Full Text. (2015). TIME. Retrieved from http://time.com/3988276/republican debate primetime transcript full text/ Solocheck, J.S. (2014, May 2 Scott Says. Tampa Bay Times Retrieved from http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/common core is out gov rick scott says/2181165 U.S. Department of Education. (2013). Duncan Pushes Back on Attacks on Common Core Standa rds. Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/duncan pushes back attacks common core standards U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Race to the Top Fund. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/index.html W hitman, D. (2015). The Surprising Roots of the Common Core: How Brown Center on Educational Policy at Brookings. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/wp content/uploads/2016/06/Surprising Conservative Roots of th e Common Core_FINAL.pdf



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