Who Is Best Equipped to Decide the Fate of the Common Core?

By Donald Scarinci | July 30th, 2014

The latest Christie controversy surrounds his Executive Order to revamp the state’s academic testing scheme. The Common Core standards, which were intended to ensure American students remain competitive, have become a controversial political topic across the country.

What is the Common Core?

Interestingly, many New Jersey parents are unfamiliar with the Common Core standards. According to Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind Poll, 44 percent of residents know nothing about the guidelines, while another 39 percent report being somewhat familiar with the topic. Misinformation was also prevalent, with large percentages of survey respondents inaccurately believing that the standards required sex education, global warming, and evolution to be a mandatory part of the curriculum.

The Common Core standards are uniform national standards for the teaching of language arts and math. They were adopted by the New Jersey State Board of Education in 2010, and have been similarly incorporated by 39 other states. The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) drafted the standards with the goal of ensuring high school graduates are ready to enter college or the workforce. To accomplish this, the Common Core sets forth guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. In New Jersey and many other states, student performance is measured using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test.

The Proposed Changes

Just as implementation is finally complete, state leaders have begun to shy away from the Common Core. In his Executive Order, Gov. Christie did not completely abandon the guidelines, as some of his Republican colleagues have done. But he certainly appears to want to tweak the system.

Christie proposes to establish a commission to evaluate “the volume, frequency, and impact of student testing,” including the Common Core and PARCC tests. His administration also released new regulations that reduce the weight given PARCC testing when performing teacher evaluations.

According to the order, “the Study Commission shall consist of individuals who have practical experience, knowledge or expertise in the areas of education policy or administration.” Critics of the plan argue that panel should not only be non-partisan, but also include input from teachers and parents who have real world experience regarding how children learn best.

New Jersey lawmakers also have their own ideas. Under their plan, PARCC test results will not be factored into evaluations of teacher performance for the next two years. The legislation would also create a 15-member task force comprised of appointees selected by the governor, the Senate president, and the Assembly speaker. The legislation has passed the Assembly and is now pending in the Senate.

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs

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