Ohio Representative Andy Thompson is the primary sponsor of House Bill 237, better known as the anti-Common Core legislation.  Thompson is a Tea Party Republican whose efforts to repeal the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) should not be trusted by Ohio progressives who have more recently expressed concerns about the new educational standards.

In Ohio and nationwide, concerns about the CCSS have brought together people from both sides of the aisle.  Likewise, support for the new standards is widely bipartisan.  So, who is right?  Are the CCSS transforming education in a positive way or were they delivered out of the depths of Hell?

Sadly, the answer gets muddied when the politicians get hold of the argument, as is usually the case with all things educational when they enter the political arena.

At the root of the problem is the inability of many to separate the concept of having educational standards and the concept of implementing standardized assessments.  Critics of the CCSS all too often begin by stating that the standards are terrible, horrible, very bad things, yet their argument always leads to a discussion of how bad the assessment process is, NOT the actual standards.

It’s extremely important to be able to differentiate between the actual CCSS documents (only for English Language Arts & Mathematics) that are simply intended to identify the knowledge and skills that children are expected to learn each year and the corresponding standardized assessments being developed to measure that knowledge.  The assessments aren’t a separate component and are being developed through a separate process — Ohio is part of an 18-state consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (commonly known as PARCC).

If you start to search for criticisms of the CCSS, what you will really find are well-articulated criticisms of the assessment component:

  • From Cincinnati, an article that discusses concerns over the use of computers to deliver the tests.
  • A blog post from Utah that calls the PARCC assessments “Cognitive Child Abuse”
  • An article in The Washington Post that describes a “ridiculous” first grade math assessment aligned to the Common Core

Troubling indeed, but these perspectives don’t discuss the actual CCSS so much as they do the concerns over increased, and absurdly challenging, standardized tests delivered via computer — a new variable that could legitimately impact student performance.

Other national critics can be found to call out the CCSS for being developmentally inappropriate, especially in the early grades.  From a different Washington Post article:

The standards require that children learn specific facts and skills — such as naming the letters — at specified ages. This has led to more teacher-directed “lessons,” less play-based activity and curriculum, and more rote teaching and learning as children try to learn what is required.

Yet decades of research and theory tell us that young children learn best through active learning experiences within a meaningful context. Children develop at individual rates, learn in unique ways, and come from a wide variety of cultural and language backgrounds. It is not possible to teach skills in isolation or to mandate what any young child will understand at any particular time.

This statement encapsulates much of what you can find online from national experts in early childhood education as they express their concerns about the standards.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t speak to the actual standards as much as it does all of us educators trying to implement them.  From the introductory pages of the CCSS:

The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach. For instance, the use of play with young children is not specified by the Standards, but it is welcome as a valuable activity in its own right and as a way to help students meet the expectations in this document. Furthermore, while the Standards make references to some particular forms of content, including mythology, foundational U.S. documents, and Shakespeare, they do not—indeed, cannot—enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn. The Standards must therefore be complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum consistent with the expectations laid out in this document. [emphasis added]

The CCSS actually advocate for the use of play as a means of learning!  Once again, parsing out the concerns of the early childhood experts leads us back to concerns over the very real adoption of high-stakes tests and the stress placed on parents, teachers, and schools to seemingly eliminate “play” for the sake of rote learning — not the fault of the CCSS, but blame that should be laid on the assessments.

So what does this have to do with Ohio and Representative Andy Thompson’s anti-Common Core bill?

First, Ohio has had statewide Academic Content Standards in English and Mathematics for over a decade.  These specific standards documents spell out the expectations for what Ohio’s children should be learning grade by grade (just like the CCSS) and are the basis for the Ohio Achievement Assessments and the Ohio Graduation Test.  If you really start to dig into these standards and the grade-level indicators and expectations for yearly learning, what you’ll discover is that Ohio’s existing standards and the newly adopted CCSS are strikingly similar in nature.  Let’s make that very clear — the Common Core State Standards in Math and English, especially at the early grades, are nearly identical.

Don’t take our word for it, compare them on your own:

Of course they aren’t exactly the same, but they really aren’t far off.  The problem that this illuminates for us in Ohio is that if the CCSS truly are developmentally inappropriate, then the standards that we have been using in Ohio for over a decade are also developmentally inappropriate.  Ultimately, whether Thompson’s bill to repeal the CCSS succeeds or not, we apparently have flawed standards already (who knew?).

Now, while Thompson’s bill proposes to prevent Ohio from adopting the CCSS and the PARCC assessments, Ohio’s progressives should be wary of what might happen next.

Thompson penned a letter, “Why I Proposed H.B. 237 to Repeal Common Core in Ohio“, to explain his personal motivation for introducing the legislation.  In this letter, he criticizes the development process, a regular refrain in anti-Common Core articles — the standards were linked to Race to the Top, the federal education grant that came from President Obama’s administration and were not yet finished before states had to agree to implement them in exchange for taking the Race to the Top dollars.  Ohio agreed to this arrangement under another Democrat, Governor Ted Strickland.  Again, it’s not hard to find a plethora of articles that detail and justifiably question the creation process, but if the final product matches what we already had here in Ohio, how is that such a big deal in the end?  And let’s be real, it’s not like the Ohio GOP is really that into transparency. (JobsOhio? Legislative redistricting?)

Thompson also expresses concerns about schools’ ability to make local curricular decisions:

Proponents of the Common Core say that the states and school boards still will have the flexibility in determining curriculum. This, however, is questionable at best. Standards drive curriculum, and the assessment tests will measure how well the standards have been absorbed.

Thompson is concerned about school boards having flexibility in determining curriculum?  Really?  First of all, the introduction to the CCSS addresses that concern also:

While the Standards focus on what is most essential, they do not describe all that can or should be taught. A great deal is left to the discretion of teachers and curriculum developers. The aim of the Standards is to articulate the fundamentals, not to set out an exhaustive list or a set of restrictions that limits what can be taught beyond what is specified herein.

Secondly, what does Thompson think is already occurring in Ohio?  Do we not already have standardized tests aligned to state-adopted standards in English and math that are driving instruction across Ohio?  Every educator in Ohio is well accustomed to the phrase “teaching to the test”.  Regardless of which standards documents we use, as long as there are standardized assessments linked to those standards, schools will have limited “flexibility in determining curriculum”, as Thompson expressed it.

But none of this actually gets to the main reason that Thompson wants to repeal the adoption of the CCSS in Ohio.

Thompson simply thinks the CCSS are too easy.

There are many legitimate concerns on how CC might detrimentally impact our children and our workforce development. Since Ohio is a local control state, local school districts should have the freedom to adopt educational curricula that best suit their students. Imposing a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach that centralizes authority is not in the best interest of our young people or our state. We need instead to base our educational approach on the unique and varying talents and skills of our children.  We need high standards and to hold our education system accountable to those high standards. My research indicates that Common Core falls short in this area in both the Math and ELA Standards. 

True story.

Thompson isn’t against testing, and he isn’t against adopting standards.  The problem he has is that the “developmentally-inappropriate” CCSS and PARCC assessments that many progressives have expressed concerns about in Ohio and elsewhere don’t set the bar high enough.

Of course, Thompson also states that “Imposing a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach that centralizes authority is not in the best interest of our young people or our state.”  Seriously?  Ever heard of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee?  Legislatively mandated teacher and principal evaluation system?  What does he think standardized tests based on state adopted standards are?

Look, we know that there are many concerns about the Common Core State Standards and their impact on education in our state, but giving any credence to this bill and emboldening Thompson to think he has a groundswell of support for his position would be a grave mistake for those concerned that the “new” standards and challenging PARCC assessments are already inappropriate.

Thompson isn’t trying to get rid of standards or standardized assessments, he’s trying to make them more difficult for Ohio’s children.

Despite opposition from House Education Committee Chairman (and Republican) Gerald Stebelton, HB 237 is scheduled for its second hearing on Wednesday of this week in Room 313 of the Statehouse at 5:00 pm.