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9 Ways the Wall Street Journal Got It Wrong on Common Core

This week the Wall Street Journal published an extensive front page story that, at best, misrepresented the persistence of the Common Core, and at worst, was largely erroneous. The most outlandish misstatement is that the “Common Core is far from common,” with the reporter noting that seven of the original 45 states have repealed the standards. This is patently false. The reporter cites Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee. For starters, it is true that Oklahoma has repudiated the Common Core; the Sooner State has reverted to their previous, lower set of standards, and the waste of time and money catalogued by the Journal is not inaccurate. As for Indiana and South Carolina, they are often associated with a Common Core repeal, but theirs was only a political stunt and they have since adopted standards that are largely identical to the Common Core. Finally, so far as we can tell, this particular story is the only account we can find having written that Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey and Tennessee have repealed the Common Core. For the reporter’s story to be true the definition of “repeal” necessarily must be expanded to include terms like “tweak,” “amend,” and “strengthen.” But of course tweaking or amending the standards are not the same as repealing them. Common Core State Standards were always meant to represent a basic level of broadly agreed upon benchmarks for instruction. They are a floor, not a ceiling. And they were absolutely designed to allow states to tweak, amend and generally customize them in order to meet local needs. We draw your attention to this story because the reporter unwittingly adds credibility to the thesis that many states are “having second thoughts,” when we know that simply isn’t true.
  1. “Seven [states] have since repealed or amended [the] Common Core.” This statement is simply false. The reality is that of the original 45, only Oklahoma has a set of standards that does not look substantially like the Common Core. Other states have made changes or additions to the standards—some even doing so prior to adoption or full implementation—and all of those states are still considered Common Core states because the changes did not conflict with the Common Core State Standards.
  2. “A dozen more states are considering revising or abandoning Common Core.” More than a dozen states can be considered part of a Common Core review—but each state reviews their current academic standards periodically. The Common Core is a set of standards that states should review and improve upon. They are a floor, not a ceiling. That is how it has always been intended. Only one state—Oklahoma—has “abandoned” the Common Core wholesale. However, Oklahoma is now in the process of reviewing its standards, and may end up implementing another new set of standards that closely resemble the Common Core. In 2015, not a single state passed legislation to repeal their Common Core standards, despite nearly 50 bills nationwide aimed at doing so.
  3. “A total of 21 states have withdrawn from two groups formed to develop common tests, making it difficult to compare results.” With the exception of four states that administered the NECAP assessment, states did not administer the same exam prior to 2013—making it impossible to compare performance. Today, we can compare across more states than ever before, totaling more than 20 between the Smarter Balanced and PARCC exams.
  4. “The standards are a hot topic in the Republican presidential race.” After seven hours of debates among the GOP frontrunners, Common Core has been discussed a mere 3 ½ minutes—less than 1 percent.
  5. “The Wall Street Journal looked at spending by states and large school districts and found that more than $7 billion had been spent or committed in connection with the new standards. To come up with that number, the Journal examined contracts, email and other data provided under public-records requests by nearly 70 state education departments and school districts.” States spend money on standards, teacher development, testing and a host of educational requirements, regardless of whether they have adopted Common Core or not. The Journal’s mention of $7 billion is meaningless because of the next sentence: “The analysis didn’t account for what would have been spent anyway—even without Common Core—on testing, instructional materials, technology and training.”
  6. “But after a burst of momentum and a significant investment of money and time, the movement for commonality is in disarray.” In 2015, not a single state passed legislation to repeal their Common Core standards, despite nearly 50 bills nationwide aimed at doing so. Forty-three states plus the District of Columbia are still using the Common Core or a version of the standards.
  7. “Some states, including South Carolina, Indiana and Florida, have either amended or replaced Common Core standards. Others, including Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana, New Jersey and North Carolina, are in the process of changing or reviewing them.” Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey and West Virginia launched reviews to determine whether changes were necessary to customize and build on the standards. And this is exactly what they were designed to do. States review their standards every couple of years regardless of whether they have adopted Common Core.
  8. “…[B]esieged by complaints from parents and other Common Core opponents, the [Tennessee] governor and state lawmakers agreed to replace the standards with a more state-specific version in 2017.” The Journal is the only publication to have suggested Tennessee is no longer a Common Core state. See the Education Week breakdown of Common Core by state.
  9. “South Carolina, where schools reported spending $46 million to implement Common Core, gave a test based on those standards in the spring but has since moved to new standards and a new test.” By many accounts, South Carolina's “new standards” are overwhelmingly similar to the Common Core.
Consider expressing your opinion to the Wall Street Journal either by posting to the comment section below the story or by tweeting to the Wall Street Journal asking them to correct the account.  
Karen Nussle currently serves as the executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success. An earlier version of this post appeared on the Collaborative for Student Success, with a mention on our Red Pen Page.
Karen is a veteran communications strategist with experience in the private, public, political and non-profit sectors. Her work has included strategic communications plans, public relations, advocacy campaigns, corporate communications, strategic planning, lobbying and advocacy and media training.

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