It's Time to Undo Common Core's Takeover

If ever a motto expressed pride in state autonomy, it's Iowa's: "Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain." That dedication to local control undergirds the growing opposition to Common Core — the latest effort to centralize education through national standards and tests that will define what is taught in every public school classroom in the Hawkeye State.

A 2013 survey by Professional Educators of Iowa found that 70 percent of its member educators believed Iowa should maintain its standards-setting autonomy. Only 27 percent felt Common Core would improve academic achievement.

These are the teachers charged with implementing "Iowa Core" — which is a blend of Iowa's previous state standards with the national standards. The Iowa Board of Education approved Iowa Core in 2010. The board's action made Iowa one of the 46 states that agreed to adopt the national standards and implement them by the 2014-15 school year.

States hopped on the Common Core bandwagon largely to reap a bevy of tantalizing federal incentives. For example, in exchange for adopting Common Core, Iowa could receive a waiver from sanctions levied by the federal No Child Left Behind law. It also had a chance to get some money from the Obama administration's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" grant program. (It turned out Iowa lost its bid for grants twice but did get a waiver from No Child Left Behind.)

In the midst of the recession, most states took the federal bait — often without considering the costs attached to Common Core, both financially and in terms of standards-setting autonomy.

But by July 2014, Iowa was having some second thoughts. Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Department of Education Director Brad Buck informed the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium that the state would be withdrawing from the Common Core-aligned test.

But that announcement is not enough to reclaim Iowa standards. Iowa lawmakers appropriated $2 million for fiscal year 2014 to "support the work of Iowa Core implementation." After the withdrawal from Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the Iowa Legislature appointed a task force to develop new tests — with guidance from the Smart Balanced consortium and the Next Generation Iowa Assessments.

The task force will make a recommendation for a new state test by Jan. 1.

Iowa can do better for its students — by cutting the cord to Common Core clean through.

That's what organizations such as Iowa Restored Ed are working toward. These grassroots coalitions of parents and concerned citizens have sprung up across the nation as the drawbacks of national standards have become apparent.

Many parents feel national standards have left them with no voice in the content that is taught in their children's schools.

And when parents do have questions about Common Core, to whom do they address their concerns? Good luck knocking on the door of the U.S. Department of Education to find answers about Common Core textbooks, teacher professional development, homework or tests.

Iowa has long enjoyed a national reputation for educational excellence. Its Iowa Tests of Basic Skills exam has been used by many other states. Iowa understands how to design and implement valid assessments — without the "help" of the feds or outside groups like the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

James Milgram, professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford University, determined that the Common Core mathematics standards leave American students two grade levels behind their peers internationally by the time they reach seventh grade. He also found that they don't prepare students for admission into highly selective universities and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs.

The English standards are also suspect. Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform emeritus at the University of Arkansas, argues that Common Core's "diminished emphasis on literature in the secondary grades makes it unlikely that American students will study a meaningful range of culturally and historically significant literary works before graduation."

In the midst of "implementation year" 19 states have made significant efforts to push back against Common Core. Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Louisiana have exited the standards. It is not too late for Iowa to reject Iowa Core and restore the state's education system to one that is by Iowans, for Iowans.

 - Brittany Corona is a domestic policy researcher in the Heritage Foundation's Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity.

About the Author

Brittany Corona Research Assistant
Domestic Policy Studies

Originally appeared in The Des Moines Register