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Core Questions: What Are Potential Alternatives to the Common Core Standards?

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 8:30 AM

Common Core appleStateImpact is answering reader-submitted questions about the Common Core, a new set of expectations for what students should know and be able to do in math and English at each grade level. Ohio is one of 45 states that have fully adopted the Common Core.

Today, we answer a Core Question from an audience member at the WVIZ/PBS ideastream Education panel discussion on the Common Core earlier this month.

The audience member asked:

What are potential alternatives to the Common Core?

The Short Answer

Ohio's standards options include:

  • Ohio's old standards;
  • Brand new, yet-to-be-written standards -- and new standardized tests aligned with those standards;
  • New standards largely based on another state's standards -- and new standardized tests; and
  • Having no standards at all -- an unlikely option.

But Ohio could lose some federal funding or face other federal consequences if it decides to go back on its decision to adopt the Common Core.

The Long Answer

The Ohio Board of Education voted to adopt the Common Core in June 2010. A bill that would void the board's vote is currently pending in the Ohio House.

Canceling Ohio's adoption of the Common Core could have federal repercussions.

First, there's the No Child Left Behind Act:

  • Last year, the U.S. Department of Education granted Ohio a waiver from some requirements of No Child Left Behind.
  • Under the terms of the waiver, if Ohio pulls out of of the Common Core, it would need to adopt new standards approved by a "state network" of college and universities or risk falling subject to the full force of No Child Left Behind again.

And then there's the federal Race to the Top grant program:

  • In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Ohio a 4-year, $400 million Race to the Top grant in part because Ohio adopted the Common Core. Much of that money has already been spent by local districts and by the state.
  • The U.S. Department of Education has allowed other states to deviate from some promises made in their Race to the Top applications. But it's unclear how ditching the Common Core would affect Ohio's Race to the Top funding.

With those federal conditions in mind, the main alternatives to the Common Core include:

1. Ohio's old standards

Both opponents and supporters of the Common Core say Ohio's old standards don't prepare students for jobs or college.

At the WVIZ/PBS panel discussion, State Rep. Andy Thompson, a Republican from Marietta who introduced a bill to void Ohio's adoption of the Common Core, called Ohio's old standards "very mediocre."

The Fordham Institute, which generally supports the Common Core, graded both the Common Core and individual state's standards on "clarity and specificity" and "content and rigor."

Here's how the standards compare:

Ohio's Old Standards Common Core Standards
English Language Arts C B+
Math C A-

Ohio has an existing set of standardized tests aligned with those old standards.

2. Brand new, yet-to-be-written standards

This is the option that Rep. Thompson prefers. He told the House Education Committee earlier this month that Ohio "must do our own research to arrive at standards that time and testing have shown to be successful."[related_content align="right"]

Thompson's bill would require the state to hold a series of public hearings in each of Ohio's 16 congressional districts and get comments on any new standards from parents, teachers, academics, politicians, educational organizations, religious groups and policy think tanks.

At the WVIZ/PBS panel discussion, Kirtland school district Superintendent Steve Barrett estimated it would take several years to write new Ohio standards and even more time to create new standardized tests to go with them.

(The Common Core took about 2 years to write. The Indiana Office of Budget and Management estimates it would take about $19 million and two years for Indiana to develop a set of new, non-Common Core standardized tests.)

Barrett says several years is too long to wait.

"I have a third grader and she can't wait until 6th or 7th or 8th grade for new standards," Barrett said.

It's unclear what standards Ohio's schools would teach to while these new standards are being developed or what would happen to the resources schools have already invested in teaching to the Common Core.

3. New standards largely based on another state's standards

Instead of starting from scratch in writing new standards, Ohio could "model" new standards on another state's existing standards.

Massachusetts' old standards -- which the state replaced with the Common Core -- are often cited as a potential model for other states.

4. Scrapping the whole standards movement

The standards movement calls for setting standards for what students should know and be able to do and using standardized tests to monitor whether students are meeting those standards. It's basically why we have these Common Core State Standards.

This movement can be traced back to the Reagan-era A Nation at Risk report. And it's the standards movement that eventually gave us the No Child Left Behind Act.

Not everyone is a fan of the standards movement.

But there is little discussion in Columbus about taking Ohio off the standards track now -- and doing so could cause Ohio serious problems with the U.S. Department of Education.

What do you want to know about the new Common Core education standards? Email us at You can also send us a message on Twitter or Facebook.

Please tell us if you're a parent, teacher, principal, policymaker or concerned citizen who cares about how the Common Core will change education in our state. We’ll find answers and share them here at StateImpact Ohio.

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