The reach of Common Core national education standards and tests has moved beyond public school walls.
Last month a home-schooling family in New Jersey received a letter from Westfield Public School District superintendent Margaret Dolanthe. It outlined what she said was district home-school policy requiring families to "submit a letter of intent (to home-school) and an outline of their curriculum which must follow New Jersey Common Core content standards." Dismayed, the family reached out to the Home School Legal Defense Association for assistance.
HSLDA senior counsel Scott Woodruff wrote to Dolanthe on behalf of the family, arguing the state's home-schooling laws do not require adherence to Common Core. The school district dropped their demands, but informed the family their curriculum should still be "guided by the New Jersey Common Core State Standards." According to Woodruff, this shows "a rather troubling mindset - almost an assumption that 'since we have to follow common core, so should you.'" Indeed, the circumstance raises important questions about the scope of the so-called voluntary standards.
Common Core was developed in 2009 by privately-run Student Achievement Partners in conjunction with the National Governors Association and Council for Chief State School Officers. However, federal incentives were immediately attached to Common Core by the Obama administration to incentivize states to sign on to the standards by the 2014-2015 school year.
Common Core's architects may have welcomed administration support. After all, they advocated for federal assistance in implementing the standards in their 2008 report "Benchmarking for Success." Forty-six states signed on to the standards without taking into consideration its full costs, both financially and in terms of standards-setting autonomy.
Although the federal fingerprints on Common Core have been one of opponents' primary causes for concern with the effort, Common Core was, at least initially, considered to apply only to public school districts.
It has been increasingly evident that Common Core has broadened its influence beyond the public system through the alignment of college entrance exams such as the SAT and the ACT, and through the alignment of Advanced Placement exams and the high school equivalency exam, the GED. College Board administers the SAT and Advanced Placement exams, and, as of 2012, is headed by David Coleman, the former president of Student Achieve Inc., and an architect of Common Core.
Critics of Common Core argue that the alignment of college entrance exams and AP courses to the national standards will likely create a homogenizing effect across educational options - including home-schooling and private schooling. If parents and private schools want their students to be competitive on college entrance and advanced placement exams, it is likely they will need to study the content standards of Common Core.
The Westfield case takes this concern a step further.
Westfield's letter and policy suggests some bureaucrats consider Common Core to apply to all students, even if parents have sought options outside of the government system. Due to public outcry and pressure from HSLDA, Westfield has revised their home-school policy to omit any mention of Common Core and will adopt a new home-school policy on Oct. 21.
This change began with parental pushback, demonstrating that parents are a powerful voice in issues affecting their children's education. Even issues such as Common Core.
This fall marked the beginning of Common Core implementation for many states, even though opposition to the national standards is at an all-time high.
According to the 2014 Gallup Poll, 60 percent of Americans oppose Common Core. Teacher opposition to Common Core more than tripled, from 12 percent in 2013 to 40 percent in 2014 according to EducationNext's 2014 opinion poll. The Friedman Foundation's 2014 Schooling in America Survey found that opposition is strongest among parents.
But there is good news: Nineteen out of the original 46 states that adopted Common Core have either halted implementation of the standards or withdrawn/downgraded their involvement in the Common Core aligned tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia). Four of those states have exited Common Core completely: Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Louisiana.
Despite this opposition, Common Core continues to seep into students' curricula - whether public-schooled, private-schooled, or even home-schooled. But it's a start.
Home-schooling families, along with families choosing private schools for their children, have made a conscious decision to provide an education for their children that is distinct from that offered in the traditional public system. Efforts such as Common Core, designed to create uniformity in education, have a homogenizing effect.
This recent event is just one more reason why states should reject Common Core and reclaim their education decision-making autonomy.
Brittany Corona is a researcher in domestic policy studies in the Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation.