War on the Common Core Continues

Written by: Jason Burns

Primary Source:   Green & Write, May 6, 2016

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If a group of Michigan legislators have their way, Michigan’s adoption of common standards will end. Senate Bill 826, which was referred to the Michigan Senate by the Senate Education Committee on April 26, and House Bill 5444 would both repeal the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as well as all Common Core-related programs, such as assessments. Additionally, House Bill 4144, if adopted, would prevent the Michigan State Board of Education from using the Next Generation Science Standards, upon which the New Michigan Science Standards are based, as part of the state’s core academic curriculum. Though proponents of these bills argue that they would improve the education that Michigan’s students receive (see comments here), the disruption they cause may ultimately do more harm than good.

Michigan’s Troubled History with the Common Core

The Michigan State Board of Education adopted the CCSS in June of 2010, intending to phase in the new standards through the 2014-2015 school year. While opponents of the CCSS are right to point out that student achievement has not significantly improved since that time, it is unreasonable to expect that it should have, especially given the political issues that have complicated the implementation of these new standards.

As the timeline for CCSS implementation progressed, opposition to the standards increased. This, however, was not unique to Michigan as anti-CCSS movements emerged across the country. What galvanizes this movement is the perception that the CCSS were forced on states by the federal government, an action that conflicts with the tradition of local control in education. Though this was not the case as the decision to adopt the CCSS was left to the states, the US Department of Education did provide incentives for states to adopt these standards.

Formal opposition to the CCSS began in Michigan in 2013. In February of that year, HB 4276, which would have prevented the implementation of the CCSS, was introduced into the Michigan House of Representatives. After that bill stalled in committee, Representative Tom McMillin, the primary sponsor of the bill, inserted language into the Michigan Department of Education’s (MDE) budget that prevented MDE from using any funds to implement the CCSS.

The following year, CCSS opponents gained another victory. In the 2014-2015 education budget, MDE was prevented from implementing assessments from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), what had been planned since the CCSS were adopted in 2010. This gave MDE less than a year to develop an entirely new assessment system that aligned with Michigan’s educational standards. These new assessments are called M-STEP and though they are not SBAC assessments, MDE did borrow heavily from the SBAC item bank to develop them.

Controversy continued into 2015. Another bill was introduced into the Michigan Legislature to halt CCSS implementation, though it also never made it out of committee. When the M-STEP was administered in the spring, a number of parents “opted-out,” meaning that the pulled their child out of testing in protest. When M-STEP scores were released that fall, many of Michigan’s students were performing below desired levels, though officials had actually anticipated worse results.

Together, these issues make it difficult to actually gauge the impact the CCSS has had on Michigan’s students. Budget rules that prevent MDE from funding CCSS implementation has left schools on their own to figure out how to integrate the new standards into instruction. Turbulence around the CCSS assessments has made it difficult to evaluate student performance. And finally, the charged atmosphere around the CCSS makes it likely that evaluations will be interpreted through a political lens.


If enacted, the proposed reforms would replace the CCSS with the standards that were in place in Massachusetts during the 2008-2009 school year, the year before that state adopted the CCSS. Over a 5-year period, MDE would be charged with developing a new set of standards for Michigan students. Some see this as a move in the right direction. At the same time, there are reasons to believe that such a change would have a negative impact.

An analysis of SB 826 by the Senate Fiscal Agency concludes that the bill would have a “significant negative fiscal impact” by requiring MDE to pay for the development of new standards and assessments and to train educators on them. Abruptly changing standards would also introduce a significant disruption into the lives of teachers who would have to reorient themselves to a new regime. Students would also suffer from inconsistencies caused by repeatedly changing instructional paradigms.

These costs may be worthwhile if the CCSS are indeed the “disastrous experiment” Senator Phil Pavlov, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, claims them to be. However, given the history of the CCSS in Michigan, it is difficult to evaluate this claim, suggesting that the fate of the standards will be a political issue rather than an educational one.

Contact Jason: burnsja6@msu.edu

– See more at: http://edwp.educ.msu.edu/green-and-write/2016/war-on-the-common-core-continues/#sthash.CZU2piBZ.dpuf

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Jason Burns
Jason Burns is a second-year doctoral student in Educational Policy. His research interests include the application of theories from economics, behavioral economics, and psychology to understand how teachers, students, and administrators use information to make decisions. Before coming to MSU, Jason taught high school social studies, wrote curriculum, and developed assessments for Howard County Public Schools in suburban Maryland. Jason holds a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University and a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University.