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Common Core Standards Already Being Taught Despite Political Controversy, Survey Shows

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) called Republican opposition to Common Core education standards a "knee-jerk" reaction. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images) | Getty

As politicians bicker over the controversial Common Core education standards, some states are already well into the process of teaching them, according to a report released Wednesday.

The latest spat over Common Core, developed by states and encouraged by the federal government, came last week, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) calling Republican pushback a "knee-jerk" reaction, according to The Wall Street Journal. “If the president likes something, the Republicans in Congress don’t, and if the Republicans in Congress like something, the president doesn’t,” Christie told an audience of charter school supporters.

Forty-six states and Washington, D.C., have adopted some form of Common Core, designed to prepare students for a global economy by equipping them with critical thinking skills. Wednesday's reports, released by George Washington University's Center on Education Policy, show that the majority of these states are putting resources toward training teachers to teach Common Core, a key tenet of the standards revamp. Teachers in some states are already using Common Core and more states expect to begin teaching under the standards this school year.

"It's interesting to look at the survey in the context of the national chatter," said Maria Ferguson, the center's executive director. "There's a little bit of schizophrenia between the kind of stuff going on in Washington and the reality of what happens on the ground. Most state and district leaders are like, 'Okay, the train has left the station on this and we're doing it. You can talk about it all you want, but this is the game for us and we're playing it.'"

The group conducted the survey from February to May, and spoke to deputy superintendents in 40 Common Core states. The Center on Education Policy recently released a report based on the same survey that showed that state officials are confident about implementation.

The reports released Wednesday focus on overall progress in addition to professional development for teachers and states' Common Core resources. In 30 states, Center on Education Policy reports, schools are already teaching from curricula aligned with the Common Core in math and English language arts. Nine more states reported they will begin using such curricula in the upcoming school year.

In more than half of states, the majority of K-12 teachers have participated in professional development to adjust to the Common Core, but only 10 states reported that 75 percent or more teachers received such professional development, according to the Center on Education Policy. That development is being provided by states, school districts, for-profit companies and universities, the authors wrote.

States report running into trouble, though, in a few areas. First, "cuts or freezes in state funding … have negatively affected CCSS implementation activities in some states," with 20 states reporting K-12 funding deceases, according to the Center on Education Policy. Twelve of these states reported that these reductions led to scaling back Common Core efforts. States also reported that their education agencies are struggling with capacity.

Only one-quarter of all states surveyed reported they had enough staff to support implementation, provide professional development and help school districts ease into the digital exams associated with Common Core. And 32 states indicated they're having trouble connecting the standards to a new wave of teacher and principal evaluations. "Funding levels in K-12 may be stabilizing, but most state education associations are under-resourced," Ferguson said.

Common Core was developed several years ago, and gathered support without much public debate. But now that the standards are rolling out, the once-intangible is touching students' and parents' lives, igniting a vitriolic political fight that both unites the left and right, and turns Republicans against each other. Recently, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) came out against Common Core, saying that "curriculum reform should be done at the state level." Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is a longtime defender.

Over the last few months, Common Core has been attacked as a United Nations conspiracy theory, and compared with Adolf Hitler, and socialism.

There has been little in the way of a focused response to these critiques. Dane Linn, who worked at the National Governors Association to help create Common Core and now advises the Business Roundtable on education issues, said he hopes that will change with a boost from the business community. The Business Roundtable's Education and Workforce Committee is gearing up for a major advocacy push in favor of the Core.

"We're developing national advocacy campaign with the business voice on why Common Core is important," Linn said in an interview. The committee, led by Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, is working with a firm to develop national advertisements, print advertisements and radio television spots. Linn would not specify a budget for the project, and Business Roundtable member CEOs will meet in mid-September to look over the materials. "We will work with interested companies who will want to be part of the campaign," to fund it, Linn said. He said he hopes the ads will be ready as school starts.

Linn added that the Obama administration's enthusiastic embrace of Common Core "is the gasoline that has fueled people who are criticizing the standards." Linn said he tried to encourage U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to keep Common Core out of the Race to the Top competition.

"Over and over again, we encouraged the administration to not try to attach incentives or consequences to adoption of the Core," Linn said. But ultimately, he added, "they dangled money in front of states as a way to incentivize them, even though they're not federally driven standards."

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