Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Proposal to Adopt Common Core Standards

Christopher R. Anderson
Former Chairman, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (2006-2008)
President, Mass. High Tech Council

As President of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, an organization deeply committed to strengthening the talent pipeline, and as former Chairman of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, I wish to convey my concern about the Department’s recommendation to adopt Common Core standards.

I couldn’t agree more with those who have argued that Massachusetts cannot afford to be complacent and presume it can merely rest on its laurels of having the highest academic standards. As Board Chair I argued for a regular refinement of standards to ensure Massachusetts remained at the cutting edge. Surely the Common Core

Standards include many features that Massachusetts would be well advised to incorporate into its own.

But rather than jettison its own highly regarded standards for the Common Core and refine from there, I suggest Massachusetts would be better advised to use its own standards as a baseline.

I recognize that adopting Common Core would serve to advantage Massachusetts’ Race to the Top application. The Mass High Tech Council played a leading role in the passage of legislation to enable our Race to the Top application, and wants nothing more than to see Massachusetts win this competition.

But I am concerned that by adopting Common Core, Massachusetts risks adopting weaker standards, for which no amount of federal funding would be compensatory.

While DESE claims Common Core matches the rigor of our current system 90% of the time, it is an excellent match in math just 57% of the time, and in English just 72% of the time, including 58% for grades 1-3. Since adopting Common Core requires states to adopt at least 85% of the resulting standards, it would appear

Massachusetts risks adopting something less than an excellent match overall.

How can the Board vote for inferior standards with the promise of fine-tuning, rather than insisting upon the highest of standards 100% of the time?

I am also concerned that the adoption of Common Core will lead to the scrapping of MCAS. MCAS was developed to assess our own state standards, and if we adopt Common Core it stands to reason we will be drawn into adopting a common national assessment in lieu of MCAS. Why move to the middle when we can stay at the top?

It is understandable for President Obama to promote Common Core as a way to increase the academic performance of dozens of US underperforming states. It is also understandable for states at the back of the pack to adopt Common Core as a way to play catch-up. But Massachusetts is not Mississippi. We compete with China, Singapore and Finland and nations with strong education systems.

Massachusetts made significant progress on education reform earlier this year thanks to the leadership of the Administration with the passage of legislation that expanded innovative school options – including charter schools – and provided tools to turn around underperforming schools. That was an example of progressive educational policy and our students and teachers will benefit. Eliminating the standards that enabled our students and teachers to beat the nation and compete with the world’s best is not progressive education policy; it is a risky move that could backfire for Massachusetts.