Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Under Construction: The Rise, Spread, and Consequences of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in the U.S. Education Sector – A study co-investigated by Susan Moffitt

October 14, 2016

Co-Principal Investigators: Brian Rowan (Project Director), University of Michigan; David K. Cohen, University of Michigan; Susan L. Moffitt, Brown University; and Sean F. Reardon, Stanford University

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative—initially viewed as a promising effort to establish national standards for student learning in America’s decentralized education system—stands at a crossroads. Launched in 2008 by Achieve, Inc., the National Governors’ Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the CCSS initiative called for states to: (1) adopt common academic standards for students; (2) leverage state powers to align instructional materials, assessments, and professional development to these standards; and (3) use policy instruments such as accountability, intervention, and capacity-building to ensure consistently high student achievement of the standards in all local jurisdictions (NGA Best Practices Center, CCSSO, & Achieve, Inc., 2008). At first, the initiative succeeded beyond expectations. By 2011—three years after the initiative was launched, and two years after publication of the standards—46 states, the District of Columbia, and 5 territories had adopted the “common core” as their state academic standards; 40 states had joined one of the two federally-funded (but state-led) assessment consortia that created student assessments aligned to the CCSS; major textbook providers eagerly proclaimed the alignment of their materials to the CCSS; and public opinion was solidly behind the effort. Today, public opinion about the common core is decidedly mixed. Several states repealed their initial adoptions of CCSS standards. Early experiences with consortia-developed assessment systems have been mixed; and, in some states, a movement toward students “opting out” of state testing has emerged.

This moment represents a unique and important opportunity to examine the potential transformations underway in the organization and delivery of instruction in the unequal terrain of American schooling. The Common Core State Standards initiative continues to represent an historic initiative with potential long-term implications for educational disparities. Our multi-disciplinary, multi-institution, multi-year approach to understanding the Common Core State Standards Initiative puts inequality at the center of our inquiry. Our research is designed to illuminate how the CCSS initiative affects educational inequality, and to inform future efforts to reduce educational inequality by shedding light on how organizational networks and capacities might be leveraged to do so.

Our approach also considers the CCSS initiative dynamically. Each facet of our research program recognizes that the CCSS initiative remains very much under construction nationally, in the education sector, in states, in localities, and in classrooms. The dynamic nature of the CCSS motivates our longitudinal and geographically varied approach to studying the initiative, to understand how the equalizing or dis-equalizing implications of the CCSS initiative depend on schools’ and school systems’ abilities to mobilize the capacity to improve instruction; and how the CCSS initiative ultimately affects inequalities in student achievement.

To read more about the project, click here.