College Leaders Sign On to Support Common Core Educational Standards

June 10, 2014

More than 200 higher-education leaders have created a new organization to voice their support for Common Core, the controversial state-based educational-standards system.

Members of the Higher Ed for Higher Standards coalition announced on Tuesday their intention to reverse anti-Common Core sentiments in their respective state capitals, as well as to work toward the successful adoption of Common Core standards. Members of the group hail from more than 30 states and consist mostly of administrators at public colleges and universities.

In the view of Nancy L. Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York system, Common Core represents an opportunity to set national standards for public-school education. "My fear is, if we start throwing in the towel now on Common Core, we won’t have another moment like this again," Ms. Zimpher said.

Designed in 2009, the Common Core standards were adopted in 2010 and 2011 by 45 states and the District of Columbia with bipartisan support. But recently, support for the reforms has slipped as controversy has arisen over the standards and how they were put in place.

In recent weeks, two governors—Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Nikki Haley of South Carolina, both Republicans—signed laws ending adoption of the reforms in their states. Indiana’s Board of Education formally abandoned the benchmarks in late April.

Common Core maintains support from the Obama administration. Ms. Zimpher is also a proponent of the president’s college-rating plan and has proposed the adoption of similar measures within the SUNY system.

Common Core and the controversy surrounding it were certainly on the minds of top college administrators when they convened this spring for a series of meetings. As conversations about Common Core carried over from meetings of the National Association of System Heads, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the idea for Higher Ed for Higher Standards was conceived.

The new coalition is a project of the Collaborative for Student Success, which receives funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates foundation has spent millions of dollars promoting Common Core.

Coalition members plan to focus on their own state capitals, where the group’s organizers hope the voices and reputations of college officials will help reverse legislative animosity toward the benchmarks. Ms. Zimpher said that progress in New York has already been made by forging partnerships with the governor, teachers, and other Common Core supporters. The coalition will work to educate lawmakers and the public further on the benefits of and misconceptions surrounding Common Core, she said.

With no formal body to direct action, it will be up to coalition members to plan among themselves and lobby their respective state lawmakers.

Ready for College?

Members of the group say they see Common Core as a potential solution to the problem of remedial education in higher education. Strong American Schools, an education-policy group founded by the billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad, has estimated the annual cost of remediation at $1.9-billion to $2.3-billion for community colleges and $500-million more at four-year colleges.

Some studies have found that as many as 50 percent of students at community colleges, and 20 percent of students at four-year institutions, require remedial courses. Organizers of the coalition believe that the educational reforms can alleviate some of those problems and narrow the college-preparation gap.

Administrators are not without their own concerns about the standards, however. In an op-ed published on Tuesday in The Chronicle, Chancellor William E. (Brit) Kirwan of the University System of Maryland, Chancellor Timothy P. White of the California State University system, and Ms. Zimpher argue that better assessments must be put in place to measure the quality of Common Core.

"The truth is, most states’ current high-school tests are not rigorous enough to provide us this information, so we in higher education often ignore them," the chancellors wrote.

But public colleges and universities face their own challenges with Common Core integration. According to a survey conducted by the Center for Education Policy at George Washington University, education agencies in 16 states reported that working with public colleges to enact Common Core standards posed a "major" challenge. Published in September, the survey also found that public colleges in 27 states were having difficulty adapting teacher-training programs to the benchmarks. State education agencies also reported that colleges in 18 states were resisting the reforms in other ways.