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Arkansas and CCSS

This post is written by Donna Wake, NCTE’s Higher Education policy analyst for Arkansas. 

Donna Wake’s views represented in this blog are the author’s own and in no way reflect the position of either the state of Arkansas, the institution where she is employed, or NCTE.

dwakeOver the course of this summer, Arkansas embarked on a journey to (re)consider the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and their “fit” for the students of Arkansas. For a brief review of the review process, please refer to my policy analyst posts on the NCTE website.

While the events of the summer were interesting to follow, more compelling to me were the reasons Arkansas’s governor gave for reconsidering the CCSS. In part, the governor’s request was a reaction to the loud media buzz around the PARCC test requirements and the buzz built around the opt-out movements that sprang up in the state in March and April.

In part, the governor’s request was a reaction to the increasingly prevalent charter school movement in the state that presumes the practices of public schools are somehow “wrong” for (some) students and that confuses the conversation about common standards and accountability.

In part, the governor’s request was simply the response of a newly elected Republican governor to standards issued under a Democratic president and adopted by the previous state administration.

Regardless of motivation, the stated purpose of examining the CCSS in terms of the “fit” of the standards for Arkansas students is spurious.

First, this argument assumes that somehow kids in Arkansas are qualitatively different from kids in other states. While I would assume some variation in students across states, I would doubt that these differences are vast enough to call for an entirely different set of standards. I have worked in K–12 and higher education settings in several states in my career (Mississippi, California, Pennsylvania, and now Arkansas). In my work, it seems to me that kids in Philadelphia share more similarities to kids in Little Rock than they do differences.

Second, the argument that Arkansas kids need different standards deteriorates when you actually read the CCSS. It has always been my opinion that the standards are a road for WHAT to teach, but not HOW to teach it. So even if kids were somehow qualitatively different from state to state, as a teacher you could still tailor how you taught to a standard and what materials you chose to meet that standard based on local kids’ needs and contexts.

Third, the governor’s supposition that the kids are different enough in Arkansas to require specialized standards assumes that the kids in Arkansas are somehow qualitatively similar within the confines of the state border. Which I know to be false. The students in Little Rock have vastly different experiences from those of the students in Helena, Fayetteville, or Deer.

If we were to take this argument to an extreme, we might argue that each district, or even each school, needs its own standards.

For now, Arkansas has indeed embarked on a process to revise the CCSS based on the Council on Common Core Review’s June recommendations. The Arkansas Department of Education published the CCSS revision timeline, with a target date for the final draft of the revised CCSS for Arkansas to be submitted to the state board for approval by June 2016. Currently Arkansas teachers are invited to give input on the existing CCSS standards via a survey on the Arkansas Department of Education website. I will be interested to see what Arkansas does to make the CCSS better “fit” kids in the state.

Donna Wake serves as Associate Dean at the University of Central Arkansas and teaches in the department of Teaching and Learning. Her doctorate is from Temple University in Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology with an emphasis on K-12 Literacy. She has taught across the K-16 spectrum in Mississippi, California, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas. Her research agenda focuses on critical pedagogy, critical literacy, teacher education reform, assessment and program evaluation, and technology in education.