We know now that all states – whether they’ve adopted Common Core or not – can successfully apply for one of the administration’s new ESEA waivers. Non-Common Core states simply need to demonstrate they have adopted college- and career-ready standards in reading and math… and that the state’s network of higher education institutions agree that “students who meet these standards will not need remedial coursework at the postsecondary level.”
This requirement is just common sense. If a state has adopted standards that truly measure whether students are ready for college and careers, proficiency in those standards should mean they can bypass developmental courses and go straight to college-level work. It’s good policy sense too: if we want to even come close to the President’s goal of leading the world in college completion by 2020, we must reduce the number of students needing remediation. As my colleague Susan Headden has written, “the remedial placement process is ground zero for college non-completion in America.” Nearly 60% of students entering community colleges are referred to remedial classes before they can enroll in credit-bearing courses. For these students, fewer than a quarter of them complete their 2-year degree or certificate within 8 years.
With this requirement, all that anxiety about Virginia, Texas, and the other Common Core-holdout states prior to the formal announcement of the ESEA flexibility package? Completely misplaced. Instead, it’s the 46 Common Core adopters that warrant our concern. When they apply for waivers, they get to check the Option A box. They don’t have to prove their state’s colleges and universities will accept proficiency in Common Core as a proxy for readiness at all. All they need to do is show they adopted Common Core and move on.
This is a huge – and misguided – gamble on the administration’s part. Successful implementation of the Common Core standards and their corresponding assessments will depend on unprecedented alignment between K-12 educators and higher education. If the whole point of the standards is college and career readiness, higher education (and employers, for that matter) must be on board with Common Core and believe it meets expectations for postsecondary success. To assume that higher education institutions notoriously impervious to change will abandon their inadequate remedial placement policies simply because the state adopted Common Core is naive. To be sure, higher ed has been part of the conversation in developing the Common Core. But token representation on task forces doesn’t equate to agreement among college presidents and professors that the standards include the right things, at the right level of complexity.
With Option A, the Obama administration missed a huge opportunity to encourage dialogue between the K-12 proponents of Common Core and the higher education institutions that will ultimately determine whether proficiency in Common Core really means anything at all.