Nearly five months after Gov. Chris Christie ordered state school officials to review Common Core, the Department of Education recently wrapped up its community listening tours and is starting to pore over thousands of online comments from the public about grade-level standards.
It will be another three months before recommendations for possible changes to the standards, which dictate what students in each grade level should know in English and math, will be presented to the state Board of Education.
But prominent figures on both sides of the debate over Common Core, the standards that have been in place in New Jersey since 2010, say they don’t expect to see drastic changes.
That’s partly because a committee of teachers, administrators and parents the Department of Education put together to review the standards, along with three subcommittees, convened in September and have until year’s end to complete their task, said Susan Cauldwell, lead organizer of the grassroots group Save Our Schools NJ. The group does not have a formal position on Common Core but opposes tying standardized test scores to teacher and school evaluations.
“No one really thinks anything thoughtful is going to come out of a four-month procedure,” Cauldwell said. “We’re going to be scurrying around with a few word changes.”
Department of Education spokesman David Saenz said that in addition to the committee members, the state Board of Education will look at the standards after it receives recommendations from the review group. It may be spring before the board takes action, bringing it closer to a year from when Christie ordered the review, Saenz said.
Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, believes the timeline for implementing changes is reasonable.
“I do think it’s a very ambitious time schedule and a very ambitious review,” she said. But, she said, “I don’t think it will be rash in any sense.”
The educators on the committee have spent five years implementing Common Core. The state Board of Education looked at the standards in 2010, she said, noting that many involved in this latest review are familiar with the standards already.
Like Cauldwell, Wright said she is not expecting substantial changes, but feels that’s because students already are well served under Common Core.
“Possibly there may be slight alterations or maybe better clarifications of what the standards are looking for so that teachers and administrators can better align their curriculum,” she said.
Saenz, meanwhile, said it’s premature to speculate whether any changes will differ vastly from Common Core, while acknowledging that no one has hinted at a complete overhaul.
“This is a review of the standards. This isn’t a recreation. This isn’t starting from scratch,” he said.
Christie said during a speech at Burlington County College last spring that Common Core was “simply not working.”
“I have heard far too many people — teachers and parents from across the state — [say] that the Common Core standards were not developed by New Jersey educators and parents,” the governor said at the time. “As a result, the buy-in from both communities has not been what we need for maximum achievements. I agree. It is time to have standards that are even higher and come directly from our communities.”
Those comments marked a departure from his previous appraisal of the federal standards.
“We're doing Common Core in New Jersey and we're going to continue. And this is one of those areas where I've agreed more with the president than not,” Christie said at a Las Vegas school summit in August 2013, according to an ABCNews report. At the time, he accused members of Congress who didn’t support Common Core of bowing to political pressure, according to the report.
Cauldwell hinted at suspect motives for why Christie is now calling for changes.
“I don’t want to say it’s because our chief executive is running for president, but it certainly feels that way,” she said.
Christopher Tienken, an assistant professor of education administration at Seton Hall University who is critical of Common Core, said in an email that the governor’s change of heart is part of a political stunt because some Republicans oppose the federal standards.
Like others, he does not believe any changes to the standards will be drastic.
“The standards will be very similar but have a different name perhaps” from Common Core, he wrote. “This is political theater, nothing more. The directives coming out of the [New Jersey Department of Education] to school districts do not in any way signal a change of course related to Common Core. The directives superintendents are receiving signal business as usual.”
Asked to respond to comments about Christie’s motives, the governor’s office referred to statements he made in July 2014, nearly a year before declaring his presidential run, when he announced he was forming a commission to review K-12 student assessments, including Common Core.
Christie also raised issues with Common Core that November, during his appearance on “Ask the Governor.”
“I have some real concerns about Common Core and how it's being rolled out and that's why I put a commission together to study it," he said on the radio show.
New Jersey School Boards Association spokesman Frank Belluscio, whose organization has supported Common Core, said his members aren’t opposed to the latest review.
“We’ve always been strong supporters of standards-based education,” he said. But, he said, “because we’ve historically reviewed standards, we’re not opposed to another review. We think it’s a healthy process.”
Saenz, the Department of Education spokesman, said standards are typically revisited every five years. Though this would not have been a normal year for review, Saenz said it made sense to take another look since the state had just administered a new standardized test known as PARCC — an exam that’s aligned to the Common Core standards — for the first time this year.
The three listening tours the education department conducted last month to solicit feedback about the standards were attended by about 25 to 35 people, and more than 1,000 individuals submitted, or partially completed, an online survey, which ended Friday, he said.
The department is also accepting written comments from the public through Oct. 16. Comments can be submitted through a link at www.state.nj.us/education/standards.