Inside Report: Higher ed yet to weigh in on Common Core

Common Core has been promoted as a way to make sure students are prepared for life after high school, but the voice of higher education, the colleges and universities where many of those students will be heading, has been relatively quiet.

The federal education standards push has been a lightning rod for controversy in Louisiana — and beyond — this year. A political backlash has threatened its implementation in schools and spawned multiple lawsuits.

Gov. Bobby Jindal is suing to stop Louisiana from moving ahead, while the state superintendent of education is pushing forward with the federal guidelines.

The debate has centered on the K-12 class and has rarely shifted over to the college and university level, according to a recent report from the nonpartisan New America Foundation. Instead, a quieter discussion among academics has been brewing, but it’s growing a bit more vocal in light of the report.

Common Core seeks to lift educational attainment nationally, promoting federal standards and goals. It sets out basics that every student is expected to learn.

The report, titled “Common Core Goes to College,” looked at the ways that higher education has — or, more accurately, hasn’t — been involved in the debate over Common Core. It concludes that administrators and faculty on the college and university level have largely been left out of the process.

Louisiana’s future under Common Core remains uncertain. A judge has ruled that its implementation will move forward this year, despite objections via lawsuit from Jindal, as well as criticism from some parents and teachers.

Jindal repeatedly has said he doesn’t think K-12 standards should come from the federal level.

But the report raises several questions and opportunities for Common Core, even if they haven’t been central to the debate over its implementation.

A 2012 study from ACT found that 89 percent of high school teachers said their students were prepared for college, but only 26 percent of college professors said those students arrived on campus ready for college-level work. Hundreds of thousands of students nationally have to take remedial courses.

Additionally, most colleges and universities already rely on standardized testing for admissions, scholarships and other placements, in the form of ACT or SAT scores.

The New America Foundation report argues that the new Common Core-based college- and career-ready assessments should be used to streamline admissions, scholarships and college placement tests.

“The path from high school to college is fraught with detours and pitfalls for students seeking to make this transition,” author Lindsey Tepe writes in the report. “Those states that have made a commitment to preparing all students to college-ready levels will be unable to uphold that ideal without addressing the complicated, piecemeal policies and practices which have been put into place over the past century.”

Higher education policy expert Jacqueline King wrote in a recent column for EdSource.org that higher education will become even more involved through Common Core’s implementation.

“Looking back at what we have accomplished,” wrote King, who serves as higher education director for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, “I see many reasons for optimism. I am even more encouraged as I look ahead.”

Elizabeth Crisp covers higher education policy for The Advocate Capitol news bureau. Her email address is ecrisp@theadvocate.com. Follow her on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.