How a State Could Establish Standards Development Committees to Replace Common Core-Aligned Standards

Jun 13, 2018 by

Sandra Stotsky –

The U.S. Department of Education (USED) may be eliminated in the near future either by a drastic reduction in congressional funding or by the congressional sunsetting of all the programs it now funds. A bill to eliminate the USED has been developed by a Congressman from Kentucky. Nevertheless, even if the bill passes, all states with Common Core-aligned standards will still need to do something about the kind of standards that their state education agency (SEA) built into the four-year plan it submitted to the USED for approval this past year to get Title I funds.

How a state can establish academically strong sets of English and mathematics standards (and tests) to strengthen public education and ensure higher but equal expectations for all its students is a tough but not impossible nut to crack. Even congressional repeal of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which mandated a USED-approved plan, as well as the elimination of USED, won’t kill off the Common Core-aligned standards embedded in approved State Plans.

State legislatures, as elected bodies of men and women close to their own local school districts, have the constitutional authority to establish mechanisms for developing strong academic standards for their state. They do not need to revise their own constitutions for such a goal. Every state’s own constitution requires it, at the least, to provide free public education for its children. In contrast, the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government no role in education. In fact, USED has no legal authority to require specific local education policies in return for Title I funds, including policies on opt outs from federal/state mandated tests. Because of their own constitutional authority, state legislatures also do not need permission from their own state board of education, state department of education, or governor to fund the establishment of committees to develop more effective standards and tests for their state than the demonstrably ineffective standards and tests approved by their own state board of education in recent years.

In this article I outline how states can avoid the weaknesses in most pre-Common Core standards and reduce the influence of the many advocacy groups that have damaged K-12 standards and tests in the name of college readiness, compassion, self-esteem, “deeper learning,” or “critical thinking,” or in the name of another seemingly virtuous but nebulous goal for “education reform.” The key to getting better standards is breaking up the SEA’s monopoly on who develops state standards and involving content and teaching experts together in their development through multiple reviews.

I outline the committees and series of steps a state legislature can establish at any time to strengthen public education for all students in the state. The subgroups whose membership and functions are outlined below might be useful for examining the test items for the grades for which a subgroup establishes standards as well as for developing state standards superior to Common Core’s. Their main task in that case would be to ensure that test items reflect the new standards they are coded to–and only those standards.

A. THE STEERING COMMITTEE chosen by joint Education Committee of the State Legislature


Chancellor of State System of Higher Education

State Legislators (3)

ELA Standards Development Chair (when chosen)

Mathematics Standards Development Chair (when chosen)


To oversee the entire project

To approve final content and work of the committees


• Selected by and reports to Steering Committee

Oversees entire standards/test development processes

Assures complete and accurate communications are provided to the Legislature, the Governor and the public at large

Works directly with ELA and Math Chairs, and directs work of the ELA and Math Scribes

C. Document SCRIBEs (PAID) selected by the Steering Committee, reports to Executive Director


Expertise in subject matter

Skill and experience with digital technology



Prepares database of all nominees

Processes nominations to various committees and subgroups


Schedules and secures sites for all in-person and virtual meetings

Arranges for the services of meeting facilitators where needed


Takes and transcribes detailed notes of all meetings

Creates minutes from Steering Committee meetings

Provides ongoing updates of standards- or test-writing process to committees and the public

Posts appropriate information on webpage

Maintains all drafts and revisions throughout the writing process

Compiles public comments and coordinates responses to them



Undergraduate teaching faculty member in the arts and sciences

Math Chair must have primary appointment in a science, mathematics or engineering department, not in college of education

ELA Chair must have primary appointment in an English literature/language department, not in college of education

Nominated by the president of a four-year accredited university or college that maintains graduate-level programs and to which nominee belongs

At least 2 candidates for each committee will be nominated for the Steering Committee for final selection by joint education committee of state legislature


Maintains schedules and timelines

Leads and coordinates the work of the Standards Development Committees

Assures that standards are written with an emphasis on disciplinary content and accuracy

Works with Executive Director


District superintendents nominate up to a total of 6 teachers for the subgroups in ELA and Math using a one-page nomination form


ELA Chair

ELA Vice Chair — Teaching faculty member in an undergraduate English Literature Department at a four-year university (selected by the ELA Chair)

4 Pre-K to Grade 5 teachers

4 Middle school teachers (Grades 6 to 8)

4 High school teachers, one at each grade level (Grades 9 to 12)

1 Librarian (nominated by state library association)

Qualifications for teachers

Minimum 7 years of teaching experience at the educational level of the subgroup for which they are applying: Current teaching assignment at one of the grade levels in that subgroup

At least a minor in English and/or list courses completed in literature, composition, or rhetoric for those seeking middle or high school subgroup

Reading methods coursework for those in PreK-grade 8

• Final selection for subgroup by Steering Committee in conjunction with ELA Chair and Vice Chair


Math Chair

Math Vice Chair — teaching faculty member in an undergraduate Mathematics or Science Department at a four-year university (selected by the Math Chair)

4 Pre-K to Grade 5 teachers

4 Middle school teachers (Grades 6 to 8)

4 High school teachers (Grades 9 to 12) to Include:

•  Algebra I teacher

Geometry teacher

Algebra II teacher

Precalculus or Trigonometry teacher

1 Engineer (nominated by a state engineering professional organization or university faculty)

Qualifications for teachers

Minimum 7 years of teaching experience at the educational level of the subgroup for which they are applying: Current teaching assignment at one of the grade levels in the subgroup

At least a minor in mathematics, science, or engineering

Final selection by Steering Committee in conjunction with Math Chair and Vice Chair


Each Standards Development Committee (SDC) as a whole selects for use a highly-rated pre-2009 set of state standards as the foundational blueprint (for ELA: California, 1998, Indiana 2006, Massachusetts 2001 or Stotsky-condensed/revised 2013, and for math: California 1998, Indiana 2006, Massachusetts 2000, or Minnesota 2008).

***No subgroups are to be formed for each educational level until the major strands for K to 12 are determined by the choice of foundational blueprint. The reason is that major strands must span K to 12 and be chosen by the SDC as a whole. When there are significant developmental differences in a strand at an educational level (e.g., beginning reading skills), these can be shown by sub-strands at that educational level.

• Each subgroup addresses each relevant grade-level set of standards by adoption, modification, or rewrite.

Standards Development Committee as a whole examines entire set of standards and revises when necessary

Each subgroup submits the documents to the Steering Committee for review and approval



Nominees not selected to be on Standards Development Committee


Teachers review all standards at their own educational level for appropriateness and wording

High school teachers review all documents

Comments are recorded by the Scribes and sent to the S D C for review and possible action

First draft presented to the Steering Committee for approval

G. SECOND DRAFT REVIEW BY higher education AND special interest GROUPs


State Chamber of Commerce

State business and industry professional organizations

State engineering organizations

Early childhood advocacy organizations

Special education advocacy organizations

English Language Learners advocacy organizations

School counselor professional organizations

Speech pathology professional organizations

Undergraduate teaching faculty in science, engineering, mathematics and English



Review content standards and advise on:

a) Classroom application

b) Vertical alignment

c) How the standards may affect the population they represent.

All responses must be signed and submitted electronically

Comments on any recommended changes to the Second Draft are recorded by the Scribes and sent to the Standards Development Committee for review and possible action

Second draft presented to the Steering Committee for approval. Steering Committee reviews recommendations and provides direction to the ELA and Math Chairs and the Standards Writing Teams as they edit the second draft.


The presidents, provost, and faculty of the four-year colleges nominate two well-known or published experts in each subject area. Selection by the Steering Committee

• Individuals do not teach at any of the state’s colleges or universities

Qualifications determined by Steering Committee

• External Reviewers report on the quality of the standards

• External Reviewers report to the Steering Committee and the State Legislature


After the second draft review, the Standards Development Committees will review, revise and submit a final draft to the Steering Committee. Final draft will be submitted for a 45-day public comment period and public hearing at the State Capitol. Public comment will be incorporated as deemed appropriate by the Standards Development Committee

J. Final Draft submitted to the State Legislature for Legislative Hearings and final approval.


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