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College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct - Dec 2014 > Promise of Equality from Common Core Not so Easily Achieved

Promise of Equality from Common Core Not so Easily Achieved

A research report from Associate Professor Mindy Kornhaber and her team revealed that there can be problems with the view of equity that most Common Core policy entrepreneurs hold.
Promise of Equality from Common Core Not so Easily Achieved

Mindy Kornhaber

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In 2012, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a report titled “Helping to Ensure Equal Access to Education.” Part of the report described how the OCR transformed its enforcement approach to better promote and advance educational equity for all students.

Mindy Kornhaber
Mindy Kornhaber at the 2014 Education and Civil Rights Conference.
Part of the argument in favor of the Common Core State Standards Initiative is that it would advance educational equity. The reform seeks to anchor primary and secondary education, across the more than 40 states and District of Columbia that have agreed to participate, in one set of demanding, internationally benchmarked standards. Supporters of the reform have maintained that standards will no longer vary across states or by ‘zip code.’

Equity is playing a central role in the national education discourse now, partly due to the introduction of common standards and because the Common Core seeks to enable all students to enter postsecondary education or training without need of remediation.

“States’ education clauses don't address preparing all students for college and career,” said Mindy Kornhaber, associate professor of education. “They more typically speak to efficient, effective, or basic education. However, it is possible to see the introduction of equal standards for students in disparate schools as a civil rights issue.” 

Kornhaber, and graduate student co-authors Kelly Griffith and Alison Tyler, explore various conceptions of educational equity in their paper, “It’s Not Education by Zip Code Anymore — But What is It? Conceptions of Equity under the Common Core.”

Using data from interviews with Common Core policy entrepreneurs and qualitative analysis of interview data, the article examines the role and meaning of equity within the Common Core at a level beyond “zip code.” Findings are considered against a conceptual framework of equal, equalizing and expansive views of equity.

“I thought it was important to explicate views of equity because the word is bandied about. People generally agree educational equity is important. However, they don't necessarily understand how the meanings of equity may differ. These differences have policy implications,” Kornhaber explained.

“With a clearer conceptualization, it may be possible to have clearer goals and clearer means of achieving them. Although many others over the years have sought to explain the concept (e.g., James Coleman and Christopher Jencks), I thought it might be useful to have a newer, and ideally clearer conceptual framework.” 

In the article, Kornhaber used “educational equity” for concerns about disparities in educational resources and achievement that are linked to demographic variables, particularly those emphasized under No Child Left Behind: socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, language, or disability. Through a review of the literature, she and her co-authors clustered conceptions of educational equity in the following three ways.

Under the equal conception of educational equity, policies and programs are designed to provide equal educational resources for all students. Given equal resources, differences in achievement across different student populations represent influences beyond the purview of the education system.

Under the equalizing conception, policies and programs are meant to afford compensatory educational resources to address different populations of learners. The equalizing conception seeks to foster more equal school outcomes.

The expansive conception of educational equity also seeks to create more equal school outcomes. However, it emphasizes the need for comprehensive resources both within and beyond schools to attain such outcomes.

The team’s research and interviews revealed that most Common Core policy entrepreneurs hold primarily an equal view of equity.  Kornhaber and her co-authors noted that this view is problematic basis for generating more equal school outcomes, because students’ and schools’ initial resources are highly variable. . 

“Given its equal conception, the Common Core cannot close achievement gaps, any more than the same icing will transform different cakes,” the authors wrote. “Policies and resources aligned to an expansive view of equity are needed to foster more equal chances of school and life success for children from disparate circumstances.” 

by Andy Elder (December 2014)