Political context explains shaky support for Common Core

One of the great mysteries of education politics is the way the near-universal support for the Common Core State Standards has come under siege, primarily from the tea-party right but also from the left. Jeremy Anderson, president of the Education Commission of the States, made some sense of it this week in a policy chat sponsored by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

Anderson pointed out that most of the governors and chief state school officers who were behind the Common Core movement are no longer in office. They’ve been replaced by newbies who don’t have ownership of the standards and, in some cases, are worried about political blowback. And state legislators, who weren’t much involved in the Common Core push to begin with, have had their heads spun by the dizzying storm of claims and counterclaims about the standards.

More than half the states elected new governors in 2002, Anderson said; and 25 of those governors were re-elected in 2006. Others, like Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, were elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2008. Those governors and their chief state school officers were the constituency for Common Core. Under the No Child Left Behind law, they watched their states try to measure progress against a mish-mash of standards, some rigorous and some not. They decided a national effort was in order.

The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced plans for Common Core in 2009, and 46 states almost immediately signed on. But it would take several years to create the standards, and several more to phase them in. They wouldn’t take effect until 2014.

“That’s the reality of what we deal with in education,” Anderson said. “These things take time. It’s a culture change.”

By 2009, most of the governors who started the effort were on their way out the door, their involvement cut short by term limits. The Obama administration picked up the ball, tying Common Core participation to Race to the Top grants and No Child Left Behind waivers. But that only stoked opposition from the right, which decided the standards were a federal takeover of education or worse. (If you’re on Twitter, search #corespiracy for a taste of the paranoia). Critics on the left, on the other hand, see Common Core as a stalking horse for ever-increasing use of standardized tests pushed on the schools by Pearson and other businesses.

The debate calls to mind the quip attributed by the Fordham Foundation’s Chester Finn – the U.S. will never have national tests because Democrats hate tests and Republicans hate national.

Indiana lawmakers voted this spring to “pause” the state’s implementation of Common Core. But HEA 1427, the legislation they passed, contradicts itself. It says the State Board of Education must “use the common core standards as the base model for academic standards to the extent necessary to comply with federal standards.” But in a nod to anti-federal sentiment, it says the board may not “cede any measure of autonomy or control of education standards and assessments” to any entity.

Daniels has left the governor’s office, and his successor, Mike Pence, also a Republican, expresses skepticism about if not opposition to Common Core. He and the superintendent of public institution, Democrat Glenda Ritz – who says she’s not for or against Common Core – pulled Indiana out of PARCC, one of the state consortia developing tests based on the standards.

Meanwhile, a legislative study committee created to investigate the standards has been taking testimony from a large cast of Common Core lovers and haters. And the state Office of Management and Budget concluded Indiana’s testing costs won’t vary a lot regardless of what path it takes.

Educators across the state have already done a lot of work getting ready to transition to Common Core. Now they’re told to wait and wonder what will happen while the political drama plays out.

And this just touches the surface. Anyone who wants to understand this mess should listen to NPR State Impact Indiana’s Progress Report on Common Core in Indiana. It runs 30 minutes, so get comfortable.

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One thought on “Political context explains shaky support for Common Core

  1. Pingback: Common Core debate: Be careful what you pay for | School Matters

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