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Common Core State Standards (CCSS)

Let's Get to the Core of Debate on Standards, Waivers

Carol, I appreciate your quick follow-up and willingness to engage in a conversation about how we can support success for all of our students. We may have different approaches and strategies, but I do believe at the core (pun intended), we all want what’s best for children and schools. I did want to follow up to a few of the comments from you and others on my recent post,  The False Arguments of Carol Burris Against High Standards. First, it’s clear from the comments that the ongoing concerns about states’ rights and flexibility in the adoption and revisions of the standards continue to permeate the debate. State ELA and Mathematics Standards are not set or adopted by National Governors Association, Council of Chiefs and State Schools Officers, the federal government or any national body. Each state has its own adoption process that is set by the state; for example, the process in California is different than the process in Florida. A few people cited the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) included in the Appendix of Delaware's Race to the Top application as evidence that a state cannot change the standards. This MOA is not the state-adoption process or evidence of adoption rules, but an agreement during the drafting stage (January 2010) prior to the finalization of the Common Core State Standards (June 2010) and their adoption by any state. The policy encouraging states to add no more than 15% to the standards is neither a requirement nor a prohibition. It’s simply a recommendation, and it comes from the governors and state chiefs, not from the U.S. Department of Education. Evidence of states adding to the standards, making dozens of changes or engaging in a review process shows that states do, in fact, have flexibility and local control. It is certainly true that if states vary widely from the Common Core, there will be less opportunity for teachers and principals to collaborate and share resources across states. It will also be harder for highly mobile students, like children of military families, to transition between schools. But, at the end of the day, this is all about higher college- and career-ready standards, regardless of their “brand name.” And states are firmly in the driver’s seat. A few comments voiced distress about federal requirements. There is confusion on this topic. Adoption of Common Core State Standards was not a requirement of Race to the Top. While states received points (40 out of 500) for “adopting a common set of high quality standards,” strictly speaking there were only two eligibility requirements (i.e., what a state  had to do in order to be eligible to apply and receive funds): (1) an approved plan for distributing funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and (2) no legal or regulatory barriers to linking student-level data and individual teachers. While there was an incentive for the adoption of high standards (amounting to less than 10% of the total available points), “requirement” has a specific meaning that does not apply in this case. Some commenters also raised the concern that Race to the Top prevents states from dropping out of one of the two state assessment consortia. Again, evidence points to the contrary. Multiple Race to the Top states — including Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina — have decided not to administer PARCC or Smarter Balanced, and none of their RTT funds have been jeopardized as a result of these decisions. (Note: States were asked to provide an amendment on what high-quality assessments they were planning to administer instead.) As for ESEA flexibility waivers, a condition of receiving a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind was that states have in place “college- and career-ready standards.” States have demonstrated this by adopting Common Core or adopting college- and career-ready standards that have been approved and certified by each state’s network of institutions of higher education (IHEs) (examples include Indiana, Virginia, Texas, and Minnesota). Oklahoma, on the other hand, elected to move back to its old standards but did not or could not provide evidence from its IHE network that its standards are college- and career-ready. Finally, I appreciate the feedback on the remediation data and Mike Petrilli’s clarification (my data referred to “low-income” students — which my original post should have specified). Nevertheless, whether it’s my data or yours, or the 2013 New York State Department of Education’s report that 50% of students in NYS two-year institutions of higher education take at least one remedial course, or a recent report that 84% of incoming students at Bakersfield College in California must complete remedial courses before taking college math or English, I think we can all agree that these numbers are too high. Students who are told they have mastered basic skills and are ready for post-secondary work should not find out the dirty truth in college. While I didn’t see many comments on ways we can continue to move forward and improve support and implementation, I do look forward to learning more about your soon-to-be-released solution. Please let us know when we might learn more of this effort. Thank you, again, and thank you to all who shared comments and concerns.
Ann Whalen
Ann Whalen is senior advisor to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Prior to returning to the U.S. Department of Education, she served as the director of policy for Education Post. Whalen has served more than five years in the Obama Administration with the U.S. Department of Education. At the department, Ann was director of the Implementation and Support Unit, providing technical assistance to ...

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