Last week, my colleague Matt Williams gave a smart analysis of what lies ahead in the post-election education policy space. He touched on a lot of things, from higher education to the fiscal cliff and sequestration. The most interesting thing he mentioned was the Common Core, saying, “Is this (Tony Bennett’s defeat in Indiana) a blip? Or is this a strong trend line that could up-end the Common Core?” What does the defeat of the incumbent state schools chief in Indiana have to do with the Common Core? We’ll get there, just stick with me.
First, for readers not familiar with the Common Core, “The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.” To date, these standards have been adopted by 45 states. How can something that has been adopted so broadly, especially in our current state of divisiveness, be a bad thing? That’s where Bennett’s defeat comes in.
Many argue that, at least in part, conservative Republicans voted against Bennett because he was such a vocal supporter of the initiative. Why? Because some, including Rick Hess, see the inclusion of the Common Core in Race to the Top, the NCLB waivers, and the “ESEA blueprint” – some of President Obama’s highest profile education initiatives – as turning a good idea into “Obama-era federal overreach.” Hess goes on to warn, “…the administration has done much to make the Core toxic on the right. And we’re only just beginning to see the consequences.”
In Michele McNeil’s EdWeek post, “Five Issues Facing Arne Duncan in a Second Term” she contends that “supporting states as they implement common standards and tests without ‘loving them to death,’” will be vital to the success of a presumptive second term for Secretary Duncan.
Therein lays the crux of the problem. Will Secretary Duncan be able to achieve something seen as vital to his success and widely accepted as a good idea by 45 states if some (or many, or all?) Republicans responsible for the state-based implementation of the standards see them as too toxic to support or even get involved with? I can’t tell the future, but I am looking forward to watching it play out.