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Russo: Whither CCSS?

Clues from NCLB explain why the Common Core is not going away.

So far, four states that signed on to adopt the Common Core standards—Georgia, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Utah—have pulled out of the test development process, and several others have been considering opting out. Earlier this fall, Florida officials announced that they no longer want to lead one of the test-development networks (though the state will still participate in the process).

However, there was a remarkably similar clamor from states and districts after Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. Many of the arguments against NCLB were the same as those being used against the Common Core now.  

At the time, a number of states considered opting out. Several states (including Connecticut, Arizona, Utah, and Nebraska) and districts filed lawsuits against NCLB. So did the NEA and 11 districts scattered around the nation. Others sought accommodations, proposed legislation, or reported on the costs of complying with the new law. Three wealthy Connecticut districts opted out of the program entirely in 2003, followed by two districts near Chicago.

But ultimately, NCLB was implemented (and the world didn't end). The DOE and Congress held firm for the first four years, rejecting pleas for leniency and issuing fines. Then, during the second Bush term, waivers started being offered to some states and districts. No states—and just a handful of districts—declined to participate in NCLB. It was easier, or less costly, to go along with the new rules than to turn the money down and stick with existing accountability systems. (More recently, when provisions of NCLB such as the annual rating system became unworkable, the DOE created a "waiver" program to give states relief. Thus far, all but eight states have gotten such waivers.)

There are some big differences, of course. The 2002 initiative was a federal statute with billions in annual federal funding attached to it, while the Common Core has received some funding from Congress but is not specifically authorized by the federal government. The political environment in 2013 is inarguably more polarized than it was a decade ago. And NCLB let states continue to use their own standards, tests, and performance ratings.

Concerns about academic competitiveness with other nations are nothing new. History is littered with failed national efforts to bring uniform academic standards and tests to the decentralized U.S. education system. But governors and state education chiefs, rather than Congress or the White House, have pushed for this effort, and the Common Core initiative has made it this far without being reversed by more than just a handful of states.

Seven states implemented the new standards across all grades last year. Another 21 are doing so this year. Three states have already given tests that were at least partially aligned with the Common Core standards. Forty-one states and D.C. are still in the pipeline to administer the new tests this year or next. None of the 45 states that signed on to the standards has recanted.

If the history of NCLB is any guide, the vast majority of the current efforts to reconsider or roll back the Common Core will lose steam or result in some relatively minor accommodation well short of opting out. Whether that is a good thing or not depends on where you stand.   


Late Fall 2013


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