ESSA and Common Core

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This is Part Nine in a nine part series of a conversation between NPE Action President Diane Ravitch and Senator Lamar Alexander’s Chief of Staff, David P. Cleary. You can access the entire series here.



How does ESSA affect Common Core? Some says ESSA “locks in” CCSS. True or false.




No. This one is absolutely the biggest whopper we’ve heard.

Some advocates have tried to pretend that there were no mandates to adopt Common Core, but in the same breath point with glee to how many states adopted Common Core in order to secure a waiver from the broken NCLB or a grant under Race to the Top.

States are completely, totally, 100 percent free to set their standards on their own and relegate the Common Core State Standards to history, if they choose.



States do have to have academic standards in order to receive federal education funds. That’s been a federal requirement for a very long time.

Here’s what the new law requires:

States have to have “challenging State academic standards.” This requirement has been in effect since at least the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act. But “challenging” means what the states want it to mean. The Secretary and peer reviewers are strictly prohibited from reviewing the content of state standards, as the State does not have to submit the standards for review or approval, prohibited in section 1111(b)(1)(A) under the new law.

It’s the equivalent of checking a box.

The Secretary cannot require a state to add to or delete from its standards, or interfere with state standards, as dictated by section 1111(e)(1)(B)(ii) in the new law. In section 8527(d), there is an explicit prohibition on any federal approval or certification of standards.

Under ESSA, state standards have to be aligned so that the end point of the state standards in k-12 is aligned with the entrance requirements for the public system of higher education and career and technical state standards. This seemed like a logical requirement: students and parents expect that when the student leaves high school, the student is then prepared to go on to higher education or career and technical education.

Common Core advocates saying that this “locks in” Common Core are the equivalent of the rooster taking credit for the rising of the sun. It’s pure poppycock.

There are all sorts of ways a state could set their standards under ESSA. Some will keep Common Core (whether admitting to it or trying to rebrand it), some will keep parts of Common Core and make changes in areas, some will completely abandon Common Core and adopt their own system or work together with a smaller group of states to develop something that works for them. It is purely a state decision.

What Congress eliminated were the mandates in the waivers, the incentives in the Race to the Top (and we didn’t authorize the Department to do something like Race to the Top again), and any other method of coercing or incentivizing the adoption of Common Core standards or any particular set of standards deemed “acceptable” by Washington bureaucrats. The law is clear – no officer or employee of the federal government can mandate, direct, or control a state’s standards, or condition or incentivize the receipt of any grant, contract, or cooperative agreement on the adopt of Common Core State Standards, as described in section 8526A of the new law. States can enter voluntary partnerships to develop and implement standards, but the new law states in section 1111(j) that that Secretary cannot attempt to influence, incentivize, or coerce participation in partnerships or the adoption of the Common Core.

Now it is up to states to decide what to do, without any interference from Washington. For those concerned about Common Core, the responsibility falls to them to keep an eye on what their state decides to do.

From Chairman Alexander’s perspective this is exactly what he set out to do: restore responsibility to state and local leaders what to do about educational decisions. If a state decides to move away from Common Core, they don’t have to call Washington and ask permission—they can just do it.