Promises, Promises

The first week of June is shaping up to be a busy one for federal education policy.  On June 1, Phase Two Race to the Top applications are due to the U.S. Department of Education.  Then on June 2, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association are slated to to release their K-12 common core standards to all who are watching.

What is the significance of these two dates?  Every state seeking a RttT grant is expected to pledge to adopt the common core standards as a term of eligibility for RttT.  And while working drafts of the K-12 standards have been circulating around town for months, the actual document each state pledges to follow won’t be released until the day after such pledges are due.

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli has an interesting discussion on the common core/RttT implications for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts here.  And while his discussion is Massachusetts-centric, the argument is an interesting one for every state seeking funding from the $4 billion pot.

For those who fail to recall, last summer, when the draft RttT guidelines first came out, NGA and CCSSO raised concerns about the requirements tying common core to RttT.  The chief concern was timeline, particularly for Phase One applicants who had to make such a pledge back in January almost entirely in the dark.

But it begs larger questions.  Does promising to adopt common core standards demand specific follow through?  Will ED consider pulling back a RttT award if a state doesn’t aggressively implement the standards in the coming year?  And what, exactly, does implementing the standards look like before we have actual assessments to measure expected student performance?

Back in 2005, NGA pulled off a monumental task, getting all 50 states to agree to adopt a common high school graduation rate.  It was a major step forward for both accountability and accurate data, using a formula that clearly and unequivocally determined how many kids actually earned a high school diploma.  The formula was simple.  Look at the number of incoming ninth graders four years ago, look at how many are graduating today, and there you have it.  No multiple definitions of graduates, no partial credits, no semi-applause for those on the six-year grad plan.

it was a bold and necessary move.  And NGA got every governor to agree to it.  But governors and state legislatures change.  It takes time to adopt such new policies.  And then some states realize that a new grad rate means waking up one morning and finding your percentage of high school graduates dropped 15 percent overnight.  As a result, only about a third of states have actually enacted the new (or not so new, five years later) formula.  But all are still on record as supporting it.

Is that where we are headed on common core standards?  Every state, save for Texas and Alaska, signs onto the movement and agrees to the general framework.  But when the rubber hits the road, adoption does not necessarily mean enactment.  We agree to the principle, but not to the practice?

I certainly hope not.  From what Eduflack has heard, the K-12 common core standards are strong, and probably stronger than most expected.  While a state like Massachusetts may have to look at how much of an improvement these proposed standards are to the current state standards, just about every other state in the union cannot deny it would be a major improvement.  The challenge is moving from the intellectual acceptance of common core to the practical adoption of the framework. 

105 thoughts on “Promises, Promises

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