Published Online: February 22, 2010

Obama Plan Would Tie Title I to College-Career Standards

President Barack Obama told the nation’s governors Monday that he would like to make funding for districts under Title I—the flagship program of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—contingent on states’ adoption of reading and math standards that prepare students for college or a career.

The proposal, which would be rolled into the administration’s still-emerging plan for reauthorization of the ESEA, would require states to either join with their counterparts in developing rigorous, common standards, or work with their institutions of higher education to set standards that would ensure high school graduates are ready to enter higher education or the workforce.

President Obama told governors gathered at the White House for the final portion of the National Governors Association’s winter meeting that there is an urgent need to beef up academic standards to ensure that students are ready to compete in a global economy.

In response to the accountability demands of the current version of the ESEA, the 8-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, “some states have upped their game,” Mr. Obama said, specifically citing Massachusetts. Unfortunately, he added, “some states have actually done the opposite. … That may make those states look better relative to other states” on the current law’s accountability metrics, he said, “but it’s not going to help our students keep up with their global competitors.”

Boost for Common Core

If adopted, the proposal would undoubtedly bolster momentum behind the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort by the NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers, currently the highest-profile national effort to establish voluntary, higher, more uniform academic standards. So far, 48 states—all but Alaska and Texas—have signed on to the initiative.

Under the president’s proposal, states would not be compelled to sign on to the NGA-CCSSO initiative in order to get their Title I aid. Instead, states would be allowed to work with their own universities to craft their own higher standards.

That could prove a significant political safety valve at a time when some state legislators have voiced concern about federal intrusion into education policy—and when 37 governorships will be on state ballots in the fall elections.

Still, the Obama administration has made it clear that states that work with others to develop college- and career-readiness standards would be given priority for competitive federal aid, including $4 billion in Race to the Top Fund grants, which will reward states for adopting certain education redesign priorities.

It is unclear from the proposal just who would judge whether a state’s standards meet the benchmark of “college- and career-ready.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan told reporters after the White House meeting that college readiness could mean that students would not need to take remedial courses when they enroll in postsecondary education. He said that there is set of “basic skills” that indicates students are ready for a range of careers, but that the administration would work with states and other stakeholders to better define them. He gave no examples.

During the meeting with Mr. Obama, governors voiced “zero” concerns about federal intrusion into state business when it came to the Title I proposal, Secretary Duncan told reporters.

“This is being led by the governors,” he said of the push for college-readiness standards. “We have to educate our way to a better economy. All of the governors understand this.”

But David Shreve, the senior education committee director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, based in Denver, criticized the proposal as federal overreaching and said there is no evidence that college- and career-readiness standards will lead to better student outcomes.

“We think it’s a mistake for the federal government to get involved in picking favorite strategies that have no credible basis in research,” Mr. Shreve said. He added that it appears likely from the proposal that officials at the federal level are going to be determining whether the standards are adequate. That hasn’t worked well in the past, he said.

“You’d think they’d have learned their lesson with NCLB,” he said.

Signaled in Budget

The administration hinted at the proposal in its fiscal 2011 budget request for Title I grants for districts, which help pay for the education of disadvantaged students.

The program would be rebranded “College and Career Ready Students” and financed at $14.5 billion in fiscal 2011, not including money provided under the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic-stimulus program.

President Obama proposed level funding for Title I in fiscal 2011.

Some governors said after the White House meeting that they were still studying the proposal to make Title I money contingent on adopting college- and career-ready standards.

“Some of the people who spoke most glowingly about the president’s leadership on education were Republican governors,” including Gov. Sonny Purdue of Georgia, said Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, a Democrat. “There’s was a pretty broad consensus [on education]. ... There was none of the sort of parochial throw-down, ‘Don’t tell us what our standards should be.’ ” Mr. O’Malley said most governors are aware that their students are competing in a global economy and will need to be prepared accordingly.

But Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont, a Republican and the chairman of the National Governors Association, said that while he understood that the nation needs to be more globally competitive, he was still studying the administration’s Title I proposal.

He stopped short of saying his state would definitely adopt the common-core standards being drafted by the NGA and the CCSSO. He also said he didn’t know yet just how many of the 48 states that signed on to the common-core initiative would, ultimately, ratify the proposed standards once they become final.

In response to questions, Gov. Douglas said that federalism will always be a concern when dealing with any state-federal issue.

“Our pitch ... on anything is flexibility,” he said.

Vol. 29, Issue 23

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