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Not Everyone Loves White House Title I/Standards Proposal

By Alyson Klein — February 23, 2010 2 min read
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Yesterday, we heard from governors who either praised the proposal to tie Title I money to rigorous college and career-readiness standards in a renewed Elementary and Secondary Education Act ... or said they were still “studying” it.

But last night, the National School Boards Association put out its own statement. And that group is not happy with what it sees as federal “coercion” (Catherine Gewertz over at Curriculum Matters has more.) Meanwhile, David Shreve over at the National Conference of State Legislatures also told me he’s worried about the feds stepping on what has been a state and local issue. It seems the farther you go down the chain of government, the more concern there is over this proposal, although a number of groups have yet to weigh in.

And we still haven’t heard from another key constituency: Congress. Tomorrow, I’m planning to attend the House Education and Labor Committee’s very first hearing on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The topic is charter schools, probably the issue most likely to have Republicans and Democrats joining in a kumbaya chorus of bipartisan agreement.

But I’m wondering if there may be some off-topic reaction to the Title I proposal. If there is, I’m particularly interested in what Republicans have to say. After all, the Obama administration has stressed that it wants this reauthorization to be bipartisan. The reasons for that are probably two-fold. First, the administration wants a bipartisan victory on an important domestic issue as the battle over health care reform continues. And, second, given the divisions in the Democratic party over K-12 education, it’s likely the administration will need to attract some GOP support to pass a bill.

In order for this standards proposal to become part of a final bill, at least a few Republicans will have to sign-off. But, in a recent hearing, some Republicans (and even a few Democrats) expressed qualms over the department’s plan to give states that adopt common, rigorous standards an edge in the Race to the Top competition. (The president’s latest proposal doesn’t specifically say you have to join the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in their Common Core State Standards Initiative, but that’s the main game in town right now.)

GOP lawmakers, in particular, seemed worried at that last hearing about federal intrusion, and if they were so worried in connection with Race to the Top, I’ve got to wonder what they’ll make of the Title I proposal.

To be sure, under the president’s proposal states could opt not to join in a common standards effort and instead work with their higher education institutions to draft rigorous, college- and career-ready standards. But who will decide whether state’s standards actually meet that definition? Yesterday, Secretary Duncan said that’s still being worked out. But if the answer ends up being the U.S. Department of Education, it might be much harder to get Republicans on board with the proposal.

UPDATE: Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education (who, along with other ED press folks is now on twitter) responded to NSBA’s criticism, saying:

We think every child deserves to graduate from high school college and career ready. Under our proposal, states can achieve that goal on their own, or join with the consortium of 48 states to adopt common core standards. Bottom line, the states are in the drivers seat.