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Obama Ups Ante for Common Core

By Michele McNeil — February 22, 2010 2 min read
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As Lesli Maxwell over at State EdWatch previewed yesterday, President Obama today dropped another big clue as to how the administration wants to reshape the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This is timely especially as congressional hearings in the House get underway on Wednesday, and as finalists for Race to the Top are expected to be announced next week.

In order to qualify for billions of dollars in Title I money for disadvantaged students, states will have to certify that their math and reading standards are college- and career-ready. They can either do this by adopting the state-led “common core” standards, or work with an institution of higher education to certify their standards. Read a one-page fact sheet here.

Practically speaking, Obama’s plan doesn’t require states adopt what comes out of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, being spearheaded by the NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers—but it’s clearly the administration’s preference. “You’ll be able to better compete for funds,” President Obama told the governors today at the White House. That means as the administration seeks to make more education funds competitive, participants in the common core effort will have a leg up.

Watch the rebroadcast of the president’s remarks to the governors on C-Span here, fast-forwarding to minute 10 or after.

It’s important to point out that the federal government isn’t requiring states to set their standards at a certain level, but is putting the onus on them to certify their own standards as college- and career-ready. For the 48 states that have joined the common core effort, simply staying on that track will do the trick. But states such as Texas and Alaska, which have already opted out of the common core effort, would have to work with an institution of higher education to “certify” standards as college- and career-ready. That could set up an interesting dynamic between K-12 and higher education leaders.

Surely, this will all give skeptics of common standards more ammunition to charge that the federal government is trying to assert itself in the state-led effort. One Republican senior Senate staffer told me last week—before this announcement was made—that there’s a growing feeling the standards movement is being “hijacked” by the federal government.

However, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and crew would surely counter that they’re doing is exactly what the federal government should be doing: giving support, and money, to education reforms that are being driven by the states.