Congress wouldn’t pump another penny into encouraging states to adopt the common core standards, or overseeing their implementation, at least if Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, has his way.
Grassley wrote a letter April 18 to Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat who also hails from the Hawkeye State, asking him to include language in the bill that funds the U.S. Department of Education prohibiting the education secretary from using any of the money in the measure to oversee state implementation of the standards, develop tests to go along with the standards, or give a leg up in any federal competition to states that adopt the standards. Harkin, who will retire after this Congress, is the chairman of the panels overseeing K-12 policy and spending—Grassley isn’t a member of either of them. The letter was also written to Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the top Republican on the K-12 spending panel.
The Common Core State Standards have been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia—including Iowa, whose request for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act was turned down because of its teacher-evaluation system.
The U.S. Department of Education didn’t make joining common core a requirement for receiving a waiver (Virginia got the flexibility without adopting the standards) but it did require states to put in place “college- and career-ready” standards (common core fulfilled that requirement but states could also work with their institutions of higher education to come up with their own standards, as the Old Dominion did.) The department also steered $360 million to two consortia of states developing tests to align with the standards.
So will Grassley’s letter go anywhere? Probably not in the short-term—Harkin has been supportive of the standards, at least in past remarks. And this isn’t the first time that GOP lawmakers have questioned the department’s championing of the standards—a bill revising the NCLB law approved by the House education committee last year would have barred the education secretary from doing anything to promote uniform, rigorous standards, for instance. But this is just another sign of the politicization of the standards, which Republicans are becoming increasingly skeptical of. (More on that here and here.)
UPDATE: Here’s what Sen. Harkin’s spokeswoman had to say about the letter. The key point? He considers Common Core a voluntary, state-led effort.
“Forty-five states and the District of Columbia chose to participate in the Common Core State Standards - just as Iowa chose to join this effort in July 2010 - because they believe this is an effective way to improve their state standards and assessments. The Common Core remains a voluntary effort led by and between states,” she said in an email. “Chairman Harkin believes academic standards should be high if we want students to have the skills and knowledge they need to be globally competitive and he supports this important and common-sense, data-driven initiative.”