Impact on Waivers, Grants Mulled in Common-Core Pushback

By Michele McNeil — May 14, 2013 4 min read
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As several states debate whether to continue participation in the common core, a consideration for policymakers is that dropping out of the multistate academic-standards effort could jeopardize federal waivers and competitive grants.

Central to the No Child Left Behind Act waivers given by the U.S. Department of Education and to the federal Race to the Top grants is the requirement that states adopt and implement college- and career-readiness standards, and tie appropriate tests to them. Involvement in the common-core initiative and one of the federally funded consortia devising common-core-aligned tests is not required, but it’s the most direct route to satisfying the requirement—and the one most states are taking.

Adopting the Common Core State Standards and taking part in the upcoming common tests are what Indiana promised to do when it secured its waiver under the NCLB law, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Those waivers allow states to get out from under some requirements of the law, such as that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year, in exchange for adopting certain education improvement ideas.

In Indiana, for example, it’s unclear what will happen now that the state legislature has voted to delay further implementation of the common standards for a year, pending hearings and a review by the state board of education. What’s more, state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat and common-core skeptic who unseated Republican Tony Bennett last year, says the state also may drop out of the common-testing consortium known as PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

In an interview, however, Ms. Ritz said she’s committed to keeping Indiana’s NCLB waiver and has been in close contact with federal education officials about the issue.

“I love the flexibility,” Ms. Ritz said. “We are intent on keeping our waiver. That’s the goal.”

Review Process

A state that wants to change its waiver plans must go through a federal amendment process. At a minimum, any significant changes to common-core implementation would require a formal review by federal officials as part of that process.

As for Indiana, federal Education Department spokesman Daren Briscoe said federal officials generally do not comment on specific legislation. But “Indiana needs to fulfill its commitments under ESEA flexibility, including implementing college- and career-ready standards in 2013-14,” he said. “We’re in close contact with the state educational agency to provide them guidance and technical assistance.”

That federal amendment process will become closely watched if states back out of the common core. The Michigan legislature, for instance, is debating whether to defund common-core implementation. Michigan has a waiver.

See Also

If a state does not adopt the common core, the other acceptable way to prove its standards are college- and career-ready is to have its system of higher education deem them so.

And if a state doesn’t participate in a testing consortium, it must submit to the federal Education Department its plan for developing tests to align with those standards and furnish the tests to federal officials for review. So far, Virginia is the only state that hasn’t adopted the common core or common tests but has gotten a waiver.

Minnesota, which also won a waiver, has adopted the common standards in English/language arts, but not in the other subject, math, and it has not joined a testing consortia.

And while Utah has adopted the common standards in both subjects, it’s not participating in the common tests, but it also secured a waiver.

A review of those states’ waiver requests, peer-reviewer and federal feedback, and implementation guidance shows that the states met with little or no federal resistance in choosing the “Plan B” on standards and tests—and that federal officials seemed to easily accept the requests.

The federal department “praised Virginia during the process for implementing rigorous college- and career-ready standards and corresponding assessments,” said Virginia education department spokesman Charles Pyle. “We got almost no questions on this section.”

More waiver applications from non-common-core states are pending. Texas, like Virginia, hasn’t adopted any of the standards or tests and is awaiting a waiver decision. Alabama, which earlier this year dropped out of one of the testing consortia, also has a pending application.

Waivers aren’t the only thing at stake.

All 12 winning states in the original $4 billion Race to the Top grant competition are implementing the common core and are participating in a testing consortium. Yet there’s common-core discontent in some of those states—including Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia—as well.

In Ohio, which won a $250 million Race to the Top grant in 2010 and a waiver last year, the opposition to the common core hasn’t reach the same pitch it has in Indiana and Michigan. But criticism is bubbling up, and last month legislators debated whether to pull some planned funding for technology to help with common-core implementation. As part of its Race to the Top grant, Ohio promised to implement the common core.

Opponents in Tennessee and Georgia, which each have a Race to the Top grant and a waiver, are mounting efforts to dial back the common core in those states, too.

This story has been updated from the print version that appears in the May 15, 2013 issue of Education Week.
A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2013 edition of Education Week as Impact Mulled on Waivers, Grants


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