Texas Pulling Out of Council of Chief State School Officers

By Sean Cavanagh — June 22, 2011 4 min read
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Texas has withdrawn from the Council of Chief State School Officers, an influential Washington organization that is helping lead the push to create common academic standards across states, among its other efforts.

The state’s commissioner of education, Robert Scott, made the decision to pull out of the CCSSO, citing concerns about philosophical differences with the organization, as well as worries about membership costs, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency said.

The commissioner felt that “our values don’t align with each other” on education policy, said Suzanne Marchman, a spokeswoman for the agency. “We didn’t see a return on investment from participating in the organization.”

As a result of its decision, Texas will be the only state in the country that is not a CCSSO member, officials with the organization confirmed. CCSSO said it will no longer receive $60,000 in annual dues from the organization.

Forty-five states, plus the District of Columbia, have adopted the common-standards, which are meant to provide a clear and consistent set of academic expectations for students around the country regardless of where they live. Currently, the expectations for what students should know by the time they reach certain grades vary greatly across states, as do the tests and textbooks used in the states.

CCSSO, and the National Governors Association, in Washington, spearheaded the standards effort. The two organizations convened panels of experts to write the standards and circulated them among the states for review and revision.

But Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who has said he is considering running for president, has been a strong critic of the common-standards movement, which he has argued is an attempt to create a national curriculum.

Marchman said that the decision to withdraw from the CCSSO was Scott’s, not Perry’s. Scott was appointed by Perry as commissioner of education in 2007 and reappointed to a four-year term in 2011.

In a letter to the CCSSO, Scott voiced strong objections to the organization’s work on common standards.

"[P]lease know that your organization’s advocacy for national standards and national tests is not in the best interest of the state of Texas and in my opinion, the nation,” Scott wrote on June 14.

CCSSO describes its standards work as a state-led effort, not one designed to create national standards. But Scott said despite CCSSO’s arguments that it has considered the needs of individual states during that process, its “actions in concert with other Washington, D.C.-based interest groups and the U.S. Department of Education demonstrate otherwise.”

“It never was and still is not in the best interest of Texas to be coerced into replacing its transparent standards-adoption process and highly evolved assessment system” Scott wrote, with a process “developed largely in secret through a process led by special-interest groups who are not elected and who lack any public accountability.”

Perry has sounded similiar arguments, contending that the federal government is playing too strong a role in the standards process. The Obama administration supports the states’ common standards efforts, and has provided federal money to pay for states’ development of common tests to align with the academic expectations.

CCSSO is a nonpartisan membership organization that seeks to bring together top state education leaders around the country to improve schools. The organization works in many areas of school policy, not just common standards, and it also seeks to represent state leaders on important education issues before Congress.

“We regret that Texas has decided to withdraw from the work of the council and recognize that is their responsibility to make decisions based on what is best for children in Texas,” said Gene Wilhoit, CCSSO’s executive director, in a statement. “States are leading critical reform efforts across the country to improve education for every student, and CCSSO remains focused on supporting this ongoing work.”

Texas is struggling to close a major budget shortfall, which factored in the state’s decision, Marchman said. Lawmakers in the state are expected to make significant cuts to the state’s K-12 budget, which could result in the loss of thousands of school jobs, education advocates say.

Texas’ move to pull out of CCSSO is not unprecedented. In 1995, Georgia’s Republican state schools chief, Linda Schrenko, and Pennsylvania schools chief Eugene Hickok, who later served in George W. Bush’s administration, announced that their states would not renew membership in the organization, after objecting to a stance CCSSO had taken on federal policy. The CCSSO had lobbied against cuts to federal education favored by congressional Republicans.

And in 1999, Colorado’s education commissioner said his state would not take part in CCSSO, because the organization’s positions ran counter to those of state elected officials. He cited CCSSO’s objections to a Republican plan to give states more flexibility in using federal education money, and the group’s support of then-President Clinton’s efforts to raise teacher-certification requirements.

But those states have since rejoined the organization, CCSSO spokeswoman Kate Dando said, making Texas the only non-participant.

Photo: Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott in 2009 (Harry Cabluck/AP)

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.