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Anti-Common-Core Bills Diversify as Democrats’ Skepticism Grows, Report Says

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 08, 2015 3 min read
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How have legislators’ opposition to the Common Core State Standards changed over the last several years, and what does that shift say (and not say) about the state of pushback to the standards?

Researchers Ashley Jochim and Lesley Lavery aim to answer those questions in their just-released “The Evolving Politics of the Common Core” report for the Brookings Institution. The report draws conclusions from the types and sponsors of bills that in some way react oppose the standards or treat them in a “negative fashion.

Utilizing Dan Thatcher’s common-core bill tracking at the National Conference of State Legislatures, Jochim and Lavery counted 238 “negative” bills dealing with the common core from 2011 to 2014. (All but eight states dealt with some form of such bills during that time, although if you include bills from this year, that number would shrink.) Then they divided them into various categories based on what policies they dealt with, and tracked the number of bills by category that were introduced.

In an interview, Jochim told me that the question she and Lavery asked about whether to include a bill in the study was: “Does it aim to support implementation or undermine it?”

You can see that there’s a growing number of bills dealing with privacy that are a negative response to the standards, even though the standards themselves don’t impact the security of student data. The number of bills dealing with parent engagement, such as legislation that require reviews of standards to have input from parents, has also grown over the last several years. (This year has also been marked by bills in several states from New York to Wisconsin clarifying that parents have the right to opt their students out of state common-core-aligned tests.)

A negative bill in the “accountability” category, for example, would cite the common core’s impact on K-12 accountability as a reason to oppose the standards. However, a bill that delays the impact of common-core test scores on teacher evaluations, for example, wasn’t included in the report.

Jochim and Lavery broke down the sponsors of various “negative” bills by partisan affiliation. As you can see in the chart to the right, they found that Republicans were least likely—and Democrats were therefore most likely—to sponsor “negative” bills related to accountability, costs, and testing.

“Importantly, our findings strongly suggest that the conflict has expanded as implementation has proceeded,” Jochim and Lavery wrote. “While this evolution has taken many proponents by surprise, they are, in our view, predictable responses. During implementation, stakeholders learned more about the real impact of the reforms.”

Republicans remain the majority of common-core opponents, Jochim said. But she stressed that the number of bills dealing with accountability and testing have grown in number since 2011, even though they’re a relatively small share of all “negative” bills. This indicates, she told me, that some opposition is “increasingly tapping into the Democratic coalition.”

Many of the bills marked “non-specific” in the chart had no real content, Jochim said, while others went on at great length about the various ills common core entails.

The two authors also have a couple of broader points. First, they say, it can be easy to overstate the level of opposition to the common core, since many states have made only superficial or minor changes to the standards in the face of pushback. Last month, I wrote about the failure of common-core repeal bills in 2015.

But they also warn that just because a state has officially stuck by the standards does not mean that states are implementing the standards effectively.

“To move from vague proclamations of support to full implementation requires highly specific decisions to be made about who to target, how much money to invest, and which stakeholders to engage,” Jochim and Lavery wrote. “The winners and losers of political debates are profoundly shaped by these choices; some individuals face greater oversight, some programs win a greater share of available dollars, and new regulatory authorities are established and threaten existing power bases.”

Read the full report from Jochim and Lavery.

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