The decision by an influential conservative group to reject a proposal opposing the Common Core State Standards—after 18 months of vigorous debate—reveals a rift among some members of the free-market-oriented organization.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, announced Nov. 19 that its legislative board of directors, consisting of state lawmakers, had voted to reject a resolution opposing the standards in English/language arts and math. The Washington-based group said it would officially remain neutral on the standards.
ALECand promotes such K-12 policies as school vouchers and virtual education.
The prolonged debate also shows that many lawmakers’ understanding of the common core is still a work in progress, even though 46 states so far have adopted the English/language arts standards, and 45 have done so in math.
“ALEC is kind of planting their flag to say, ‘We are not going to be the forum from which we attack high standards,’ ” said Arizona Sen. Rich Crandall, a Republican and a common-core supporter who chairs his state’s Senate education committee and is a member of ALEC’s education task force.
During internal ALEC discussions, common-core critics from think tanks such as the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix argued that the standards—unveiled in 2010 as an initiative spearheaded by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers—in fact represent a federal intrusion into state education policy.
But common-standards champions, like lame-duck Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, both Republicans, argued the common core represents a big and necessary step forward for state education. Mr. Bennett was defeated last month for re-election by a Democratic challenger, Glenda Ritz, who has questioned his support and involvement in the common core.
In May, the ALEC board of directors had postponed a vote on the resolution opposing the standards.
ALEC declined to release the resolution itself, but thewere unusual for the group, said Michael Bowman, the organization’s senior director of policy and strategic initiatives.
“It’s protecting the states who have made the decision already, and it allows the states to say that if this were ever to become a federal mandate [for] curriculum, we would be opposed,” Mr. Bowman said of the group’s decision.
ALEC had previously adopted a resolution opposing “federal intrusion in state education content standards.” Mr. Bowman said it was “flattering” to believe that the group’s position on the standards could have a broad impact, but that other education policy groups had important voices as well.
ALEC’s board of directors and its education task force considered the resolution twice before the final vote last month, which was not unanimous, Mr. Bowman noted.
A major part of the reason the debate took so long, he said, was that lawmakers did not have a basic understanding, in many cases, of what the common standards were and what their impact could be.
‘What Is This?’
Some state legislators, Mr. Bowman observed, had vague recollections of voting on things related to common standards previously back in their home states, but did not truly understand what they were voting on. At the time, the issue seemed more like inside baseball involving governors and state departments of education, he added.
“They didn’t know a lot about this. I think ... why it took so long is that our members said, ‘What are you talking about? What is this?’ ” he said.
But Sen. Crandall also objected to how outside groups wielded clout and prolonged discussions about the standards at ALEC, which has public- and private-sector members.
“Any think tank can pony up [money] to get a seat at the table and have the same power and authority as I do,” he said. “And they don’t have to worry about anybody. They don’t have constituents. Their constituents are their donors.”
In the end, legislators formed a wide variety of opinions about the common core, with few absolutely opposing or supporting the standards, Mr. Bowman also said.
The dynamic revealed that common-standards proponents had not properly informed state officials about the changes to state education policy, despite their rhetoric to the contrary, argued Jonathan Butcher, the education director at the conservative Goldwater Institute who wrote the first draft of the anti-common-core resolution.
He acknowledged that getting an influential group like ALEC to officially oppose the common standards would have been a significant victory.
But even with the defeat of the resolution, Mr. Butcher argued, the differing approaches states are taking to the common standards and the associated assessments represent positive developments. He cited as one example Utah’s decision in August to withdraw from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two consortia that are developing common-standards assessments.
“It’s going to look a little different as states consider either how to implement or how not to implement,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the December 05, 2012 edition of Education Week as Conservative Group Kills Anti-Common-Core Proposal