Alaska, Texas Reject Common Core Standards

Published March 25, 2010

At least two states have rejected the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) draft standards submitted by state governors and endorsed by the Obama administration. With the White House proposing to make federal funds contingent on states adopting the “voluntary” standards, other officials are reconsidering their commitment to the initiative as well.

Forty-eight states joined to the National Governor’s Association and Council of Chief State School Officers in 2009 to draft a set of college and career-ready standards in math and English-language arts. Only Alaska and Texas refused to participate.

The Obama administration’s “blueprint” for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would tie $14.5 billion in Title I money for low-income districts to adopting the CCSSI standards. And the Education Department earlier this year announced that future Race to the Top grants would be directed to early adopters of the common core initiative.

‘Voluntary’ Standards Became Mandatory

The draft standards were released March 10. Texas formally opted out of the CCSSI in January.

“I will not commit Texas taxpayers to unfunded federal obligations or to the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national standards and tests,” Gov. Rick Perry (R) wrote in a January 13 letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Perry had made his intentions clear in November when he directed state Education Commissioner Robert Scott not to commit to adopting national standards in the state’s Race to the Top grant application.

Scott explained in a November 25 letter to U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) why the Lone Star State objects to the Common Core Standards initiative.

The standards were “originally sold to states as voluntary, [but] states have now been told that participating in national standards and national testing would be required as a condition of receiving federal discretionary [Race to the Top] grant funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA),” Scott wrote. “Because Texas has chosen to preserve its sovereign authority to determine what is appropriate for Texas children to learn in its public schools, the state is now placed in serious disadvantage in competing for its share of ARRA discretionary funding.”

‘Not for Sale at Any Price’

Matthew Ladner, vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute, says Perry’s decision to opt out of the common core standards initiative was a shrewd move.

“Perry stated that the academic standards of Texas are not for sale at any price. He is wise to do so,” Ladner said. “Proponents of the common core standards exhibit a naive faith that the standards will be high, which is unlikely, and that they will be sustained at a high level, which is almost impossible.”

“The effort is well-intentioned but unsophisticated, and the nation’s second largest state is therefore wise to make its own K-12 decisions,” Ladner said.

Alaska’s Objections

Alaska opted out of the standards project in June 2009, citing concerns about costs and federal mandates associated with Race to the Top grants.

“The Race to the Top application didn’t ask open-ended questions about what states think will work,” said Eric Fry, a spokesman for Alaska’s Department of Education. “It’s also quite expensive to apply.”

“It costs us about $1,000 to bring one person into Anchorage. If we bring hundreds of educators in to discuss the application, which is what we should do, it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to apply. We didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a losing battle. We wanted to formulate our own plan,” Fry explained.

Fry noted it’s still possible Alaska could apply for round two of Race to the Top funding, but he cautioned the Last Frontier State “would like to be the entity that declares its own standards.”

However, Fry said the amount of federal money tied to adopting common core standards could factor into the state’s eventual decision.

“If there comes a point at which a good deal of money is tied to the common core, we might revisit our decision,” Fry said.

Massachusetts Has Second Thoughts

Several states, including Massachusetts, California, Virginia, and Minnesota, have balked at adopting the common core standards if the Obama administration effectively makes them mandatory. State officials say they want assurances the national standards will not dilute existing state frameworks.

Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville has said the Commonwealth would not adopt the common core standards if they are lower than those established in the Bay State. “We are not going to endorse anything that is not at least as rigorous as our own standards,” Reville told the Boston Globe on March 15.

Sandra Stotsky, professor of education at the University of Arkansas and a member of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, oversaw the development of Massachusetts’s standards. She says the draft common core frameworks would be a step down for the state.

“It’s not clear if [Reville] will have the professional courage to recommend that the Board of Education not send the final common core standards—due in late May or early June—out for public comment and eventual approval,” Stotsky said.
Unknown Costs

Stotsky also questioned the wisdom of investing considerable state dollars in an uncertain endeavor.

“Of major concern to all was the potential cost of new textbooks and teacher training if differently organized, skills-based standards are adopted. My sense of the meeting was that many teachers and administrators in the Bay State aren’t yet convinced it would be worth it unless Common Core can come up with a vastly superior product to what it has so far shown the public,” Stotsky said.

Lindsey Burke ([email protected]) is a policy analyst in domestic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation,