Common Core Standards allow Washington state to supplement only 15% of curriculum standards
This requires more background and context. Below is a very brief overview of how Washington state gave control over its curriculum standards and state test to national groups, because of demands made by the federal government.
The federal government has repeatedly tried to create national standards or a national test for all American students. Because the U.S. Department of Education is prohibited by law from being involved in creating a national test, each federal attempt has proven partisan, divisive and unsuccessful. Similar language in the No Child Left Behind Act prohibits federal involvement in standards, assessments and curricula.
Since the federal government cannot be out in front, the latest effort to create national standards and a national test has come instead from high-level state organizations. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have led the process to create a set of common learning standards, known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). Their website characterizes implementation as “a state‐led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind and adoption of the Standards is in no way mandatory.”
In July 2009, President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the federal Race to the Top competition, for $4.35 billion in federal grants to states willing to carry out the U.S. Department of Education’s reform agenda. As a condition of participating in the Race to the Top, Washington was required to sign on to the Common Core Standards Initiative, relinquishing control over Washington’s student learning standards. Here is the exact language from the Race to the Top regulations:
"A State may supplement the common standards with additional standards, provided that the additional standards do not exceed 15 percent of the State’s total standards."
Washington state’s Race to the Top application was due by June of 2010. In March of 2010, state legislators passed SB 6696, Washington’s Race to the Top bill, which adopted the Common Core standards. Section 601 (1) says this:
"The revised state essential academic learning requirements…. may include additional standards if the additional standards do not exceed fifteen percent of the standards for each content area."
In July of 2010, federal officials announced that Washington state had lost the Race to the Top, ranking 32 out of 36 states.
The feds are doing more behind-the-scenes work to create a national test. The federal government has committed $350 million to finance the efforts of two consortia of states to create a new federal test based on the Common Core Standards, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium.
Be prepared to hear the spin that these are “state-led” tests, even though they are federally financed.
By using state groups as proxies, and compelling states to participate as a condition of receiving federal dollars, the federal government has taken over the curriculum standards and tests Washington’s students will take.
A way out for Washington state has emerged. The Education Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council passed model legislation on December 1, 2011, which provides states a way out of the Common Core. See also Closing the Door to Innovation statement, whose arguments persuaded this Task Force to pass this model legislation.
Washington state can also decide not to fund the $300 million or higher cost of implementing the standards, test and curriculum materials.
For more information, see these recent blog posts from the Heritage Foundation, here, and the Pioneer Institute, here. See also this piece from Heritage, which explains why centralized standard-setting will likely result in the standardization of mediocrity, not excellence, and distract policymakers from fixing the broken power and incentive structures in public education.
This panel discussion "National Standards and Tests: An Unprecendented Federal Overreach" convinced me that this federal takeover of what Washington students learn will fail to improve student achievement.