A Republic of Republics: How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education

The Pioneer Institute in cooperation with American Principles Project and Pacific Research Institute released a white paper written by Robert Scott, the former Texas Commissioner of Education.  It is entitled “A Republic of Republics: How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education.”  The preface is by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Here is the executive summary:

In three years’ time, the United States has witnessed a sweeping effort to dramatically alter how educational systems are governed and standards and curricula are developed. With the 2009 announcement of an initiative to develop and implement common standards and assessments across all states, and with subsequent federal incentive programs designed to encourage states to sign on to this new initiative, the federal government has succeeded in fundamentally altering the relationships between Washington and the states. The United States has a history of state and local control in K-12 education, and that local control has always translated into diverse systems of educational governance and diverse standards.

By signing on to national standards and the assessments that will accompany them, participating states have ceded their autonomy to design and oversee the implementation of their own standards and tests. The implications of ceding this autonomy are varied. Not only do some states risk sacrificing high quality standards for national standards that may be less rigorous, all states are sacrificing their ability to inform what students learn. Moreover, the act of adopting national standards has and will continue to disrupt legal and other processes upon which states rely to ensure the adequate and equitable delivery of educational materials and resources. Finally and, perhaps, most distressing, the predicted cost to states of implementing the Common Core is in the billions of dollars, a number that only stands to grow if implementation ramps up.

Drawing generously from the experience in Texas, one of only a handful of states that has thus far refused to join in the Common Core, this paper outlines a brief history of the initiative and the federal programs designed, in part, to incentivize states to join in the effort. It goes on to describe the many costs, financial and otherwise, that come with Common Core, not least of which is the cost to states of sacrificing their autonomy to make decisions about standards and testing  and the many other aspects of education upon which these things touch. This paper ends with a brief discussion of the likely road ahead in national education reform and makes recommendations for how policymakers and concerned citizens might think about the proper federal and state roles in education vis–à–vis national standards and tests.

Here is Senator Grassley’s preface:

The system of federalism outlined in the U.S. Constitution is not a technicality nor was it an accident. It was designed to make the government accountable to the people by placing power locally. The question of what content students should be taught has enormous consequences for children. It should go without saying, but it bears repeating, that no one has a greater right than the parents to determine what is best for their child. As a result, parents should directly control as much of their child’s education as possible. When the government makes decisions that affect children’s education, these decisions should be made at the level of government close to the parents and students affected.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative was supposed to be a voluntary effort between states, but federal incentives have distorted the normal state decision-making process. The selection criteria designed by the U.S. Department of Education for the Race to the Top Program provided that for a state to have a realistic chance to compete for funds, the state must commit to adopting a “common set of K-12 standards.” These standards matched the descriptions of the Common Core. The final Common Core Standards were released only two months before a deadline for states applying for Race to the Top to provide evidence of having adopted “common standards,” which cut short any meaningful public debate about whether a state should adopt the standards. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education has also made adoption of standards meeting the description of the Common Core a condition to receive a state waiver under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As a result, states that might otherwise want to revisit their decision to adopt Common Core Standards will have to think twice about risking
their waiver.

I seek to eliminate further U.S. Department of Education interference with state decisions on academic content standards by using Congress’s power of the purse to prohibit any further federal funds being used to advance any particular set of academic content standards. Whether states adopt or reject the Common Core Standards should be between the citizens of each state and their state elected officials. State governments must be able to make that decision, or to change their decision, based on direct accountability to the citizens of their states, free from any federal coercion.

You can read it in full below: