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Amid Common Core Fights, Remember Race to Top Promises

College- and career-ready standards are intertwined in the U.S. Department of Education's most prized initiatives—No Child Left Behind Act waivers and Race to the Top.

That's why Indiana and federal officials are talking about how the Hoosier State's common core "pause" might affect its waiver. Common core per se has never been required by the feds for any grant or waiver, but it's the most direct route to proving standards are college- and career-ready. (The other approved way is to have a state's higher education institutions certify them as such.)

It seems, though, that any decision to halt, delay or otherwise impact common core implementation rises to a new level in a Race to the Top state. After all, in order to beat out other states, states had to make big promises to win a lot of money—$4 billion split among 12 winners.

Indiana is not a Race to the Top state. But Tennessee and Ohio are, and both are debating the merits of sticking with the common core. Both promised to adopt the common core and implement the standards as part of their winning applications. Certainly, Race to the Top states have made changes to their plans, but this would be fairly significant.

The common core is even more critical for the seven Round 3 "bridesmaid" winners, who shared a $200 million consolation prize for being finalists in the original 2010 contest. For these states—Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania—adopting college- and career-ready standards was an eligibility requirement for the money, not just a promise. Fights over common core are already simmering in Pennsylvania.

It bears repeating that common core isn't required for any of this, but some certified college- and career-ready standards are. So just how hard is it to get the feds to approve your standards if they're not the common core?

For Virginia, which won a waiver without adopting common core or the common tests, not very. It had already had its standards certified as career- and college-ready by its higher education institutions.

Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, told me that the department "praised Virginia during the process for implementing rigorous college- and career-ready standards and corresponding assessments. We got almost no questions on this section. I don't know that our experience would speak to what might happen with a state seeking an ESEA waiver that drops the Common Core and falls back on previous state standards of lesser rigor or starts from scratch."

And his comment hints at the scramble that might take place in states that pull back on the common core without a solid fallback plan.

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