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Seeking an End to the 'Massachusetts Madness'

You've been reading here about Massachusetts' tightrope walk on Race to the Top and the common standards. You remember: the state, much revered for its high academic standards, says it will not adopt the common standards if they are less rigorous than its own. But to be best positioned to win a chunk of the money available under Race to the Top, it has to promise by the June 1 RTT application deadline to adopt the common standards—which won't be released in their final form until June 2—by August 2.

What's a state to do?

Some people are suggesting that U.S. education officials ought to at least ease up on the Aug. 2 timeline. Another idea making the rounds is that the feds could carve out an exception to their tough RTT talk, allowing states with top-notch standards to certify that their standards are as rigorous as those in the common core. (see Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute and a recent brief by Democrats for Education Reform for some of these arguments.)

The seal-of-approval idea is interesting—interesting enough that the feds are actually allowing it themselves, in another arena. You might remember that President Barack Obama has proposed tying Title I money for disadvantaged students, in part, to whether states have adopted the common core. This controversial proposal allows states an alternative: they don't have to adopt the common standards if they work with their higher education systems to draft standards that are just as good, or certify that the ones they already have are equivalent.

Back in March, a state commissioner of education wondered in a conversation with me whether this same logic and exception could be applied to Race to the Top. So I put the question to Race to the Top chief Joanne Weiss, and got a very quick and very clear answer: nope.

She was pretty darn clear about saying that the RTT rules would not be changing. Okay. Is it possible the department will reconsider the Aug. 2 adoption timeline then?

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