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Common-Standards Rumblings in Utah and South Carolina

A bill to bar implementation of the common standards in South Carolina stalled in a senate committee yesterday, and Utah lawmakers sent signals of concern about the standards to their state board.

First, let's take Utah. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the senate education committee yesterday approved a resolution urging the state school board to "continually monitor" the implementation of the common standards, which the panel adopted in June 2010. That's a milder version of the original resolution, which would have asked the board to reconsider its adoption.

The other proposed legislation that Utah's senate education committee approved yesterday allows the state to get out of any agreement that "cedes control of Utah's core curriculum standards to any other entity for any reason."

Now let's catch up with South Carolina. Those of you who follow us here already know that S. 604 has been winding its way through the state senate. The education subcommittee voted it down, but sent it to the full education committee with an "unfavorable" recommendation.

At a hearing yesterday, the full committee considered the bill for a short while and decided to schedule another hearing to talk about it some more, Olivia Burns, the higher education research director for the senate education committee, told me.

The measure's move last week from subcommittee to full committee, however, certainly kicked up a lot of hubbub. Almost instantly, Washington was weighing in, first with a statement issued by none other than U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and then by the cyberwonks that follow the twists and turns of the common standards. In this case, it was Duncan's statement itself that generated some reverberations.

The Heritage Foundation's Lindsey Burke, for instance, wrote that Duncan's statement "is an indication of just how heavily involved the federal government is with the effort, and the amount of control it stands to gain once states surrender standard-setting authority to Washington."

The Cato Institute's Neal McCluskey, another common-core opponent, wrote that Duncan's move shows federal officials' willingness to "slap around" any state that diverges from their favored education policy pathways.

In a blog post for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars, explored the thorny terrain of the federalism-versus-local-control debate about the common standards, and asked rhetorically whether South Carolina might be the place that launches these debates into a full-scale battle.

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