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Duncan: Federal Advocacy 'Can Get in the Way' of Common Standards

The Common Core State Standards have been adopted by nearly every state, but they still come in for frequent skepticism—or outright opposition—because of the perception that they are being driven by the federal government.

That perception is fueled in large part by the incentives for common-core adoption that the administration built into three of its programs: the Race to the Top competition, the waivers it's offering from No Child Left Behind, and funding of tests for the common standards.

These examples of skepticism have cropped up in state legislatures, as lawmakers begin to evaluate the ramifications of adoption decisions made by state boards of education. We told you about consternation in Utah and South Carolina, both of which sparked personal involvement of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. That, in turn, only fueled more postings by pundits who see his support as confirmation of the federal-overreach argument.

Duncan took this issue on at the legislative conference, earlier this week, of the Council of Chief State School Officers. My colleague Alyson Klein already reported on the Politics K-12 blog about the briefings the chiefs got about the frustrating lack of progress on education issues on Capitol Hill. Michele McNeil reported on the chiefs' opposition to Duncan's plans to let districts get waivers from NCLB in states that hadn't done so.

But Duncan also addressed this federal-support-of-common-core issue. According to Michele McNeil, Duncan took the issue on in his opening remarks to the chiefs, saying that the "common core is entirely a voluntary effort."

Later, in a back-and-forth discussion about the federal department's role in common core, Ohio schools superintendent Stan Heffner asked the secretary what he would be willing to do to help bolster support in the states for the common core.

Duncan acknowledged that "sometimes we get in the way," according to Michele. He said that he's aware that in some states it could be helpful to have federal officials supporting the effort, and in other states, such as in Utah, it's more helpful to emphasize states' autonomy over standards.

He volunteered to write, for any chief that wanted one, a letter similar to the one he wrote recently to Utah superintendent Larry Shumway, in which he affirmed that states have complete control over standards.

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