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CCSSO Leader on Title I, Waivers, Common Core Tests

The executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers said during the group's legislative conference in Washington that state education leaders realize federal K-12 funding won't be on an upward trajectory any time soon, and the group is determined not to panic over budgetary crises like sequestration.

Instead, Chris Minnich said, the group plans to make a steady, long-term argument about the value of investments in public schools. It also will stress that priorities like Title I schools for low-income students and new national assessments based on the Common Core State Standards need to be protected in the face of stagnant balance sheets. And at the end of the day, he said, states want Washington to give them the flexibility to be able to prioritize those programs.

"We don't have our heads in the sand," said Minnich, who was announced as the new executive director of CCSSO in November to replace Gene Wilhoit, about the general fiscal picture. (Wilhoit, by the way, subsequently joined Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit led by the authors of the common core.)

While he acknowledged that state K-12 leaders want the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorized, Minnich also pointed out that many state education departments have been pleased with the temporary waivers they received from the No Child Left Behind Act and hope they can successfully lobby Congress, when the waivers expire in about two years, to use them as the basis for a newly authorized ESEA. (Congress is tardy by over five years in reauthorizing ESEA.)

"It's really not a good way to run the country," he said of letting ESEA reauthorization languish, despite the approval some states may have for the waivers.

Minnich also played some defense regarding the waivers, specifically the way they treat subgroups of students. As my colleague Michele McNeil has documented, when it comes to accountability, the creation of "super subgroups" for many states has triggered protests from groups like Education Trust, which have argued that the combinations of several traditional NCLB subgroups allow one group's struggles to be lost in the larger "super" group. When I asked about these criticisms, Minnich responded that while conversations should be had about how these subgroups are used, in the end, the way these groups are structured identifies more low-performing schools than the previous NCLB accountability model.

Finally, on the common core, Minnich acknowledged that a few states may drop the standards as the new, common-core-aligned tests approach in 2014-15. But even common core advocates like CCSSO must ultimately leave the decision up to individual states. My colleague Catherine Gewertz recently reported that new common-core tests could take students up to 10 hours. When I asked Minnich whether he thought that number could trouble parents and others in the K-12 community, he responded by saying that the time period isn't necessarily longer than the amount of time students already spend taking tests.

One more point Minnich made: 2014 is shaping up to be an extremely important year for K-12 education. States' NCLB waivers expire that year, and the common core tests will be up and running for the first time. In addition, there will be 36 gubernatorial elections, with 32 possible incumbents and four open races, according to the National Governors Association. The results of those elections will have a significant impact, of course, on how K-12 policy proceeds at the state level.

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