A new report from a conservative policy group in Virginia says that states have not been improperly coerced into adopting them through financial incentives from Washington, and still have the power to make their own decisions about the standards, contrary to arguments some make against the standards.
The policy brief from Glen Allen, Va.-based State Budget Solutions is titled, "Financial Incentives Are the 'Core' Of New Education Standards: Are Common Core's Uncommon Incentives Too Good For States To Pass Up?" although the first part of that title seems to belie the crucial argument from authors Bob Williams and Joe Luppino-Esposito. They state that based on past court rulings involving federal health care laws and minimum drinking ages in states, "the CCSS do not even approach the line of being too coercive for states to resist," based on the $4.35 billion offered to states in Race to the Top grants, which had as a prerequisite the adoption of college- and career-ready standards. That amount of money, they say, might seem large, still doesn't place a "gun to the head" of states.
"Just because the federal government offers money to states to push its own agenda does not mean that a state must apply for it, much less be entitled to be awarded the funds," Williams and Luppino-Esposito write, and they add that the relationship between both common-core-based assessments and No Child Left Behind waivers and federal cash are "not enough to move the dial."
What State Budget Solutions is dealing with here is the argument that the federal government has essentially foisted the common core on states and local districts without any sort of corresponding input, despite the false-face put on it by some K-12 officials and politicians who support the standards. This is perhaps the most powerful political attack against the common core.
Now, none of those statements should make you think State Budget Solutions, which opposes "overspending" by states and likes a strict budget approach, is a supporter of the standards. In fact, the other big piece of their policy brief is an argument that states really do have the power to make up their own minds about the common core, and should use it. That's not necessarily an argument you hear a lot of from folks who are skeptical about the common core. They even put forward some possible reasons to reject the common core, such as if leaders determine that the common core creates an undue financial burden on states.
"Though there is plenty of encouragement from the federal government for states to adopt the CCSS, this does not mean that states have a false choice, as the actions of lawmakers in Michigan, Virginia and elsewhere illustrate," the brief says. "State leaders face an important, real decision that will require them to consider the education government will provide to state residents, the cost of doing so, and the way that federalism will be affected."
Of course, as I touched on in a recent story, common-core advocates are increasingly fearful that the federal government could be the worst possible friend of the standards. If that perception becomes powerful enough, it might sweep aside the kinds of arguments that State Budget Solutions is advancing. As far back as the spring of 2012, opponents like Neal McCluskey derided right-wing common-core supporters who had begun expressing anxiety about "over-zealous" support from the federal government. Even for those who think states have retained real control of the standards so far, it's also possible to be concerned that the federal government could increase its power over the common core in some way down the line.
By the way, if you're looking to keep up with the consortia developing common-core-based assessments, there's no better place than our map on state membership in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. It was just updated today, and comes from our common-core testing guru, Curriculum Matters blogger Catherine Gewertz.