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Common Core Given Boost by Key Michigan House Vote

UPDATED

Later on Sept. 26, the full Michigan House of Representatives approved the resolution by an 85-21 vote. It now heads to the Michigan Senate for consideration.

Michigan's official support for the Common Core State Standards might be back on track following a key vote by the House education committee today.  House Resolution 11, passed by the committee, would undo Michigan's budgetary freeze on implementing the common core and its associated assessments from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The freeze is slated to go into effect Oct. 1.

The resolution, introduced by Republican Rep. Tim Kelly, will move on to other lawmakers for approval. But the committee's vote seems like a crucial victory for the standards, particularly since the legislator most strongly associated with common core opposition, GOP Rep. Tom McMillin, is on this committee but was unable to get the resolution rejected. Prior to the vote, the committee held about 17 hours of testimony as part of a review of the standards over the summer. The resolution was approved by the committee by a 11-5 vote. 

However, the resolution comes with strings attached for the standards and the common-core assessments. As the resolution's author, GOP Rep. Tim Kelly, stated, "We addressed most if not all concerns, as far as what can and cannot be done with common core, what the locals can and cannot do."

What did he mean by that? The resolution requires the state board of education to produce a review of assessment tools available to the state, how they would be used, and the cost of implementing assessments for the state's school districts by Dec. 1. Until that time, the state could only participate in assessment "options" and "recommendations only, but can't firmly commit to a common-core assessment."

That has implications for Smarter Balanced, of which Michigan is a governing board memberIn essence, the state wants to conduct a review of what Smarter Balanced tests are going to demand of the state and its districts, and (rhetorically at least) make it clear that the state isn't committed to them.

That's the second time this week officials in a state with a leading role in a common-core testing consortium have expressed doubts about what's being developed, although Florida's action regarding PARCC was much firmer. Anxiety about the tests is also reflected in the resolution's language that a student's private, non-education data could not be provided to the federal government--a key point for standards opponents.

Another key portion of the resolution states that common core and Smarter Balanced tests could be implemented in the state, "so long as the authority to develop or adopt a different set of standards remains with locally elected school boards should they determine different standards are stronger and will lead to more rigorous expectations for their students." How this would work in practice is unclear, given that the state board has the authority to adopt state content standards. The resolution also says the common core's focus must be strictly on academics, not on students' "attitudes, beliefs, or value systems," a nod to concerns about the common core's politics

Stressing that the state can still control its own K-12 fate under common core, Rep. Kelly said, "There are no common core police here."

But Rep. McMillin stressed that the resolution wouldn't protect the state against the damaging effects of the common core, and in particular the assessments, on local control and the ability of teachers to choose what they do in the classroom: "People will teach to the test."

Several homeschool advocates also testified against the standards, saying they would ultimately be forced upon them against their will, and could lead to homeschooling eventually being outlawed by the federal government. And Stop Common Core in Michigan leader Deb DeBacker cited the plunging scores on common-core aligned tests in New York state as evidence that the standards will seriously harm schools. (The resolution below was altered somewhat during the committee's consideration before the final vote, but the key points I discussed above remain.)

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