In a speech at the National Governors Association today, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, chairwoman of the group, gave a strong defense of the Common Core State Standards as a state-led initiative that would provide better long-term prospects for the nation's students.
In her "State of the States Address," Fallin, a Republican, put the common core's importance in the context of the the nation's ability to "arm the next generation of American men and women with the tools they need to enter and to remain in the middle class, or even to achieve better."
Saying that it was crucial for students to remain competitive at a global level, Fallin stressed that the standards "outline what students need to be college- and career-ready," but that it remained up to states, districts, and schools to determine the best way to elevate students' education. She then addressed the central political controversy of the standards:
"I want to be really clear: common core is not a federal program," Fallin said. "It is driven and implemented by those states that choose to participate. It is also not a federal curriculum; in fact, it's not a curriculum at all. Local educators and school districts will still design the best lesson plans, will chose appropriate textbooks, and will drive classroom learning."
On the one hand, it's important to note that NGA, along with the Council of Chief State School Officers, oversaw the development of common core, so when Fallin played defense for the standards, she was doing so before a friendly "home" crowd. On the other hand, Fallin is one of several governors who have issued executive orders recently asserting her state's control over K-12 content standards, in the face of political agitation against them hinging on accusations of federal intrusion, ruptures in student data security, and other issues.
So her defense of the standards, regardless of the audience, is notable given the environment in Oklahoma, where a state Senate bill requiring the state to drop the common core has been filed by GOP Sen. Eddie Fields:
In other portions of her speech, Fallin, like many state officials before her in recent months and years, pleaded with Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the No Child Left Behind Act, in its current form). Saying that granting ESEA waivers "is no way to run a program" even though they might work for some states (Oklahoma itself has a waiver), Fallin said that any such reauthorization should "emphasize both flexibility and local control for states wishing to pursue innovative policies."
Continuing to bang the reauthorization drum, Fallin also said a new version of the federal Workforce Investment Act, again with more state flexibility, is needed from federal lawmakers. Specifically, she wants Congress to restore governors' 15 percent set-aside "dedicated to state workforce innovation."