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Governors Laud 'Higher Standards,' Plead for NCLB Renewal in NGA Speeches

A year ago, in her "State of the States" speech as chairwoman of the National Governors Association, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, issued a stern defense of the Common Core State Standards, saying that they were state-driven and not a federal initiative. Six months later, in June, Fallin capitulated to foes of the standards in that state by signing a bill that repealed them. 

So what did Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who's now chairman of the NGA, say about the common core in his 2015 edition of the "State of the States" remarks at the National Press Club in Washington?

Though he didn't mention the common core by name in his Jan. 6 speech, Hickenlooper praised the states that were "raising their expectations of students." However, he added that "higher standards" by themselves were not enough to ultimately improve students' outcomes: "What students learn and how well they learn will not change much unless we improve the quality of teaching and leadership within our schools."

Hickenlooper also touched on what promises to be a very hot education policy issue for states this year: the number and nature of standardized assessments. (It's a big issue in his home state, where the state Board of Education wants to pare back the testing load for students.) Hickenlooper seemed to try to set a middle course, saying, "With testing, it's about quality, not quantity. When done well, students are better prepared for postsecondary education, avoid remedial classes, and are on a path to obtaining a relevant certificate or degree to enter the workforce and the middle class." 

He also gave a shout-out to improving teacher preparation and changing how they and principals are evaluated. He mentioned Colorado's own recent teacher-evaluation changes approved in 2010, although the state did backtrack somewhat from those policies for the 2014-15 school year

In his own separate remarks, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican who is the vice chairman of the NGA, emphasized different points—Herbert said 43 states and the District of Columbia are now operating under waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. (The actual count is 42 states and the District of Columbia, since Washington state lost its waiver last year.) Herbert outlined key points for what governors would like to see in a reauthorized version of the law:

• "This should be done in a way that protects states' rights to set standards and also recognizes the need for maximum flexibility as states meet goals and advance education for all of our students."

• "The new act should reinforce the principle that accountability and responsibility for K-12 education rests with the states."

• "It should also support governors' strategies to improve low-performing schools."

• "And it must also include flexibility for governors to empower teachers and school leaders to prepare all students for success."

Read the full speeches by Herbert and Hickenlooper below:

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