Friday, September 12, 2014


by JCM from the Brustein & Manasevit Federal Update, by email

12 Sept 2014 | Washington DC  ::  A new report from the research arm of the Library of Congress supports arguments that the Common Core State standards are voluntary and do not constitute a violation of legal standards which prohibit the federal government from setting curricula.  In this document, researchers from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) call the Common Core the result of a “grassroots movement” led by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Counsel of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

The report says that Common Core standards are academic content and performance standards only, and do not “tell teachers how to teach the specified content or what materials to use.”  Therefore, the authors conclude, the Common Core does not prescribe curricula and federal support of those standards is permissible under federal law.  While the U.S. Department of Education (ED) clearly encouraged States to adopt standards like the Common Core through competitions like Race to the Top and its large-scale waivers of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the report notes that ED allowed alternate content and achievement standards and did not specify that this particular set of standards be used.  Incentives are a “common feature of federal grant programs,” the authors say, and “do not appear to violate any current education statute.”  The authors also acknowledge the argument that States feel they were “coerced” into adopting these standards, but say that the large number of States who have adopted alternate standards or declined to seek waivers indicates that the Common Core is, indeed, optional.

Finally, the report notes that ED has broad authority under both the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA) and other federal statutes to rescind a waiver or grant if a State fails to meet the requirements or backs out of a requirement – for example, if it ceases to use a set of content standards that meet the requirements laid out.

The report is consistent with many statements made by the Obama administration and officials, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, which have called adoption of the Common Core voluntary, and the creation of the standards a State-led movement.  However, it contradicts arguments made by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, which says that tying adoptions of the standards to millions of dollars represents an unconstitutional overreach by the federal government.

The CRS report is available here.

Common Core State Standards and Assessments: Background and Issues by Kathryn Black

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