Local Control Alive and Well in States Using Common Core State Standards

Opponents of high, comparable standards have often claimed that the Common Core State Standards were federally-driven and forced upon states. Statements like these have led some to believe – erroneously – that the federal government also controls what is taught in the classroom.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

States and school districts are firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to the classroom – and how the standards are taught. If parents are concerned about the materials their children bring home, they only need to raise those concerns with their child’s teachers or their local administrators. Former Alabama Governor Bob Riley’s experience provides a good example. Concerned about a textbook his grandson brought home, he inquired with a local teacher how those decisions are made.

“Local control, local decisions are almost always the best. It turns out that is exactly what is happening in our schools,” Gov. Riley explained. “If an Alabama parent or group of parents has an issue with a specific book in their local school, they do not have to lobby Washington for change. They don’t even have to call Montgomery. All they have to do is tell their concerns to the local school administration.”

Objective analyses have rejected the notion that states’ commitment to raising education standards is driven by anyone other than state and district leaders. By and large, policymakers, parents and teachers too are discounting such claims. Still, if there were any lingering doubts, they are addressed by the Every Student Succeeds Act – which explicitly puts control of standards and accountability systems under the control of state and local authorities, and prohibits federal authorities from incentivizing or otherwise pressuring states to adopt any specific set of standards or systems of accountability.

Congressman John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, called the Every Student Succeeds Act a “huge win for conservatives.” In an interview before passage of the legislation, Rep. Kline noted, “We have to empower parents with choice, we have to reduce the huge federal footprint in education…  The federal government should not be able to tell states what standards they can or cannot adopt.”

Fortunately, state and local leaders have largely moved past the rhetoric and doubled down on rigorous and comparable education standards. They continue to tailor their learning goals to student needs, but overwhelmingly they are keeping the bar high. And they are having success because of it; this year most states made significant improvements in math and reading proficiency, especially in early grades.