States, Not Congress, Control What Standards They Use

Florida Congressman Neal Dunn recently returned to his home district and decided to take the opportunity to deliver a message that “Congress was committed to stopping Common Core” and putting more control back in local hands.  According to the Williston Pioneer, Dunn said, “I want you to know that this Congress is committed to stopping Common Core. Our local school boards are going to determine what our teachers teach — not anyone in Washington, D.C.”

It’s clear that Dr. Dunn has a bit to learn about the current law and history of Common Core State Standards. To start, he should look at why Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the first place. As former Congressman John Kline, a Republican and Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said at the time, “The federal government should not be able to tell states what standards they can or cannot adopt. If states want to use Common Core, it is not the place of the federal government to tell them they cannot do that.”

ESSA forbids Washington from either encouraging or discouraging states to adopt specific learning goals or assessments. In fact, the law requires states to develop plans to show full ownership of their standards and accountability systems. It’s also worth noting that any federal move to “repeal Common Core” would be in direct violation of this law and actually constitute the kind of federal overreach that Dr. Dunn told his constituents he wanted to curtail in Washington.

Dunn’s comments also seemed to indicate that he believes Common Core State Standards at one time were some sort of federal mandate. That theory has been debunked over and over.  More importantly, ESSA gives state and local leaders all the opportunity to step up and ensure their students’ needs are met. With that increased control comes greater responsibility. Overwhelmingly, states that set high expectations for students and matched those goals with high-quality assessments have seen improvements in student performance.

Fortunately, Secretary DeVos and the states are moving on from this political side show that some like Congressman Dunn continue to perpetuate. They are focusing on raising classroom expectations even higher to prepare young people for the demands of college and careers. Standards were always meant to set a floor, not a ceiling, on which states could review and build on further. For those that have followed that path, they are beginning to reap the rewards.