A reform at risk? The political realities of the Common Core

March 2013

This paper was prepared for the AEI "Common Core Meets the Reform Agenda" Conference, March 25, 2013.

The Common Core State Standards initiative represents not only an unprecedented collaboration between the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and 46 states to create common standards in English and mathematics; it also represents an intriguing experiment in federalism. With virtually every state in the union an adopter and strong supporters on both sides of the aisle, the Common Core has an air of inevitability that few reforms can tout, especially in the contemporary political environment.

Yet, the initiative also faces significant challenges as it moves beyond adoption. The commitment of fractured state legislatures, interest groups, and other stakeholders will be tested as the rhetoric of high standards meets the realities of implementation. Implementation will demand new investments in curriculum, tests, technology, professional development, and other instructional supports at a time of profound fiscal constraint. It will require potentially messy reforms to accountability systems that may anger students, parents, and other stakeholders, as schools that thought they were performing well fare poorly on new tests, and new cut points exacerbate the appearance of already wide achievement gaps among student subgroups. And, this will all unfold at a time when issues of federalism and the relative roles of the state and federal government have reemerged as central debates in education reform conversations. Navigating this terrain is possible, but it won’t be easy.

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