I had the pleasure of sitting down recently with former education secretary Margaret Spellings and separately with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.--two of the pillars of No Child Left Behind. I asked each of them how the Common Core State Standards changed the landscape for K-12 education policies. They were both blunt, saying the state-led effort to create college-aimed standards should not supplant the more basic academic requirements of No Child Left Behind. "The idea that we're going to be able to run a marathon without being able to run mile, I don't get that," Spellings said.
"Why don't we all take the MCATs, and those who succeed will be doctors and the rest of us just hang out," Miller suggested. Granted, both Spellings and Miller are a touch defensive about the accountability system they created, which they are now trying to salvage as lawmakers grapple with reauthorizing the law.
Not everyone agrees with them. The Common Core initiative is seen by other policymakers as the key to the next movement in education. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the education committee in the Senate, says the Common Core State Standards make it possible to move beyond NCLB toward a more innovative, state-based education system. It was NCLB that made the Common Core effort possible, Council of Chief State School Officers Executive Director Gene Wilhoit told me. Now that most states are on board, he said, NCLB has "run its course." It's time to reinstate the state laboratory of ideas.
What do the Common Core State Standards add to the conversation about academic achievement? Are they an appropriate substitute for the benchmarks created under NCLB? Does a move toward Common Core mean that the federal involvement in public schools will be diminished? How can states ensure that kids are at basic grade level in reading and math, as NCLB demands, using Common Core?