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Education & Labor Committee Republicans

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Thompson Statement: Hearing on Improving Our Competitiveness: Common Core Education Standards

We’re here today to take a closer look at the Common Core State Standards Initiative and how coordinated efforts to strengthen academic standards can enhance American competitiveness. 

The Common Core Initiative is being developed through the joint leadership of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The goal of the initiative is to provide a voluntary, research and evidence-based set of standards for mathematics and English-language arts.  

I want to emphasize the word “voluntary” in that description. While the Common Core is still under development, I don’t believe anyone involved in the initiative intended for it to become the one and only set of academic standards in the United States. 

For that reason, I’d like to focus my remarks this morning not on the quality of the standards themselves, but on what the federal government is doing with those standards. 

Secretary Duncan has not been shy about his intentions to dramatically reshape education through the Race to the Top fund.  

And one key component of the Race to the Top guidelines is the requirement that states participate in and adopt a set of common academic standards.  

The Department has even gone one step further, offering to provide funding to help states develop assessments based on those common standards. 

The only common, multi-state academic standards I am aware of are those being developed through the Common Core Initiative. Therefore, it stands to reason that any state wishing to receive funding through the Race to the Top program will be mandated to adopt the Common Core – and to test its students based on those standards. 

In other words, the Common Core is being transformed from a voluntary, state-based initiative to a set of federal academic standards with corresponding federal tests. 

I know that I can speak for the committee when I say that we applaud the Secretary’s enthusiasm when it comes to education reform.  

Yet, we have been particularly troubled by this aspect of the Race to the Top guidelines and the ramifications of federal involvement in academic standards. 

We know academic standards vary widely from state to state. Some states have set the bar too low, leaving their students unprepared to compete on the world stage.  

Yet other states have risen to the challenge, setting extremely rigorous standards and holding their students accountable to these high expectations. 

The Common Core has the potential to support those states whose standards are falling short. But mandatory adoption could have the unintended consequence of lowering the bar for states and local communities that have voluntarily established standards even more rigorous than those developed through the Common Core. 

I also have questions about what role parents and local education officials will play if the Common Core becomes a de facto national curriculum.  

As a former school board member, I can attest that school boards have been active in the development of academic standards and assessments. This allows parents, teachers, and communities to have a voice in what our children are taught.  

A voluntary Common Core could serve as a baseline, to be modified and enhanced based on local needs. But by mandating adoption of the Common Core, the Department of Education could undermine the ability of local educators to shape and customize what gets taught in individual classrooms. 

The Common Core Initiative is an important tool in the effort to strengthen academic standards. But it is only one element of what should be a much broader strategy on the part of states and local communities, working in partnership with the public and private sectors to enhance American competitiveness. 

I applaud efforts to develop a voluntary set of rigorous academic standards; however they must not be undermined by federal intrusion.  

I look forward to discussing these concerns with our witnesses today. 

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