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What Does That Common Core Copyright Mean?

What Does That Common Core Copyright Mean?

There seems to be some confusion in state departments of education about what that copyright on Common Core’s standards actually means.

Some staffers seem to think it means that the standards revision committees, set in motion by a governor’s executive order or a state legislature, can alter these standards in any way they want.

Even if the state board or department of education has changed the name of the state’s standards (as, for example, in Alaska, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania), added a few footnotes (as in North Dakota), switched the order of Common Core’s standards (as in Florida), shortened the introductory matter (as in Alaska), or removed some of the examples in parentheses (as in Pennsylvania) – to disguise the fact that the actual standards are still Common Core, it doesn’t matter. Common Core’s standards themselves cannot be altered without permission from the holders of the copyright: the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Moreover, they must be used to promote the Common Core initiative.

This was made clear in a letter dated September 29, 2014, from Richard Laine, Director of the Education Division for the National Governors Association, to the Missouri School Boards Association. The letter concerned Common Core’s “public license grant” to the states. Laine asserted that any use of a selected excerpt or portion of the Common Core State Standards must be directed to the support of Common Core itself.

This paragraph is also at the website for the Common Core standards:

The NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) hereby grant a limited, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to copy, publish, distribute, and display the Common Core State Standards for purposes that support the Common Core State Standards Initiative. These uses may involve the Common Core State Standards as a whole or selected excerpts or portions.

In other words, states are not free to change the meaning of any of Common Core’s standards. Nor is there a mechanism or schedule for its copyright holders to do so.

As Stanford University Professor R. James Milgram noted in his remarks in Milledgeville, Georgia, on September 24, 2014, to a Georgia House Study Committee on the Role of the Federal Government in Education, “Members of the Validation Committee repeatedly called for clarification of the policy on modifying the document as well as specific procedures and schedules for updating it, but they received no response.”

The reason that Indiana’s new 2014 standards for mathematics and English Language Arts are, for the most part, a paraphrased version of the Common Core standards is that Governor Pence had, theoretically, ordered the elimination of Common Core’s standards but, in practice, set in motion two revision committees committed to restoring warmed-over versions of them. Pence did this with the assistance of Claire Fiddian-Green in a newly created office of educational innovation and Molly Chamberlin at the Indiana Department of Education.

This action was reportedly taken because Common Core’s standards were needed to maintain the state’s possibly illegal waiver from the condition of No Child Left Behind granted by the U.S. Department of Education. 

Sandra Stotsky, Ed.D. is Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas.

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