In a series of blog posts, Kentucky’s education commissioner called out the U.S. Department of Education (USED) for violating state and federal law regarding the standards and assessment processes of states.
According to the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA), on Friday school chief Terry Holliday, who enacted the Common Core math and English standards in Kentucky in 2010, accused the USED of violating state and federal law in forcing his state to rush its implementation of the Next-Generation science standards.
Holliday also serves as the president of the board of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), one of the private, nonprofits that developed and owns the copyright to the Common Core Standards.
In a blog post dated August 15, Holliday explained that, without Congress’ authorization, USED Secretary Arne Duncan approved requests by Kentucky and other states earlier in the month for one-year extension waivers of some NCLB requirements for this school year.
Explaining that the waiver process didn’t proceed as state education leaders were told it would, Holliday wrote that both he and other state chiefs found the application process for the waivers cumbersome — the application itself needed revisions due to questions raised from USED personnel.
“I believe the current waiver process represents a major federal intrusion into the rights of each state to develop, implement, and manage the public education of the state,” Holliday wrote.
The commissioner went on to explain in his latest blog post that while the new science standards are taught in Kentucky classrooms, the implementation process requires more time. Kentucky was the first state to implement the Common Core standards.
“We needed the waiver in order to provide time for our teachers to actually implement standards and develop new assessment items for field testing in spring of 2015,” Holliday wrote. “We committed to having an assessment of student achievement in science by 2016.
“Despite having set a precedent for this type of waiver by granting the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessment consortia states a waiver from accountability and reporting math and language arts assessments for the 2014 year, USED rejected our request,” he continued.
“This is only one example of how the current waiver process is stifling innovation and intruding on a state’s ability to implement state requirements contained in state legislation,” the commissioner added. “There are other Kentucky examples and, in a recent meeting with other state chiefs, I heard many similar stories from other states. USED expects Kentucky to give a science assessment that measures our previous science standards in spring 2015. This expectation not only violates our state law, but also violates NCLB (the No Child Left Behind Act) that requires states to assess science (once in elementary and middle school) based on current state standards.”
Holliday also expressed concern about whether some states violated the law when they sought the Obama administration’s Race to the Top stimulus awards:
Kentucky and many other states supported the waiver process since we had state laws matching the conditional requirements. Kentucky will be able to sustain our efforts for years to come; however, I do have concerns about other states that used the leverage of the Race to the Top (RTTT) grant and waiver process to implement reforms without state law. What happens when the current administration departs? What happens as the waiver process continues to become even more prescriptive and time consuming?
The commissioner said he would like the federal government to focus on its role in education, leaving state and local school districts to do their jobs. He believes Congress should fully reauthorize NCLB so that states and school districts have flexibility “to be innovative in meeting the needs of all children by improving teaching and learning.”
“States are responsible for education. Local school districts have tremendous flexibility and control in implementing state expectations,” Holliday wrote. “The federal role is and should continue to be limited to support for disadvantaged children.”
Interestingly, as The Courier-Journal reports, on Monday Holliday also called on parents, teachers, business leaders and experts to review the Common Core standards in his state to recommend changes. State officials said the initiative was not meant to criticize Common Core, but instead to improve the standards that are now part of the national political debate.
“Don’t tell them it’s a Communist conspiracy,” Holliday said. “Tell us what’s wrong with the standard and how to fix it.”