ESSA: End of Common Core as a Federal issue- Stop blaming Obama

F.R.O.S.T. plan to restore our education to greatness- this falls under "R" resisting federal over-reach and over-testing.

It's best to begin by acknowledging that there are plenty of reasonable people who view Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as a failure and more of the same. I get it. Trust me, I get it. 

As someone who has followed the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for the last several months in conference and committee, there were ways it could be better that ultimately didn't end up in the final act (now law).

Firstly, it is after all a federal bill on education. Many principled conservatives would vote against it on this premise alone. It is by its very nature "Fed Ed" and many of us have fought against this. I still doubt the need for a Federal Dept of Education, so if your legislator voted against it for this reason, he or she makes perfect sense.

Secondly, ESSA adds or expands programs that may or may not make local schools stronger such as "head start" programs. Remember, as Sen Rubio said at the Education Summit in Nov 2014 "Federal funds come not with strings but with chains". The DOE has used Race to the Top funds to coerce states to adopt the Common Core, and we are still uncertain what these funds will be tied to. The Federal funds may only be sufficient to fund the mandated programs which will leave local taxpayers on the hook for additional costs or force School Districts to cut other programs to fund the Federally mandated ones.

Thirdly, earlier versions of ESSA had things that would have made our schools stronger but ultimately were cut in the Congressional horse-trading process. The best example is "Title I portability" which would have allowed the extra federal funds for students in low socio-economic schools to "follow the child" to a school of choice. Opportunity through choice is what the "O" in F.R.O.S.T. plan stands for and it would have been a big win for parents and students to secure Title I portability. Not including this might be another reason a principled conservative would vote against ESSA. 

Having said all of this, I am going out on a limb and declaring that I'm glad the ESSA passed. 

Why? Because I have been following this issue closely for several months and know it well and as this blog post title suggests: it is the end of Common Core as a FEDERAL issue. It's not the end of Common Core, but it is a major victory in the war on common core. My friends on the right can no longer blame Obama if their state or district has Common Core.

I will now explain...

The left is spiking the ball and the teachers' union is bragging about "The end of NCLB". Whatever. It's true that the bill is now called ESSA, but ultimately it simply a modern version of the ESEA which first came about in 1965. It's true that there is no more "No Child Left Behind", because the current version of ESEA is ESSA, but many of the accountability measures they objected to in NCLB are still in ESSA. 

A fascinating timeline and history of ESEA, NCLB, and ESSA can be found here. 

In article I and article IX of the ESSA, the power of the Secretary of Education is greatly limited and expressly prohibits the DOE from rewarding or punishing a state for adoption of any educational standards (Common Core or otherwise).

For a five-page summary of the ESSA, check out this great cheat sheet. 

Standards are now a STATE issue. Curriculum is a DISTRICT issue.

There are some on the right who don't want to have any standardized testing, but most agree that the testing has been an integral part of the improvement of Florida Schools in national rankings. As I mentioned in the first sentence the R in FROST plan also includes Resisting over-testing. GOOD NEWS: Testing / accountability is pushed down to the STATE level in the ESSA. 

My group which supported the "Fewer Better Tests" bill (HB7069) last year imposed a maximum test time of 5%, but the analysis reveals most of that is due to DISTRICT testing such as bench marks and pre-tests. Those are issues we can lean on local school board members to correct. Now the Feds simply insist that states must have a testing system and that 95% of students must be tested which leaves room for 5% opt-out / absences during the main standardized test. The state picks the test. If your state has a CC tied test such as PARCC, that's on your State BoE and Commissioner and Legislature, NOT THE FEDS. 

If you opposed common core because of the testing, then again, it is now time to act on the State and Local level. Stop blaming Obama. He has plenty of legitimate areas of criticism, but Common Core isn't on him. Not anymore.

A number of anti-common core groups are unwilling to "take yes for an answer" and have launched #StopESSA campaigns. Their arguments range from self-preservation of their non-profit groups to the length of the bill and the "short time" between the final draft being released and the date of the vote. Their arguments show a lack of understanding for how legislation comes about and seek to engage in what I call the "Commoditization of Outrage". They are simply against anything, they may not understand it well, but they know they are against it. Dammit, they are outraged... so outraged they cannot even articulate why they are outraged, but we need to "Stop Common Core". 

Common Core as a federal program IS bad. As a believer in the 10th Amendment and State's Rights, that was my objection to it, and the reason many other conservatives opposed Common Core. We've WON that battle, now to mop-up on the State and local level. 

There are reasons for conservatives to be against ESSA that make perfect sense, but the return of State and Local control and the death of Common Core as a Federal program are not among them. We WON. 

As we focus our energies on the State and Local level addressing the last of the Common Core influence, the STD's of Standards, Testing and Data Collection, we can also put some of the same energy into parental empowerment and Opportunity through Choice.


Shawn R. Frost, MBA is a strategist and policy analyst specializing in education policy with MVP Strategy and Policy, LLC as well as an elected School Board Member in Indian River County Florida. He was a founding member of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members which is a rapidly growing individual membership organization for conservative school board members. His vision for America's revolution in education is called the F.R.O.S.T plan and can be found on his website. He also created the blog the War on Common Core.