Rumblings of an earthquake in national education policy?

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With Rick Perry said to be a shoo-in for the head of the Republican Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which was one of a handful of lead groups pushing states to adopt national standards, may find itself in deep trouble. In fact, Perry, as the head of the RGA, may force the National Governors Association, which together the CCSSO, Achieve Inc., and the Gates Foundation, acted as cheerleaders for national standards, to revisit its position in support of national standards.

Here’s why. Governor Perry opposed the national standards because

Under the program’s rules, Washington gives preference and dollars to states that agree to adopt national standards that haven’t even been written yet.

Texans strongly support the high standards and strong accountability for our schools that have made us a national leader in both categories. A number of other states are even studying our approach, the first in the nation to make a college-preparatory curriculum the default for every student, as a basis for their own higher standards.

And the Texas governor certainly was unabashed in criticizing President Obama and his Administration for “put[ting] a target on the backs of Texas leaders, taxpayers and employers.” His letter to Arne Duncan declining to participate in the Race to the Top was abundantly clear in stating his position.

The opening that Governor Perry has on this issue is obvious and rumor has it that he is thinking very seriously about actions that reassert state control over the education agenda (and leverage the RGA to do so). The clearest place for Perry to begin is with the dozens of states that did not participate in Race to the Top. There are also key states that did participate, and in the case of New Jersey, California and Indiana even adopted the national standards, but did not win any RTT money.

The key states to watch are California, Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia. In addition to being states that either did not adopt the national standards, or adopted them and did not win federal funds, they have one additional and important commonality among them: They have had higher standards than most other states in the nation.

The organizations driving the national standards effort—the CCSSO and the NGA—never really had a strategy for these high-standards states besides the sense that momentum was on the feds’ side. As textbook states, California and Texas are likely the most important states in the list and potential flashpoints, though given the Democratic hold on California, that state’s continued adoption of the national standards is highly likely. Sleepers on the issue might be

  • New Jersey because of the fact that the education commissioner’s position is still open
  • Indiana because Mitch Daniels will need to assess his state’s participation on the basis of his decision regarding a possible run for president — which will likely come in March or April of 2011, and
  • Minnesota because of the new Democratic governor, the opposition of outgoing Governor Tim Pawlenty, and the state’s clearly high academic standards

The Obama administration will have few discretionary funds to encourage additional states to come into the national standards fold. And the national Republican leadership is shifting from Haley Barbour who was a soft supporter of the national standards effort. One wonders, as we get into the thick of a presidential election if any Republican candidates will support the national standards. Certainly already Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry are out. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has not yet spoken on the issue.

The 2010 elections and the emerging Republican leadership are shuffling the deck on national education policy.

Crossposted at’s Rock the Schoolhouse.