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Duncan Flunks the “State led” Test with His Indiana NCLB Waiver Warning

May 6, 2014

Corporate reformers love tests.

It seems that now, the test is on them.

Is the federal government usurping state authority over public education?

Consider the protestations that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are not a federal mandate, as noted on the website:

Fact: The Common Core is a state‐led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. … State adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory. …This work is being driven by the needs of the states, not the federal government. [Emphasis added.]

Based on the above, it would seem that a state deciding to forego CCSS would face no federal sanctions associated with the never-reauthorized No Child Left Behind (NCLB), that the two concepts– CCSS and NCLB– would not even be related in any federal funding discussion, much less a punitive mandate that any state “prove” to the federal government that its “state-led” education standards must be CCSS, “or else.”

Though he spent a lot of time and energy on defending the “state-led” CCSS, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan changed his story when questioned about federal funding tied to CCSS:

In a hearing before a House appropriations subcommittee Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan defended the competitive grants built into his fiscal 2015 budget request, gave no substantive details about a proposed Race to the Top for equity contest, and continued to distance himself from the Common Core State Standards.

“I’m just a big proponent of high standards. Whether they’re common or not is secondary,” he told members of the House appropriations subcommittee that works on health, education, and other related issues.

Duncan also maintained that there are “zero” federal grants tied to the common core, after being pressed by members…. [Emphasis added.]

Duncan contradicts his own Race to the Top (RTTT) scoring rubric, which clearly indicates that to receive federal funding via RTTT, states are expected to have “common standards.”

Only weeks prior to Duncan’s misleading testimony, on March 25, 2014, Indiana became the first state to sign a bill into law to drop CCSS.

What Indiana decided to do next is a curiosity.

Rather than return to its former standards that were “graded” by the pro-CCSS Fordham Institute as equal or superior to CCSS.

In January 2013, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli even admitted as much in testimony before the Indiana State Senate Education and Career Development Committee:

As some of my friends on the earlier panel mentioned, we at Fordham have been examining state standards for fifteen years, and we found Indiana’s to be some of the very best. We also found the Common Core standards to be very good, but Indiana’s standards were great.

Note that I do not lend credence to Fordham’s self-appointed grading of standards. However, Petrilli admits that he believes Indiana’s state standards “great” as compared to CCSS’ “good.”

Nevertheless, Petrilli wants Indiana (and all states) to keep CCSS. Why, you ask?

For the sake of nationwide standardization of public education, not for promoting “great” standards:

…If you decide to opt out of the Common Core, you will be opting Indiana’s teachers and students out of an opportunity to participate in the incredible wave of innovation that these standards are unleashing. It’s as if the whole world is moving to smart phones and tablets while you’re sticking with a rotary. [Emphasis added.]

What a sales pitch: “If you decide to drop the untested but declared ‘good’ CCSS, Indiana, you miss the opportunity to be ‘good’ with all other CCSS states in order to be “great” by yourself.”

Not sure how Petrilli equates “good” CCSS with Smartphones and “great” Indiana state standards with “rotary.”

As it turns out, Indiana did formally drop CCSS but chose not to return to its “great” standards.

Instead, it settled on “new” standards supposedly “painstakingly vetted by teachers, parents, and other public input”– yet created and adopted only one month later— a real rush job.

One issue CCSS and the “new” Indiana standards share: Both will make the classrooms that use them into one grand experiment.

Note that CCSS is a national experiment since CCSS has not been tested.

The only “evidence” (a term I use loosely here) for CCSS is the Fordham Institute comparison that rated CCSS as at best a lateral move for Indiana.

Yet Duncan wants to keep the control that he insists he does not have over Indiana education.

On May 5, 2014, Indiana was put “on notice” by Duncan’s people if Indiana cannot prove that their “new” standards are “high.” As Chalkbeat reports:

On Thursday, Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz received a letter from Deb Delisle, assistant U.S. secretary of education, spelling out concerns about “significant issues” with Indiana’s adherence to an agreement it made in with the federal government in 2012 that released the state from some NCLB rules.

The agreement included a promise to have high standards for all students, and federal authorities want proof that the standards the state recently adopted are as challenging as the ones they replaced, known as the Common Core. [Emphasis added.]

Know that “test” I mentioned at the outset of this post?

Duncan just failed it.

The federal government is usurping state authority over public education.

The fantastic hypocrisy here is that Duncan encouraged states to sign onto a spectrum of reforms including CCSS in 2009— before CCSS existed.

Neither Duncan nor the CCSS copyright holders, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), has provided any “evidence” that CCSS delivers on its promise to “prepare America’s students for success.”

On the contrary, the standards-grading Fordham Institute has demonstrated that there isn’t even a logical connection between its grading of state standards and scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

Then what is it that the likes of Duncan and Finn want, anyway?

Complete standardization of American public education.

Fordham Institute President Chester Finn admits as much when he places the blame for the connection between California’s “high” standards and “lousy academic results” on a failure to “infuse” standards into the entire education process:

Implementation is a boring topic but here (as with most bold reforms of complex, sluggish institutions) it’s crucial. The past quarter century offers sad examples of states with praiseworthy standards and lousy academic results, with California being the woeful poster child. This breakdown is due to the plain fact that the state never infused its own standards into tests, requirements for promotion and graduation, teacher certification and evaluations, school ratings, college admissions, or much else. [Emphasis added.]

The goal of those crying “It was poor implementation; give CCSS a chance!” is this infusingwhich amounts to complete loss of local control over public education.

Note that Finn states “implementation” was a problem prior to CCSS.  Yet no great effort was expended pre-CCSS to “save” state standards and “properly implement” them.

The issue is in “implementing” sameness. “School choice” for charters and vouchers– where such “choice” benefits privatization– and “sameness” when it comes to standards– where such “sameness” benefits privatization.

Duncan wants Indiana fettered to CCSS, make no mistake. He wants Indiana to prove to him that its “new” standards are CCSS– that way, the same “infusing” of the entire education process can happen to Indiana as to all CCSS states.

And you better believe Duncan has his eye on “convincing” the five states that never signed onto CCSS (Texas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Virginia, and Alaska) to enter the fold. (Though Alaska has not adopted CCSS, it has joined one of the two CCSS assessment consortia, Smarter Balanced— a foot in the CCSS door.)

It is fine with Duncan for states to be “state led” so long as such states travel the path that he approves– one towards national “sameness.”

Keep in mind that this “sameness” is the goal billionaire-CCSS-funder Bill Gates has for American public education in order to “unleash powerful market forces” such as incompetent, monopolizing Pearson.

Keep in mind also that Gates is “helping” the US Department of Education to “innovate” itself via a Gates-funded assistance.

As for Indiana: Had it returned to its pre-CCSS standards, it could have submitted Fordham’s own 2010 report and Petrilli’s testimony to Duncan as “”proof” that Indiana state standards were equal to or better than CCSS.

It’s not too late, Indiana.

I challenge you to return to your former standards and use Fordham’s 2010 standards-grading report and Petrilli’s testimony about CCSS-“good” versus Indiana state standards-“great” to force “state led” Duncan into a corner at least as embarrassing as that produced by his his November 2013 comment that “white suburban moms” oppose CCSS because they are discovering that their children “aren’t brilliant.”

Duncan just flunked his own “I’m just a big proponent of high standards” test.

Guess who has shown America once again he is “not brilliant”?


  1. In CA where we, (collectively) failed to implement NCLB according to Chester Finn, we were told in workshops where we were paid well to attend that the “failed” NCLB pacing guides and “essentialist” standard curriculum was being replaced. We were told that a teacher led “constructivist” and innovative approach was the essence of CCSS. We were told, CCSS would be highlighted only by broad general standards aligned with job and or college readiness “skills.” One of those “skills,” for example, was for students to be able to read and interpret original text; or, in math to utilize multiple math concepts, formulas and theory and be able to explain and solve real world problems.

    We teachers were told that we were being empowered. Teachers finally, it was said, would be able to really teach, to be creative, to innovate, and, not simply be required to follow a pacing guide with pre-authorized lessons page by page even when we knew students were being left behind.

    We went to work in teams to “create” lessons. We witnessed from UTube produced examples other innovative lessons in “local context” from New York, Georgia, and other states. We were told that those states were ahead of CA because of RttT dollars they’d received. We witnessed UTube demonstrations by teachers that had “constructed” lessons that fit with the new CCSS and we were given multiple Web sites to use. We were told to borrow freely from the new “network” of “free” lessons being created and shared by teachers across America and to join the network and share ourselves.

    Later, I discovered on the professional site, Linked-In, a group Blog devoted to CCSS. Many on that Blog, I found, are entrepreneurs and self-declared experts and many are hired by publishing companies to sell their services to school districts as facilitators of the CCSS. After examining various persons I came to the conclusion that many of the “facilitators” were persons who shifted over to CCSS as facilitators from NCLB work, again, working for or through publishers.

    From time to time they are in conflict on the Blog with teachers and others, including myself, who claim that CCSS is a Federal Government takeover of public k-12 education through the CCSS testing. I began to name the process, the “Educational e-Industrial Complex” after former President Eisenhower’s “Military Industrial Complex” statement.

    In the last day and a half of the paid one week workshop, teachers were introduced to the so called “Smarter Balanced” assessments, (not yet created or implemented) and by the time we left the workshop many of us were confused about how it would all fit together.

    We were as confused as Secretary Arne Duncan seems to be.

  2. My inner conspiracy theorist says that this is patty-cake between Duncan and Pence with the goal of either re-instating CCSS or setting up the re-branded CCSS as “Inidiana-led” approved equivalent standards. The former would make it clear that “There is No Alternative” to CCSS. The latter would allow Duncan to avoid the charge that CCSS was a federal mandate while effectively keeping CCSS as a federal mandate.

  3. teacherken permalink

    Sorry but this still does not legally qualify as a federal mandate, but rather as a condition of aid. A state can choose to forego federal money and then it does not have to follow the accompanying dictates. That was true of the original NCLB as well. As a matter of fact, Utah was about to opt out of NCLB, which would have been very embarrasing to the Bush 43 administration, so the Governor Mike Leavitt was “invited” to Washington and upon his return backed down from withdrawing and was rewarded with the position of Secretary of HHS.

    No state was required to participate in NCLB, nor was any state required to take Race to the Top money.

    It may seem like splitting hairs, but legally it is very important that it is a condition of aid rather than a mandate.

    Now, there may be a separate issue of whether Duncan even has the authority to waive the penalties under NCLB. Some members of the House Committee who do not like NCLB and its punishments nevertheless believe Duncan has exceeded his authority in granting waivers. But that is a separate issue.

    • Ken, according to ESEA Subpart 2 section 9527, no federal money is to be tied to conditions for standards adoption. This is a “legal hair” that needs to be “split” on court.

      • teacherken permalink

        that is still not an issue of a mandate. A mandate is something that cannot under any circumstances be avoided. My issue is not that Duncan may be violating statute. I think he is way outside his authority. My issue is that you described it as a mandate.

        Thus the education of a child in the least restrictive environment under IDEA is a mandate – it is a statutorily established civil right, and even though the Congress has not provided its supposed 40% share of the average additional cost imposed by the act except during the two years of funds from ARRA (stimulus), states and localities are still obligated to spend the funds necessary to fulfill the requirements of the law, which makes it not merely a mandate, but an unfunded mandate.

        I am disagreeing with the thrust of your argument, merely with the choice of language.

      • A mandate can be defined as a command to act in a particular way. Duncan is commanding that Indiana act in a particular way.

      • teacherken permalink

        sorry, but this is not a question of dictionary definitions but how the terms are used legally. Because Indiana could choose not to accept the federal funds it is legally not a mandate, but a condition of aid. There is an entire body of jurisprudence on this.

        And as noted, that is different than the question of whether Duncan’s actions may be outside the law on other grounds.

      • A lawyer could argue that Duncan’s coercion is a tacit mandate for Indiana to follow CC.

      • teacherken permalink

        I think we have taken this as far as we can. Legally it is NOT a mandate because Indiana did not have to accept the money and/or can return money to not be subject to the requirements in question. Period. This has been argued in Federal courts several times, both about educational funds and other funds. It may be illegal on other grounds, it may be unwise, I absolutely think the approach is stupid, but it is not a federal mandate but a condition of aid. For a parallel states had to lower speed limits and raise drinking age to get federal highway funds. That was also not a mandate but a condition of aid.

        Feel free to have a last word.

      • Indianapolis received RTTT money, but I don’t think Indiana did. So Duncan is threatening to withhold future money?? Is this not a stretch of defunct NCLB?

    • Julie permalink

      It seems like teacherken is trying to be a little overly legalistic. So — let me offer a lawyer’s assessment of this: “a distinction without a difference”. “Mandate” may or may not have a specific legal definition. That does not prevent any of us from using the term according to its usual meaning. Moreover, there is no doubt whatsoever that lawyers can and do argue about the meanings of words — every day in every way (and including when some people think it’s both simple and settled). They could certainly do so in this case and Mercedes’ theory of Duncan’s behavior meeting the legal definition of a mandate (“de facto”) is quite viable.

  4. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Wonder how you would describe the flow of federal funds in support of curriculum materials to make the federally funded PARCC and SMARTER assessments feasible. Do these actions become a violation of federal law at any point in the process that ends with states administering these tests?

    • I think the federal violation goes back to the connection between “common standards” as a condition of RTTT funding. There would be no CCSS testing consortia if there were no “common standards.”

  5. Duncan is engaging in blackmail. This is, of course, completely outrageous.

  6. This blackmail stays just within, perhaps, the letter of the law, but it is still morally wrong. Where he does violate the law is in using his office to promote a curriculum. The USDE is forbidden to do that, but the CCSS in math is, as E. D. Hirsch, Jr., pointed out on Diane Ravtich’s blog a few months ago, “clearly a curriculum outline.”

    • According to ESEA Subpart Two,Section 9527(c)(1):


      (1) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law, no State shall be required to have academic content or student academic achievement standards approved or certified by the Federal Government, in order to receive assistance under this Act. [Emphasis added.]

      • Bravo, Mercedes!

      • Equally important is the manner in which RTTT and the Core violates the Department of Education Organization Act.

        “No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system …”


        “It is the intention of the Congress in the establishment of the Department to protect the rights of State and local governments and public and private educational institutions in the areas of educational policies and administration of programs and to strengthen and improve the control of such governments and institutions over their own educational programs and policies.”

    • Laura H. Chapman permalink

      I think the construction of curriculum materials with federal funds is a violation, but I am not a lawyer. Those materials had to b funded because the USDE forgot that you cannot go from standards to tests without curriculum content for the tests.

  7. cmzirkelbach permalink

    As I understand it, this is a link to the new Indiana 2014 standards as compared to CCSS. I am not an education expert. Would love to see an interpretation, but would love even more if Indiana went back to pre-CCSS standards.

  8. Going back in history to 2008, Diane Ravitch clearly explains how this country got to CCSS – through NCLB.

    “The federal role should be to provide accurate information about student performance….
    As I pointed out earlier, it was a huge mistake in the law to allow states to set their own standards, choose their own tests, decide for themselves what ‘proficiency’ is. The result is that states are reporting ever higher test scores, ever higher proportions of students reaching ‘proficiency,’ even though NAEP shows that no such miracle has occurred.”

    Complete standardization of American public education, you ask?

    I wish this country would focus on the real problem; do we really believe that test-based “accountability” at the federal level will give us quality learning opportunities for all?

    NCLB IS the problem…..not Duncan, not Obama, not even Bush….the problem IS our federal education law. It has anchored the wrong philosophy of reform. We – the People – need to redefine the federal role and I would hope it isn’t what Ravitch promoted in 2008…because that is what we are doing with “common standards.”

      • A stance on Common Core is not what I am questioning; I’m questioning the stance on national standards. I’m questioning what people believe about the results of the standards-based “reforms” of the last three decades and asking for interpretation of NCLB “results” and wondering why there has been no great uprising against it.

        Was it just an implementation problem as this person re-states? “Unfortunately, as Diane Ravitch has accurately pointed out, the implementation of the standardization movement over the last 20 years has fallen short.”

        The standardization movement is getting away with redefining standards as expectations and many people are falling for it. I’ve just tried to make the point that “leaders” are not being clear on their stance on national standards…. ….and why they think we need them and what form they should take and who should own and control them.

      • In the post I linked below, this is Ravitch’s stance on national standards:

        I have long advocated for voluntary national standards, believing that it would be helpful to states and districts to have general guidelines about what students should know and be able to do as they progress through school.

        Such standards, I believe, should be voluntary, not imposed by the federal government; before implemented widely, they should be thoroughly tested to see how they work in real classrooms; and they should be free of any mandates that tell teachers how to teach because there are many ways to be a good teacher, not just one. I envision standards not as a demand for compliance by teachers, but as an aspiration defining what states and districts are expected to do. They should serve as a promise that schools will provide all students the opportunity and resources to learn reading and mathematics, the sciences, the arts, history, literature, civics, geography, and physical education, taught by well-qualified teachers, in schools led by experienced and competent educators.

        If it could work this way, that would be fine. However, Ravitch is not pushing for national standards any longer; it is an idea that she likes, but she is aware that like the original idea for charter schools, even a seemingly benign idea of national standards would be hijacked in this age of privatization.

  9. Mercedes, I have read those words from Diane before. But then her stance on A Nation at Risk – as a historian – becomes confusing….That issue I do not have any easy link to share for an explanation of my (and much of the nation’s) confusion. But obviously for the person writing about “implementation” and “expectations” to have said what was said, clarity might very well be the way out of this mess.

    • Victoria, then you should ask Diane directly to clarify her position.

      • I have what I believe is an honest e-mail written by her concerning NCLB back from when I was part of the SOS organizing committee for the March.

        I don’t know that I need clarity as much as those that follow her advice and direction do. I’ve take my own path in this reform debate. It is just that every now and then I get caught up in the Common Core debate all-the-while wishing the country would take aim at fed law…..unfortunately, the topic is not as glamorous.

        Appreciate all the work you do. Holding public interest in education IS important – don’t get me wrong. Each of us have a role …. I can appreciate that.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Duncan Proves That Common Core Is a Federal Mandate by Threatening to Punish Indiana for Backing Out | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. More Evidence CCSS is De Facto Mandate | Network Schools - Wayne Gersen
  3. Educational Policy Information
  4. Arne Duncan’s “Principal Ambassadors”: Federally Monitored “Local Control”?? – @ THE CHALK FACE
  5. Arne Duncan’s “Principal Ambassadors”: Federally Monitored “Local Control”?? #stopcommoncore | Stop Common Core Illinois

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