Over the last two decades, there has been interest in developing federal policies that focus on student outcomes in elementary and secondary education. Perhaps most prominently, the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB; P.L. 107-110), which amended and reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), marked a dramatic expansion of the federal government’s role in supporting standards-based instruction and test-based accountability, thereby increasing the federal government’s involvement in decisions that directly affect teaching and learning.
Under the ESEA, states are required to have standards in reading and mathematics for specified grade levels in order to receive funding under Title I-A of the ESEA. In response to this requirement, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted and implemented standards that meet the requirements of the ESEA. Since the ESEA was last comprehensively reauthorized by NCLB, three major changes have taken place that have possibly played a role in the selection of reading and mathematics standards by states: (1) the development and release of the Common Core State Standards; (2) the Race to the Top (RTT) State Grant competition and RTT Assessment Grants competition; and (3) the ESEA flexibility package provided by ED to states with approved applications. As of August 2014, 43 states, the District of Columbia, 4 outlying areas, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) had at some point adopted the Common Core State Standards. Indiana and Oklahoma recently became the first states to adopt and subsequently discontinue use of the Common Core State Standards. South Carolina has indicated that the Common Core State Standards will be fully implemented for the 2014-2015 school year but will be replaced by new standards in the 2015-2016 school year.
This report examines each of the aforementioned changes and discusses how they are interrelated. More specifically, it provides (1) background information on current law, (2) a discussion of the development of the Common Core State Standards and state adoption of the standards, (3) an analysis of the RTT State Grant competition and how the structure of the grant application process may have incentivized state adoption of the Common Core State Standards, (4) an examination of the RTT Assessment Grants competition and the federal funds provided to support the development of assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards, and (5) an analysis of the ESEA flexibility package and how the conditions that states had to meet to receive waivers of ESEA accountability provisions may have incentivized state implementation of the Common Core State Standards. This report also examines prohibitions in the ESEA and the General Education Provisions Act related to standards, assessments, and curriculum. Additionally, it includes a brief discussion of the relationship between teacher and school leader evaluation systems that are being developed by states and the Common Core State Standards.
Finally, the report examines issues that have arisen in relation to the Common Core State Standards, including the following:
• whether states were incentivized by the Administration to adopt and implement the Common Core State Standards;
• whether state adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards could result in a national assessment and national standards;
• whether state adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards could lead to the development of a national curriculum;
•possible issues that may need to be addressed if a state chooses to discontinue its use of the Common Core State Standards;
• possible issues related to teacher evaluation and the Common Core State Standards;
• possible technology issues related to implementation of the Common Core State Standards; and
• possible issues related to the long-term maintenance of the Common Core State Standards.