Congressional report contradicts claims in Jindal's Common Core lawsuit
Common Core is not a curriculum, and it's all right that the federal Education Department offered millions of dollars for states that adopt it. Those are the conclusions of a new report from the Congressional Research Service, and they would appear to contradict Gov. Bobby Jindal's claims in a federal lawsuit he filed last month.
In fact, the authors seem to nod in part to Jindal, referring to "some critics" who consider the federal government's actions "unconstitutionally coercive." Jindal's lawsuit accuses the Obama Administration of strong-arming states into adopting Common Core, which he considers a curriculum, by tying it to millions of dollars in grant money. This, he says, represents unconstitutional federal overreach into state and local affairs.
Undoubtedly, policy analyst Rebecca Skinner and attorney Jody Feder write in the report, the federal government backs and promotes Common Core, which lays out what students should be able to accomplish in English and mathematics at the end of each grade.
States that choose "common" standards were eligible for grants from the Race to the Top program; Louisiana received $17 million.
In addition, states are granted flexibility in how they use millions of dollars through the No Child Left Behind act if they use academic standards that are either "common to a significant number of states" - i.e., Common Core - or that have been approved by the state's higher education authority. The latter requires states to take extra steps.
The Education Department also funded the two consortia that are developing Common Core tests, to the tune of $362 million. That could have been crucial, the report states: Without that money, "it is unclear where funding to support the development of those assessments would have been provided."
In Skinner and Feder's reading, however, those financial incentives, no matter how compelling, are legal.
They "are a common feature of federal grant programs, and they do not appear to violate any current education statute," they write. "Generally, a state's participation in programs that rely on such incentives is viewed as voluntary by the courts," including the Supreme Court, "and such conditions have been deemed unconstitutionally 'coercive' only in rare instances."
Federal laws prohibit the Education Department from controlling state or local instructional programs or curriculum, including the selection of textbooks.
The consortium that developed Common Core is indeed controlling, the authors note: States must adopt "100 percent of the standards ... word for word." But the report says that "standards and curriculum are not the same thing," contra Jindal.
"Content standards guide what teachers need to be teaching in the classroom. Content standards do not tell teachers how to teach the specified content or what materials to use to teach the content. That is, content standards do not prescribe curricula, teaching methods, or materials," Skinner and Feder write.
The authors believe that in practice, the incentives won't result in "a single set of national standards in reading and mathematics or a single set of assessments in these subject areas," in part because states may add their own standards on top of Common Core. It is possible, however, that multiple states will use "similar materials in the classroom."
The Congressional Research Service is the Capitol's policy research arm. Spokesman Cory Langley said the report was issued for Congress at large and was not requested by any particular member or committee.
The U.S. Middle District Court of Louisiana will hear the Jindal lawsuit Nov. 20.