Education Reformers Beware: Recent Changes May be Rolled Back in 2011

By Joel McFarland, senior editor 2010 was an eventful year for education policy, with two rounds of Race to the Top winners, forty states adopting the Common Core curriculum, and the end of Michelle Rhee’s tenure as DC Public Schools Chancellor. The frenetic pace of education policy change is likely to continue in 2011, with last November’s elections bringing a new slate of policymakers to power.

Although No Child Left Behind reauthorization and budget crises are likely to dominate education policy headlines, newly empowered Republicans may slip in some surprises. At both the national and state levels, Tea Party-inspired conservatives may balk at federally-led efforts to standardize education policy across states. Congress and state legislatures may retreat from education reforms undertaken over the past two years, even relatively noncontroversial measures that once enjoyed bipartisan support.

These counter-reform efforts are just beginning to work their way through state legislatures. A recent example comes from Iowa, where State House Republicans have announced their intention to repeal the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The approval of this standardized national curriculum was a major policy shift for a rural state like Iowa that prizes local control of its schools. The Common Core was developed by a broad consensus of educators and policymakers, and it has been adopted by states as varied as Massachusetts and Wyoming. Yet if the Iowa Republican’s plan is approved, the curriculum will be gone before it is even implemented.

Iowa may not retract the Common Core and even if it does, Iowa has never been a bellwether state in education policy. But as legislatures across the country reconvene in the next few months, education reformers should closely monitor their recently won policy victories.

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