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A reform at risk? The political realities of the Common Core

A reform at risk? The political realities of the Common Core

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The collected papers for this conference can be found at
http://www.aei.org/events/2013/03/25/common-core-meets-the-reform-agenda/
The collected papers for this conference can be found at
http://www.aei.org/events/2013/03/25/common-core-meets-the-reform-agenda/

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: American Enterprise Institute on Mar 25, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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06/07/2013

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AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTEF
OR
P
UBLIC
P
OLICY
R
ESEARCH
 
A Reform at Risk?The Political Realities of the Common Core
Ashley JochimCenter on Reinventing Public EducationUniversity of WashingtonAew9@uw.edu
Draft: Please do not cite without permission from the author.
Prepared for the American Enterprise Institute Conference,
“Common Core Meets the Reform Agenda”
 March 25, 2013The collected papers for this conference can be found athttp://www.aei.org/events/2013/03/25/common-core-meets-the-reform-agenda/.
 
Draft: Please do not cite without permission from the author.
1The Common Core State Standards initiative represents not only an unprecedented collaboration between the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council of Chief State School Officers(CCSSO), and 46 states to create common standards in English and mathematics; it alsorepresents an intriguing experiment in federalism. With virtually every state in the union anadopter and strong supporters on both sides of the aisle, the Common Core has an air of inevitability that few reforms can tout, especially in the contemporary political environment.Yet, the initiative also faces significant challenges as it moves beyond adoption. Thecommitment of fractured state legislatures, interest groups, and other stakeholders will be testedas the rhetoric of high standards meets the realities of implementation. Implementation willdemand new investments in curriculum, tests, technology, professional development, and other instructional supports at a time of profound fiscal constraint. It will require potentially messyreforms to accountability systems that may anger students, parents, and other stakeholders, asschools that thought they were performing well fare poorly on new tests, and new cut pointsexacerbate the appearance of already wide achievement gaps among student subgroups. And, thiswill all unfold at a time when issues of federalism and the relative roles of the state and federalgovernment have reemerged as central debates in education reform conversations. Navigatingthis terrain is possible,
 but it won’t be easy.
 
Political Will and Implementation
Observers of politics
often forget that fights don’t simply end once agreements are forged
and written into law. Implementation involves more than vague proclamations of support; itinvolves highly specific decisions about who to target, how much money to invest, and whichstakeholders to engage. These choices profoundly shape the winners and losers of political
 
Draft: Please do not cite without permission from the author.
2debates, as some individuals face greater oversight, some programs win a greater share of available dollars, and new oversight authorities are established and threaten existing power bases.Political scientist Aaron Wildavsky termed this cycle
“policy as its own cause” and suggested
that policies take new forms during implementation.Viewed in political terms, implementation is successful to the extent that it reinforcesexisting political commitments or creates new ones. This is different from securing a pol
icy’s
 substantive objectives. Crime rates go down, more children graduate from high school, fewer senior citizens enter poverty, and air quality improves
 – 
these are all indicators that a given policy has achieved its substantive goals.But, policies can be politically robust without being good. That is, they can achieve political aims without actually solving any problems and often create new ones. Much has beenwritten about the policy failures associated with the
War on Drugs,
for example, including thelack of attention towards treating addiction, sentencing disparities, and overcrowded andfinancially strapped jails, but these have failed to substantially weaken
 policymakers’ support
for 
a “tough on crime” approach to America’s drug problem
.
1
Similarly, policies can be successfulin ameliorating a public problem but draw little in the way of political support. Most economistsagree that preserving Social Security and Medicare for future generations will require substantialchanges to program eligibility, funding, and structure, but thus far, policymakers have not foundit in their political interests to advance entitlement reform.
2
 However, political success and substantive success are inherently connected because public policies in democratic societies are sustained through politics, not around them. Policiesare crafted, implemented, and sometimes, repealed through politics. While public policies can

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