Gov. Asa Hutchinson today announced formation of a Council on Common Core Review by executive order, to be headed by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. He will take applications through Feb. 20 for 16 people — students, teachers, parents and business leaders — to comprise the council by his appointment.
Anyone in the state can apply to serve on the council (there’s already an online form up on the official website of the governor’s office). Its composition will be announced in early March. Hutchinson said he’s looking for “open-minded individuals who will listen to the presentations” before making decisions about the future of education standards in Arkansas. The council should make initial recommendations in the early summer and later recommendations in the fall, including on “implementation, local flexibility, assessments and student data privacy.”
That first round of prescriptions, the governor said, will likely include a recommendation about standardized testing and whether Arkansas will remain part of the PARCC consortium, which has been a matter of immediate concern in the legislature. Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) is currently pushing a bill that would halt the new PARCC test this year and revert back to the old Benchmark, the exam Arkansas has used in all prior years. Testing season begins in just a few weeks and an immediate reversal on PARCC — which is based on Common Core standards — would be extremely difficult for Arkansas schools to pull off this late in the game. But, as Lowery has noted, over half of states originally in PARCC have withdrawn from the consortium in recent years, leaving the test’s future in doubt. Should the state stay on board for a test that’s likely to remain in place for a single year?
“It’s my understand that the current contract with PARCC testing expires later this year, so there’s potential for relooking at what we’re doing on testing,” Hutchinson said. “… but the fact is they can’t have a thoughtful review to make an emergency decision” before this year’s test. “So, this council should not impact what’s happening immediately … there’s not any plans to change the current direction within ADE as far as testing this year.”
Hutchinson and Griffin repeatedly emphasized today that they’re not yet passing judgement either for or against the Common Core. Griffin said, “my goal, first and foremost, is to set a tone of listening. I want to listen to Arkansans all over the state, from every part of the state, from every background. Whoever has an opinion on this, I want to hear about it.” Hutchinson said the recommendations might include “tweaks and adjustments” to Common Core, “more dramatic changes” or no change at all. “It’s not pre-ordained,” he asserted.
The governor laid out three criteria by which he’ll ask the council to review the standards and make recommendations: that they are high, measurable and flexible in terms of their local implementation at the district level. In regard to the second component, he said, “we don’t want just to know that our students are doing well compared to the neighbor down the street. We want to know that students are doing well and performing in terms of national comparisons, and so the measurability is important.”
Hmm. To me, that sounds like Arkansas probably isn’t going to shift radically, substantially away from the heart of the cross-state math and literacy standards that Common Core established. Otherwise, how could our data possibly be comparable to other states?
Educational standards are necessarily both abstruse and deeply important, so perhaps it makes good policy sense to review them carefully. But the caution with which the governor is approaching the Common Core issue also has a political dimension: Common Core deeply divides the GOP, splitting the party’s education reform-minded business wing from many Tea Party activists who see the standards as an assault on local control of education. It’s interesting that Hutchinson is forming this review council a few weeks after his announcement of the task force on Medicaid reform (i.e., the future of the private option); in both cases, the governor is attempting to defuse complex, explosive issues by deferring to a need for further study. But how long will that satisfy his party’s activist conservative base?
The choice of the lieutenant governor to lead the council is also significant. As a political operator, Griffin has always been savvy and ambitious, with a penchant for sometimes savage partisan combat. Wading into an issue this potentially divisive to his own party is a bold move, but perhaps will enhance his stature within what’s often been a less than illustrious office. (Griffin said he’s “deeply honored” by the task of leading the review council.)
For his part, Hutchinson emphasized the “unique relationship I have as governor with the lieutenant governor … he attends my staff meetings, my senior leadership team and participates in it as a key member … This leadership he’ll play on the council in leading this effort is just another manifestation of the relationship we’ve had.”
One final note: A reporter also asked Hutchinson about who might be appointed to the post of Education Commissioner after Tony Wood retires from that job later this year. There’s been speculation that a bill currently in the legislature is intended to pave the way for a particular appointee that the governor has in mind. That’s not the case, he said.
“The bill that might change the qualifications of the Education Commissioner is not something that’s been promoted by my office,” Hutchinson said. “It’s not designed to open up the field of potential candidates … I’m very pleased with the work that Commissioner Wood has been doing, but the search continues.”