Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Core Question: Does Copyright Mean States Can't Change The Common Core?

What questions do you have about the Common Core, the nationally-crafted academic standards adopted by Indiana and 44 other states?

What questions do you have about the Common Core, the nationally-crafted academic standards adopted by Indiana and 44 other states?

StateIm­pact is answering reader-submitted questions about the Common Core, a new set of expectations for what students should know and be able to do in math and English at each grade level. Indiana is one of 45 states that have fully adopted the Common Core.

Today, we’re answering a question that came up in testimony during last week’s statehouse hearings on the new academic standards:

The National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers hold the copyright on the Common Core State Standards. Does that mean states can’t change the Common Core?

Indiana teachers have been using the new standards since the State Board of Education voted to adopt Common Core in 2010. But lawmakers voted this spring to pause rollout until a legislative panel can study the Common Core and make a recommendation on standards. That’s giving both proponents and opponents of the Common Core a chance to make their case for which academic standards the state should adopt next.

The Short Answer

In a word, yes — states can make changes to the Common Core. That’s according to a spokesman for Achieve, the education non-profit that helped develop the Common Core.

“States can do whatever they want and always have been able to,” writes Chad Colby in an email to StateImpact. “There is no limit to what changes, additions or subtractions a state wants to make.”

Colby says as a rule of thumb, states are encouraged to add no more than 15 percent to the standards. Otherwise, he says it would negate the “commonness” of the standards.

As for the copyright, the Common Core State Standards are held under a public license that gives states who fully adopt the standards broad permission to use and reprint them. Colby says the main reason for copyrighting the standards was to protect the rights of the states who developed them. He says it also helps protects against charges that the federal government had a hand in writing the Common Core.

“The copyright proves that the federal government does not own nor control the standards,” writes Colby.

The Long Answer

But critics of the Common Core say the copyright limits the changes Indiana policymakers might make to change or improve the standards.

Indianapolis parent Erin Tuttle is co-founder of the group Hoosiers Against the Common Core. She helped lead the statehouse push to require a more formal review of the standards. She says the chief problem with nationally-crafted academic standards is that Indiana can’t change them.

“You cannot change one word of the Common Core standards,” says Tuttle. “You can only add 15 percent. That is different than in the past, where if a standard was problematic, we could change it. Now we can’t do that. Our standards are adopted verbatim. They are copyrighted. There are licensing and uses requirements as part of that adoption.”

Colby says that’s not quite right — states can make subtractions and changes. But they do so at their own peril, as common assessments being developed by two national consortia test the Common Core as it’s written.

What’s more likely is states could change when a standard is taught. For example, a third grader that had already mastered all of the Common Core’s grade-level expectations could begin learning fourth grade content.

In other words, shifting standards a grade earlier presents no problems, says Colby. However, delaying the teaching of a standard to a later grade could hurt the student’s progression towards college- and career-readiness.

That’s why most states have only added to the Common Core. According to a 2012 Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning report, states can make changes only after the standards are adopted verbatim. McREL counted 11 states that took advantage of the 15 percent rule. Indiana wasn’t one of them.

Proponents of the Common Core often cite Massachusetts as an example as Indiana debates which standards to adopt next. Both states were known for their historically high academic standards, but when Massachusetts adopted the Common Core, state education officials added 13 standards for K-8 students and nine standards for high school students.

But there’s at least one reason why states might not want to adopt additional standards in math or English language arts, says Colby.

“Remember, one of the reasons the states developed the Common Core was that many old sets of standards had too many standards for teachers and students to cover in a year,” says Colby. “The argument is that adding more would get you right back to the problem the states were trying to correct.”

Still, he says there’s nothing stopping states from making additional changes or modifications: No one is enforcing the 15 percent rule.


  • Erin Tuttle

    Elle, Achieve’s double speak is hard to decipher. They also don’t hold the copyright. The CCSSO and NGA as holders of the copyright are the only ones who can govern how it is applied, how it will change, etc. The states won’t make this decision. Actually, at the study committee on August 5th, Fordham Institute representative Kathleen Porter-Magee corrected Senator Rodgers. When Rodgers said Indiana could change the standards, Porter-Magee interrupted her and said make additions. I have a video clip here for you to see.

    • NewsWoman64

      The members of the CCSSO and the NGA are state governors and state school officers. So, they are owned by the states.

      • Millie the teach

        Not true at all. Both of these organizations are not public organizations! SURPRIZE!!! Few school officials that have anything to do with the day to day operations of our schools had anything to do with writing the common core. Of course the states can publish the books we need- which in all honesty should be few. No one reinvented the wheel here. All the hype about “new’ materials needed is just that, hype. We do not need much of the technology connected to this either. There are folks out there taking millions of dollars away from our schools in the name of the common core, money that could go to much more beneficial to help our children.

  • Erin Tuttle

    He forgets that if it was a state led effort, the standards would be public property and no copyright could be placed on them. The federal government can’t copyright public documents, neither can states. Only private organizations may place copyrights. This fact is further proof the standards are owned by private organizations as opponents of the Common Core have been saying since their adoption. Indiana DID adopt the standards verbatim and hasn’t added anything.

    • NewsWoman64

      Not true. States copyright their stuff to keep vendors from trying to sell materials created with tax dollars/public employees.

  • Berin Greenbear

    Still looks to me like we’re having an argument over who the vendor is that makes the test available. The state has resources, including many very good public universities. Why doesn’t the state say “thank you” for the Common Core groundwork, remove the publishers from the equation, and write their own freely-licensed textbooks and exams? Why pay McGraw-Hill or Peterson money to do something that the State of Indiana can do quite easily on it’s own?

    To be most clear, I am ambivalent on the Common Core. I looked it over, the standards are fine. I’m proposing that the argument be moved to someplace that actually matters: Material outcomes and contracts. We don’t have to call the State of Indiana Standards the Common Core. We can acknowledge them as a source in creating our own. That is a separate issue. What I do want to argue over, however, is the massive layout of cash to a cartel when the means to sidestep that cartel is quite accessible and is only getting easier to accomplish.

    • NewsWoman64

      You must be joking. States do NOT have the resources or manpowoer to write their own books.

      • Berin Greenbear

        I work for Indiana University. I assure you, there are plenty of academics that could be asked to write textbooks and devise tests. Why don’t they? Probably because they haven’t been asked and doing such work does not bring money into their departments. Both of those problems can be fixed.

        Printing books is well within the means of the state. After all, the State of Indiana seems to be able to churn out plenty of full-color glossy travel brochures funded, in part, by tax money. There are also e-books and other distribution methods available.

        So, let me turn your accusation around. In what manner does that state NOT have the resources or manpower to write their own books and tests. More importantly, how does the state not have the means to do so in an open and peer-reviewed manner? Seems to me, from where I sit, they do.

        There is an argument that The State should not do these things. However, tax dollars are being used to pay for these things. As a tax payer, I ask why isn’t The State of Indiana driving a hard bargain and looking to get the best deal that it can? I think that the Cartel of Publishers can be pushed a bit with State-sponsored competition. For that matter, even if the state funded a new private corporation (via seed money, encouraging the public at large to invest) to create direct competiton to The Cartel, this would be an improvement.

        • NewsWoman64

          A glossy brochure is cheap. Hiring academics and printing costs lots of money. The state education agencies are seriously underfunded and understaffed. There’s no way they could take on the writing of text books, too. Even the states that write their own tests have to hire vendors and PAY for the creation. Just ask any lawmaker if they would fund that. You will hear crickets.

          • Berin Greenbear

            So what you are saying is that the current system, run by textbook publishers, is done out of charity, and no one is being paid for their work in writing a sample curriculum, devising tests, and creating textbooks?

            Frankly, that smells funny. There is a profit being made. That means that there is room for competition. So I ask again, why doesn’t some state, any state, try their hand?

            Oh yeah… at least one state has:

          • NewsWoman64

            What? I said everyone has to get paid, but states can’t pay for it from the state budget.

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