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.


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