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Attorney General Abbott issues new opinion regarding Common Core

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Date Posted: 6/17/2014 | Author: Jennifer Mitchell, CAE

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has written an opinion relating to the Common Core State Standards, a set of national curriculum standards that several states other than Texas have adopted. In Texas, the State Board of Education (SBOE) is responsible for adopting state curriculum standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). In 2013, the State Legislature passed a bill prohibiting SBOE from adopting the Common Core standards for use in Texas; that bill also stated that school districts "may not use common core state standards to comply with the requirement to provide instruction in the essential knowledge and skills." ATPE strongly supported the bill, which aligned with our long-standing legislative program position opposing nationalization of curriculum, tests or teacher certification.

In December 2013, Sen. Dan Patrick (R–Houston) requested an attorney general's (AG's) opinion to determine whether a school district that uses Common Core "in any way to teach" the state's mandated curriculum would be violating state law. In his request for the opinion, Patrick claimed that "certain school districts within Texas are currently using Common Core to teach the Texas state standards." He did not identify particular school districts in his written request, however. Read the entire request by Sen. Patrick here.

In response to Patrick's request for an AG's opinion, some school districts expressed concern that the state's new law had put them in the position of being forced to violate the prohibition merely because of overlaps between the state's existing standards and Common Core. They worried, in other words, that they would be unable to teach particular segments of the TEKS if those segments happened to match what was also covered in the Common Core standards.

In his new opinion, Abbott writes that the districts' concern was "baseless," adding that legislators were "aware of the frequent overlap between the TEKS and the Common Core Standards" when they passed the law. Abbott's opinion does not directly address any concerns about school districts' use of instructional materials that might have been developed with Common Core in mind. Instead, it simply reiterates what the underlying law states—that school districts may not use the Common Core State Standards Initiative to satisfy their requirement to teach the TEKS. Read the full opinion here.

Common Core has been the focus of heated political debates around the country. Republicans and Democrats alike have complained about the idea of national standards and viewed Common Core as an illustration of federal government overreach into state policy matters. Indeed, some states have been pressured to adopt Common Core in order to receive waivers of burdensome and outdated ESEA/NCLB federal accountability laws from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Ironically, the Common Core standards were developed not by the Obama administration but rather by the National Governor's Association; strong supporters of Common Core include high-profile Republican governors and former governors, including New Jersey's Chris Christie and Florida's Jeb Bush, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

Despite the outright prohibition against Common Core in our state, it remains a popular political talking point. For that reason, it is not surprising that Patrick and Abbott would both choose to weigh in publicly on Common Core at this time, considering that each of them is in the midst of a fierce campaign for higher office this year. Patrick is running for lieutenant governor, and Abbott is running for governor.


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