BREAKING NEWS: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rules Against Ballot Question on Common Core

Ecstatic youth throughout the Commonwealth celebrate the confluence of a long weekend, and the dropping of a frivolous ballot initiative.

Ecstatic youth throughout the Commonwealth celebrate the confluence of a long weekend, and the dropping of a frivolous ballot initiative.

Earlier this year, a group called END Common Core Massachusetts collected signatures for a petition to put a question on the November ballot, which would ask voters to repeal the Common Core standards. While repealing the Common Core on is a bad idea, on its merits, today the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the attorney general should not have certified the petition in the first place. You can read the entirety of the court's opinion, or you can read the relevant, yet still blisteringly opaque, parts here:

These cases indicate that at the core of the related subjects requirement is the condition that the initiative petition's provisions share a "common purpose," see Massachusetts Teachers Ass'n, 384 Mass. at 219-220;14 put slightly differently but making the same point, the petition's provisions, considered together, must present a "unified statement of public policy" that the voters can accept or reject as a whole ... Sections 1 through 3 may be said to share a common purpose: redefining the contents of the academic standards and curriculum frameworks for the Commonwealth's public schools. Section 4, however, which would amend § 1I to require annual publication of all the previous year's questions, constructed responses, and essays for each grade and core subject included in the mandatory diagnostic assessment tests, has the explicitly stated purpose of better informing educators about the assessment tests. Thus, the apparent goal of section 4 is to make more transparent the standardized diagnostic assessment tests and testing process required to be used in public education, and it is a goal that comes with a significant price tag: as the Attorney General agreed in oral argument before this court, implementing section 4 will require the development and creation of a completely new comprehensive diagnostic test every year, which means a substantial increase in annual expense for the board -- an expense to be borne by taxpayers and to be weighed by voters in determining whether increased transparency is worth the cost. An initiative petition properly may contain only subjects "which are related or which are mutually dependent."

In short, the petitioners wanted two separate, yet ostensibly related, questions on the ballot. They wanted to both repeal the Common Core, and to publicize the questions from the state's assessments every year. The court decided that the two issues did not meet the "related subjects requirement," as there was not "common purpose" between the two related, but separate, issues.

As readers of this blog know, this is good news for folks who care about education substance over education politics in the Commonwealth. The current standards are rigorous, and while not perfect, taxpayers have spent millions of dollars implementing them. To unwind the standards would have been an educationally superfluous, and fiscally irresponsible, undertaking.

From a national standpoint, this is a victory for the Common Core's preservation, albeit a temporary one. The leadership of the state of Massachusetts has been central to the national argument for the Common Core, and if the Bay State fell, it would have been a disaster for the nationwide endeavor. I say temporary, because, so far as I can tell, there's nothing stopping a group of petitioners from bringing the question again, but in a more sophisticated way, which could pass muster at the Supreme Judicial Court. This is a victory for both the Common Core and common sense, but not a permanent one.