As parents, citizens, and legislators learn more about Common Core, some are deciding it is not the best means of improving American education. Parents in many states are mounting grassroots campaigns against Common Core’s standardization of learning and federal testing of students. In April, the Republican National Committee issued a resolution rejecting Common Core, saying it is a “plan [that] creates and fits the country with a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.”
Critics of Common Core say it is an untried experiment that lacks legitimacy and empirical study and is now being foisted upon the entire U.S. school system. It has the potential to waste billions of dollars, multiple years of education efforts, and the learning potential of all schoolchildren.
Several state legislatures are considering withdrawing from Common Core (CC), delaying or not funding implementation, or withdrawing from national testing by government-funded consortia. Four states never adopted CC: Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia. Minnesota accepted CC English standards, but rejected CC math. Private organizations developed CC; it was neither debated in public nor enacted by state legislators.
Certainly many Common Core promoters believe further centralization of education will improve educational outcomes, but power and cash may also be motivating some supporters. There is an immense amount of money flowing to public education because of Common Core implementation, and also to specific companies that are CC public-private partners that develop curriculum, create tests, and train educators to teach Common Core.
Federal Education Standards
On a national level, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) is asking the Senate Appropriations Committee to cut off funds that allow the Obama administration to cajole states into adopting Common Core standards and national standardized tests by tying some funding to CC adoption. Grassley challenges other legislators to co-sign his letter to the Appropriations Committee which documents that the Obama administration forced states to sign on to CC as a prerequisite to get Race to the Top money or to receive No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers. These waivers allow a state to continue receiving federal funding although NCLB requirements have not been met. Grassley’s letter also addresses concerns about federalizing education:
The decision about what students should be taught and when it should be taught has enormous consequences for our children. Therefore, parents ought to have a straight line of accountability to those who are making such decisions. State legislatures, which are directly accountable to the citizens of their states, are the appropriate place for those decisions to be made, free from any pressure from the U.S. Department of Education.
Opponents of Common Core state that nationalized education standards are unconstitutional, citing the 10th Amendment, which limits federal influence over states. The General Educational Provisions Act also prohibits federal overreach by prohibiting “any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States [from exercising] any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system. . . .”
Federal Standardized Testing
Heavy reliance on standardized testing is another controversial aspect of Common Core. Critics suggest nationwide tests will neither improve education nor register whether education is improving. Some experts point to teachers “teaching to tests” and students who are anxious over standardized test results as root problems in American education.
The New York Daily News reports that students from 33 New York City schools boycotted state exams that tested students according to Common Core standards that New York will not even begin teaching until September. Parents said their students would boycott tests because they oppose Common Core and the overuse of standardized testing. When 3rd- through 8th-graders took the tests in mid-April, one-third of students at the Earth School in Manhattan opted-out. The New York Times reports that among students who did take the tests, “many did not finish, and some students said classmates were crying at the end.” (04-19-13)
A further complication in the rush to adopt Common Core is that competition to federal tests from private companies has arisen. The U.S. Department of Education gave $360 million from the federal economic-stimulus act of 2009 to two consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) to develop national standardized tests. Some observers say competition could be the beginning of the end for PARCC and SBAC, as states like Alabama opt to use tests being prepared by non-federal competitors, like ACT/Pearson. Alabama chose ACT because it has background, infrastructure, and many years of successfully testing students (Fordham Institute, 04-16-13).
Invasion of Students’ Privacy
Common Core gives unprecedented access to students’ personal information to schools and third parties and thus may invade student and family privacy. Privacy laws have previously prohibited such data from being available, but those laws have been changed and reinterpreted to allow such information as name, address, social security number, attendance, test scores, learning disabilities, and family information to be recorded and shared. The Obama administration made changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), broadening the collection of students’ information and sharing it with other agencies. This information will not only be available to schools, but also to researchers and private companies. The Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. have funded and developed this database system and recently turned it over to a nonprofit corporation called inBloom, established for the purpose of controlling the information. There are security risks involved in the collection and storage of students’ data.
The New York Daily News reports that parents were neither informed nor did they give permission for New York to allow private data about their children to be collected and shared. The report continues:
If this information leaks out or is improperly used, it could stigmatize a child and damage his or her prospects for life. The state and the city are setting themselves up for multimillion-dollar class-action suits if and when these data breaches occur. The data [which] inBloom receives from the education department will be placed in a vulnerable data cloud. Many technology professionals do not trust clouds for their more sensitive data (03-14-13).
Opponents of the data collection and storage, which is already in full swing in nine states and scheduled for use in all Common Core states, include the New York Civil Liberties Union and ParentalRights.org.
The “sphere of privacy within the family” is effectively being broken down and destroyed by those who want to track children. This is in alignment with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which “has repeatedly browbeat nations to create a national database just like this that will allow the government to track children, purportedly to make sure their human rights are being protected — different declared purpose, same kind of system, same invasion of privacy for government purposes,” states ParentalRights.org President Michael P. Farris (WorldNetDaily.com, 04-25-13).
“Turning massive amounts of personal data about public school students [over] to a private corporation without any public input is profoundly disturbing and irresponsible,” the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told the Daily News. The Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington is suing the U.S. Education Department in an effort to stop the illegal collection, storage, and sharing of student data (03-13-13).
Follow the Money
Those who oppose Common Core are fighting an uphill battle against the money and political forces that created, fund, and promote Common Core. Why has Bill Gates spent millions of dollars to develop, support, and fund the establishment of Common Core standards and testing in U.S. public schools? Why did Exxon Mobil Corporation blitz television coverage of the Masters golf tournament with ads promoting Common Core? These questions are not easily answered.
Along with the federal government, private philanthropies and private companies have dumped money into Common Core in a manner unprecedented in American education. Arne Duncan’s appointment as President Obama’s Secretary of Education marked a new era of opportunity for private influence on public education, and under his watch public-private partnerships have flourished. There are also swinging personnel doors between the Gates Foundation and the Department of Education, although that would be illegal if they were professional rather than amateur lobbyists.
The Common Core revolt is definitely grassroots whereas Common Core has big money behind it. Bill Gates gave the National PTA $1 million and funds think tanks that favor Common Core. And the Gates Foundation money isn’t slowing down. It is currently soliciting proposals from teachers:
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is accepting proposals from organizations, primarily those that consider themselves to be networks of teachers, to support implementation of Common Core State Standards in literacy and mathematics. Through its “Shifting into High Gear: Accelerating the Common Core Through Teacher Networks” initiative, the foundation will award grants ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 to organizations working to accelerate implementation of the Common Core across a robust teacher network. Priority will be given to innovative approaches, which create scalable solutions that travel across networks quickly and broadly (FoundationCenter.org, 03-13-13).
The Gates Foundation now wields tremendous influence in American education. Michael B. Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that has received millions in Gates Foundation grant money, told the Puget Sound Business Journal in 2009, “It is not unfair to say that the Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education.” Mr. Petrilli wrote at the Fordham website in April 2013, criticizing the Republican National Committee statement against Common Core, “Republicans used to stand for standards. We’re confident that once GOP governors and legislators have a chance to give this language a look, they will again.” Mr. Petrilli seems to suggest that those who oppose Common Core are opposed to standards. But for many of Common Core’s opponents, the opposite is true. The more they learn about the standards and the way they are being implemented, the less they find to like.