2. Developed by the Governors: State-Led Initiative
In reading the Common Core website, I can appreciate why our State School Board and so many of our education leaders in Utah are drawn to the idea of Common Core. Who doesn't want our kids to learn more? On so many levels, it seems good to make sure all kids are taught specific things in each grade. We want all Utah's children to have a quality education, regardless of school district. We also want to know Utah isn't falling behind other states. The problem with this thought is what it opens us up to. As Congressman (and former Utah public school teacher) Rob Bishop stated in this video on Common Core, "Ever since the Federal Government, in the mid-sixties, became heavily involved in public education, we've been consistently fighting that battle over standardization versus freedom. Freedom should be our goal." If freedom is your goal, please read on.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a legislative committee hearing on HB15: Computer-adaptive testing (Cost: $6.7M). It was amended to remove a direct reference to the Common Core standards. During the hearing, State School Board President Debra Roberts said something to the effect that Common Core was developed by the Governors' Association. She mentioned, in brief, some of the benefits the State School Board saw. But, she went on to say that the Federal government had gotten involved and, essentially, messed it up. (I'm paraphrasing, but if someone wants to find the audio link, I'll post it.) My point exactly. This structure was created by the states for the states' own use. However, it is perfectly created for the more powerful entity, the Federal Government, to take over and remove all semblance of local control. This is why every presentation has to begin with "It's not a Federal Program." To which I respond, "If you build it, they will come."
Common Core was 'developed' by the National Governors' Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). In Utah, our chief state school officer is the State Superintendent. We are told it isn't a Federal program because the Governors all came together and decided to create these standards. We are left with the impression of the governors hitting upon this great idea and going to work on it. In fact, many of these ideas have been around for 20 years, waiting for an opportunity to gain traction. The idea was presented to them, and the governors signed on. Most of the heavy-lifting was done by other organizations, some with financial grants and some with long-term desires to implement a national education to jobs program. (For an interesting video and research paper on some of the entities and monies involved, go here.)
First, let's address the money. Since we don't really think the fifty governors were sitting around designing math and language arts standards, who, exactly was involved? Well, the NGA has a separate arm called the NGA Center for Best Practices. This organization has staff who are involved with researching, investigating, and promoting policies on behalf of the Governors' Association. The NGA Center has several divisions of which education is only one. When we say, "developed by the governors", we need to understand we are referring to this Center with its education-division employees. The CCSSO is the other organization usually linked to Common Core development. In association with the NGA and the CCSSO, however, is the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). The NCEE provided some of the main people who spearheaded the Common Core Initiative, some of whom worked on previous standards initiatives, including the New Standards Consortium. So, this is the main group behind Common Core standards.
These Common Core developers, interestingly enough, each received grants from the Gates Foundation to develop and implement Common Core.
Here are the amounts, as per the Gates Foundation website, of years and grants to each of the above organizations.
CCSSO: 2009--$9,961,842, 2009--$3,185,750, 2010--$743,331, 2011--$9,388,911
NGA Center: 2008--$2,259,780
In fact, quite a few entities have received Gates Foundation money to develop, implement, and provide support for Common Core. Please see the pdf link here. (I have gone through the pdf download, and checked the Gates Foundation website. Some of the links listed are no longer valid, and some of the grants have been combined. It took some digging, but I was able to find links on the Gates Foundation website for all of the entities listed, with roughly equal or larger donation amounts, as in the diagram. I encourage you to do your own research on this, as well.) For an interesting list, you should search the grants from http://www.gatesfoundation.org/ and limit your search to College-ready education (US) and 2009 or prior. Not all of these are directly related to Common Core (as far as I can tell), but many of them are. 2009 is when the Common Core-related grants begin. It is fascinating to see how much money and to whom it was donated.
Additionally, the major textbook publisher, Pearson Publishing, has received $2,999,047 from the Gates Foundation to create materials for the Common Core. Not inconsequentially, Pearson recently acquired America's Choice, a subsidiary of the NCEE. I'm not saying that the money is bad or the Gates Foundation money is problematic, I just think we need to be aware of the money behind this initiative. Money talks and we need to understand its influence. It isn't as simple as saying the governors of the fifty states got together and came up with this great idea called Common Core.
So, who spearheaded this initiative? Marc Tucker is the president of NCEE and helped establish America's Choice, now part of Pearson Publishing. Mr. Tucker has been very involved in standards-based education over the last 20 or so years. He is very interested in cradle-to-grave education leading to careers (as he calls it human resources development) overseen by the government. He started the New Standards Consortium (that sounds vaguely like Common Core) in the nineties. Here are some quotes from a letter read into the Congressional record by Congressman Bob Shaffer on Sept, 17, 1998. Although the letter is addressed to Hillary Clinton, the concepts appear to be the same ideas that motivated Mr. Tucker and the NCEE in their Common Core Initiative.
We think the great opportunity you have is to remold the entire American System for human resources development...
First, a vision of the kind of national—not federal—human resources development system the nation could have. This is interwoven with a new approach to governing that should inform that vision. What is essential is that we create a seamless web of opportunities, to develop one’s skills that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone—young and old, poor and rich, worker and full-time student....
Radical changes in attitudes, values and beliefs are required to move any combination of these agendas. The federal government will have little direct leverage on many of the actors involved. For much of what must be done a new, broad consensus will be required. What role can the new administration play in forging that consensus and how should it go about doing it? At the narrowest level, the agenda cannot be moved unless there is agreement among the governors, the President and the Congress. [emphasis mine]
To read the entire letter in the Congressional Record, go to page E1819, lower right corner here.
I mention this information to provide context for the Common Core Standards. Mr. Tucker has been advocating standards-based and outcome-based education for over 20 years. His group has created other off-shoot groups that have become involved in many aspects of the education establishment, and currently Common Core. Remember, his goal appears to be the government perfectly managing the education and human resources system of our nation. This is not just about better math standards.
I understand how, given the basic information of the governors developing Common Core, higher standards, greater accountability, and better assessments, our good representatives on the State Board and across our state (and nation) could see a bright educational future for our children. I don't doubt that the original concept of Common Core was a noble idea. However, Americans have always seen education as the responsibility of the families. Local schools exist to support and assist the families in this endeavor. The state's traditional (pre-1984) responsibility was to aid the parents and local schools in that local effort. We have gradually switched focus from a local approach to ceding our responsibility to "experts" successively farther and farther away from our local families. We justify it in the name of outcome. But we have not seen good fruits from those distant laborers. Common Core, whatever its intentions, has become the ultimate top-down approach. Unfortunately, the more power you give away, the less you retain for yourself. In signing on to Common Core, we were shown only the idea of a state-led initiative, without realizing all the forces behind it. If you build the Common Core standards and assessments in 47 states, the Feds WILL come...and, in fact, they already have. Utah needs to opt-out before it becomes too difficult to do so.