"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Common Core is NOT a Federal Program...technically

(This is the first point of several blogs about my research into Common Core.  To read the introduction, click here.)

UPDATE: In August 2012, Utah sent a request to SBAC to exit the testing consortium.  The SBAC agreement states that the US Dept of Ed must give their permission for this exit.  To date, I have received no information that this permission has been granted.  Utah is now signed up with AIR to do testing, beginning in 2014.

1. Federal Control:

At every presentation on Common Core I've attended, the first thing the presenter says is, "There are a lot of myths about Common Core.  The first thing you need to know is that Common Core is NOT a Federal Program".  Common Core was not developed as a federal program.  I realize that.  I am more concerned about what it will develop INTO, and not who did what at the outset.  We are placing a noose around ourselves that will enable the Federal Government to exercise extensive control over our education.  We are lulled by the promise of better education, higher test scores, and more competition in a global marketplace.  But we are blind to the power that will remove whatever vestiges of local control we still have.  Even if this is a wonderful set of standards, setting ourselves up for greater Federal control is a mistake.

Technically, the US Department of Education did not develop the Common Core Standards. However, with 45+ states involved, it IS a national program. From the Common Core website: (Note: The website has been redesigned and less information about federal involvement is listed.  Here is a link to an archived copy of what used to be there. Search on about May 3, 2012.)

Q: What is the role of the federal government in standards implementation?

A: The federal government has had no role in the development of the common core state standards and will not have a role in their implementation.

However, the federal government will have the opportunity to support states as they begin adopting the standards. For example, the federal government can

  • Support this effort through a range of tiered incentives, such as providing states with greater flexibility in the use of existing federal funds, supporting a revised state accountability structure, and offering financial support for states to implement the standards.
  • Provide long-term financial support for the development and implementation of common assessments, teacher and principal professional development, and research to help continually improve the common core state standards over time.
  •  Revise and align existing federal education laws with the lessons learned from the best of what works in other nations and from research. [emphasis mine]

Nope.  Not a Federal program, right? So, the Feds control the purse strings AND the legislation. They can 'encourage' any way they see fit. Currently, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has indicated that states will be granted waivers from meeting the current No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards, if they are "transitioning students, teachers, and schools to a system aligned with college- and career-ready standards for all students," read Common Core. One article indicated that they must adopt, not only the standards, but also the full complement of assessments, as well. Glad we're not talking about a Federal program.

The two assessment consortia, Smarter Balance (SBAC) and PARCC, split a grant of $330,000,000 from the US Department of Education to create the assessments.  (You can read my original blog on the assessments here.) Once the assessments are in place, the curriculum will follow.  The assessments are not just the end-of-the-year tests, but also "formative" tests.  These would include intermediate tests along the way to help teachers evaluate their students' on-going progress.  So, it's not enough we have to pass the state-mandated, federally-funded, end-of-the-year tests, but we get those chapter tests in between. 

Additionally, it isn't hard to imagine how the Federal Government could use standards and the results of national (because that's what they are) assessments to reward or punish states and schools.  As the FAQ says, the Federal Government will be able to "revise and align existing federal education law" as well as being able to "help...improve the common core state standards over time."  The Feds didn't develop the standards, but they will help improve them. 

Utah is aligned with SBAC, whose head researcher, Linda Darling-Hammond, was rumored to be on the short list for US Secretary of Education or deputy Secretary of Education. In February, 2009, she declined, saying, "I wanted to let you know that several things have converged in the last two weeks to persuade me to stay in California and support the President's agenda from here."  She stated there was a new Policy Center opportunity "that will examine a variety of education redesign issues, including standards and assessments".  As the head researcher for the SBAC assessment consortium, it isn't hard to infer that those "standards and assessments" were referencing Common Core.  I'm sure the assessments will "support the President's agenda".

Also, the Obama Administration implemented the Race to the Top (RTTT) Program.  Originally, Secretary Arne Duncan made adoption of the Common Core a requirement for RTTT applications.  As things went along, it wasn't a requirement for application, but those states that adopted Common Core got more points for "adopting common standards" and "developing and implementing high-quality assessments".  Utah adopted Common Core, which allowed us to hedge our bets on RTTT funding.  It didn't pay off. 

So yes, technically, the Common Core is not a Federal program.  Legally, it can't be because the US Department of Education is prohibited, by law, from directing, supervising or controlling curriculum or selection of content, textbooks, etc.  (I think we know why Ms. Darling-Hammond felt the assessment consortia would accomplish the President's agenda better than the US Department of Ed.) It begs the question, where there's funding, how can there not be direction?  If RTTT "prefers" states and issues waivers to those who adopt Common Core, is that not implicit direction and control? 

Common Core is not a Federal program.  But the US Department of Education is very heavily invested in making sure as many of the states implement Common Core as possible.  They will use every incentive, both legislative and monetary, to "encourage" us to adopt and implement it.  If Common Core were as wonderful as everyone thinks it is, why would you need to bribe states to adopt it?  Over a short amount of time, wouldn't we naturally gravitate to what works, without government coercion? 

It also seems strange to me that there are no pilot implementations.  Why not have a few districts try it, test it, revise it, and let the rest of us learn from them?  Why is it that all these states had to implement within one or two years?  The textbook publishers are scrambling to keep up.  The assessments won't be done till 2014.  Why must we all hurry and jump on this bandwagon? What is the harm in waiting and watching how it goes in other states and districts?  Normally, a major change that incurs this level of expense should be discussed at the district-level, reviewed by the SCC's, tested in a few schools, and then rolled out.  This massive expenditure was mandated without any real, public input in Utah.  Upon inquiring who, locally, had been involved in the 'extensive parental and teacher input', I was told, if it had been a Utah-based initiative, we would have had more local involvement.  Instead, many parents and educators throughout the nation had input.  Glad to hear my responsibility for my child's education has been co-opted by 'other parents and educators, nationally'.  No public hearings, no pilot programs, no textbooks, no assessments.  But we do have Federal grants, Federal financial incentives, and Federal legislation.

A few weeks ago, I attended a class on "The Utah Core".  The presenter from the State Office of Education told me, when I asked about data to support the Common Core, there wasn't any because it wasn't fully implemented anywhere.  She did have anecdotal data from one teacher, however.  If I proposed this kind of leap-before-you-look adventure in business, based solely on the "expert opinion" of others but no pilot program, no hard data, it wouldn't even be considered.  For those of you interested in a good, but long, read (originally published by the American Association of School Administrators) on the lack of data, click here.

"Where is the evidence to support the rhetoric surrounding the CCSS? This is not data-driven decision making. This is a decision grasping for data.
The evidence offered by the NGA and CCSSO to make the case for a cause and effect relationship, or any significant relationship for that matter, between test result ranking, economics, and the need for national curriculum standards (and eventually national testing) amounts to nothing more than snake oil.
Yet this nation will base the future of its entire public education system, and its children, upon this lack of evidence."

Thomas Jefferson said, "The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to perform best." (Letter to Joseph Cabell, 2/2/1816)  Either we, as individual districts or states, after 230 years of local control, are incompetent to the education of our children or this is not the way to have good and safe government...for we are trusting it all to one.


  1. I'm so tired of our politicians playing semantic games with us. If it walks like a duck and squawks like a duck and looks like duck, it's probably a duck.

    The CCSS are federal. We need to stop playing the politicians games and call it like it really is. This is a power grab by the federal government to control what is taught and when in every public school in the country. Anything short of that is just word games.

  2. Thank you for exposing the truth behind Common Core Wendy. I hope lots of people will refer others to this article.

  3. Thank you for your diligence and vigilance. I'm going to start following. There is only one place that everyone can be the same and that is the lowest common denominator, or at the bottom. I want more than just the minimum.

  4. I am a homeschool mom and this concerns me, as well! Thank you for explaining Common Core to those of us who would have otherwise known nothing about it, because this could (but most likely will) affect homeschoolers as well.

    With Common Core, no one can get "ahead" and those children who are deemed "behind" will never "catch up."

  5. As a Jr. High teacher in the area, I saw vast number of students come and go in a single year when the economy was booming- up to 20-25%. That has slowed, but I still have 10% of my kids move in or out each year. It is frustrating for kids to come from another area and find that the subjects they have been learning in a neighboring state are not what they teach in Utah for their grade and that they will have to repeat a year or miss a year of various subjects. Is there a way to help Education meet the needs of an ever more transient population without some sort of non-local coordination? I'm not sold on common core, but I would like to know if you have any thoughts on what another solution for this problem might be.

  6. @Teacher: According to Census Bureau data, it is estimated that only 0.3% of school-aged children move between states every year. http://www.k12innovation.com/Manifesto/_V2_Home.html
    Movement within the state is already supposed to be handled by the state standards the State School Board has been mandating since 1984.

    While what you describe is a concern, I would much prefer trusting my kid's education to you, someone I can get to know and talk with, than to a private organization, several states away, over whom I have no control. I would be willing to jump through the necessary hoops, when moving, rather than to give up my responsibility as a parent to control my child's education. The principle of local control needs to take precedence over the promise of the uniformity of outcome.