Once again, the National Association of Scholars provides enlightenment regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In the Winter 2013 Issue of the NAS publication, Academic Questions, Michael Toscano addresses the question of whether the CCSS was a bottom up, as the public is urged to believe, or a top-down initiative. *
Let me be up-front: the CCSS are arguably a top-down initiative to which states were forced to respond. But not every ‘top-down’ is the same. The standards have emerged from a unique interlocking of powerful private, federal, and philanthropic interests. In short, the standards themselves were crafted behind closed doors by a bloc of policy entrepreneurs and private Washington-based organizations that had the heavy financial backing of the world’s most powerful mega-philanthropy, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.”
But it was the U.S. Department of Education that induced the states to adopt the standards. In 2009, U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan announced to cash-challenged states that they could compete for Race to the Top money-4.35 billion-if they agreed to adopt the “common” standards being developed by Achieve, Inc., the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Duncan and company then promulgated the fiction that the standards represented a “compact between the states and their citizens.” The facts are very different.
In 2010, the CCSS English Language Arts and Mathematics were quietly and hastily adopted by some 45 states and the District of Columbia… This incredible shift was so muted that, according to a May 2012 poll conducted by Achieve, Inc. – a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization that was a formal partner in the standards development – 79% of American voters knew ‘nothing’ or ‘“not much’ about the Common Core.
Calling them standards, Toscano points out, is misleading. The testing consortia, funded by the Obama administration, admits to creating tests and curricula models aligned to the standards. So if you like your curriculum- you can’t keep it.
Parents also are not informed that the standards are copyrighted by the aforementioned private organizations, and therefore are not subject to the same accountability or transparency requirements as elected officials. Although, come to think of it, elected officials of late haven’t demonstrated very much of either one.
Toscano explains how the states agreed to adopt standards that, initially, they had not even seen in draft form. “By applying, states committed themselves to common standards without guarantee of receiving funds.” Or as the president bragged in his 2011 State of the Union Address, 40 states agreed to drastically revamp their schools “for less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year…”
Forty-six states in total applied and committed to adopt the common standards–only twelve states were awarded money.
Anyone who regularly attends school board meetings or legislative sessions understands the forces in play. With images of federal sugarplums dancing in their heads, elected officials are predisposed to find objections regarding academic merit, federal control, and system autonomy, irrelevant.
Digressing for the moment from Toscano’s article, the federal take-over of education began long before a community organizer decided to “transform America.”
Some 50 years ago, before federal grants to education became ubiquitous, the Arizona Legislature directed the Office of Post Auditor to make recommendations as to the effect of federal grant-in-aid programs on the state. In that report are some very prophetic statements. *
As our investigation progressed, it became increasingly apparent that the state of Arizona possesses very visible discretionary authority regarding Federal Aid Programs. In large measure the state is merely a field office administering programs whose purposes, limits and other essential features have been set by the federal government and are not subject to change by the state. States are given a single choice either to reject a proffered program or accept it with conditions attached. Even here there is no real alternative. State lawmakers are faced with the fact that the citizens of their own state are being taxed and indebted to financed every federal program. The inducement to provide the citizens of their own state with ‘their fair share’ of the aid being doled out is overpowering and prevails over considerations, which would otherwise prohibit adoption of the program.
Others around the nation may have been as prescient as the Arizona Post Auditor, but apparently no one listened to them, either.
Fast forward to our own time, and to recession-mired states that found even the possibility of federal money irresistible. And that’s how 45 states adopted standards developed by organizations that have no legitimate political authority, and which parents have no legal recourse to alter.
The standards, as Toscano points out, are an experiment on a national scale, not anchored in research or experience. But although he questions their origin and quality, his chief concern is that families and local communities are being displaced as decision-makers in K-12 education. In the rest of this excellent article, he elaborates on why that is exactly the wrong approach to reforming pre-collegiate education.
Readers may wonder why the National Association of Scholars, an organization primarily interested in higher education reform, is attentive to K-12 Common Core State Standards. As stated in the article, it is because common core “is one of the most significant educational transformations in the history of the United States.” So it is not only our children’s prospects that are at risk, but the nation’s for, as the left never tires of declaiming, our children are our future.
*State of Arizona Office of The Post Auditor, Federal-State Fiscal Research Officer, Report on Federal Grant-in-Aid Programs in the State of Arizona, Fiscal Year 1961-62.
**The Common Core: Far From Home by Michael Toscano.