Policy Documents

Controlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core is Bad for America

Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins –
May 1, 2012

In this report from the Pioneer Institute and American Principles Project White Paper (in association with the Washington Policy Center and the Pacific Research Institute), the authors note Common Core State Standards Initiative presents the following problems:

1. Manner of creation and propagation – The national Common Core State Standards (the “Standards”) were not created by the states, but rather by private organizations in Washington, DC, with lavish funding from private entities such as the Gates Foundation. The federal Department of Education then used legally suspect means – the Race to the Top competition and the promise of waivers from No Child Left Behind – to impose the Standards on the states. This effort has been accompanied by a misleading campaign to present the Standards as “state-led” and “voluntary.”

2. Mediocre quality – The Standards, which are intended to prepare students for nonselective community colleges rather than four-year universities, are inferior to those of some states and no better than those of many others. Common Core’s English language arts standards implemented, might not require reading skills any higher than middle-school level. Furthermore, their de-emphasis of the study of classic literature in favor of “informational texts” would abandon the goal of truly educating students, focusing instead on training them for static jobs. Among the many deficiencies of the mathematics standards is their placement of algebra I in grade 9 rather than grade 8, thus ensuring that most students will not reach calculus in high school, and their mandate to teach geometry according to an experimental method never used successfully anywhere in the world. Contrary to previous claims by their creators, the Standards are not “internationally benchmarked.”

3. Illegal direction of curriculum and usurpation of state autonomy – The point of standards and assessments is to drive curriculum. By imposing the Standards on the states, and by funding their aligned assessments and imposing those on the states as well, the U.S. Department of Education is violating three federal statutes prohibiting its direction, supervision, or control of curriculum. In addition, because states that adopt the Standards must accept them word for word and will have little opportunity to add content, the states must relinquish their autonomy over public education, all to the denigration of parents’ rights.

4. Vague and unaccountable governance – It is not clear what governance structure will be created in the future to address issues related to the Standards. What is clear is that the Standards are ownedand copyrighted by nongovernmental entities unaccountable to parents and students in individual states.

5. Costs – The only national study done of the potential costs of implementing the Standards and assessments estimates nationwide costs of almost $16 billion over seven years. Continuing costs will be substantial, especially with respect to professional development and technology maintenance and upgrades.

6. Threats to student and family privacy – The federal Department of Education (the “Department”) is using the Standards and the assessments as vehicles to mandate the construction of massive state student databases. The Department has also gutted federal student-privacy law to allow greater sharing of student data with other government agencies and private entities. Partnering with the Department of Labor, the Department seeks to build a data system that allows tracking of individual students from preschool through the workforce. This vision not only creates substantial risks of privacy breach, but it also encompasses a worldview of the proper role of government that is greatly at odds with American founding principles.

The authors conclude that because of the problems associated with a common core, that the Public Sector Board of Directors should uphold the Education Task Force’s approval of the Comprehensive Legislative Package Opposing the Common Core State Standards Initiative.