Common Core State Standards

Kathleen Porter-Magee & Sol Stern ask in the subheading of their National Review article defending the Common Core State Standards ask “why are prominent conservatives criticizing a set of rigorous educational standards?”

There are others who have provided direct rebuttals.  I want to answer their primary question.  While I’m not a “prominent conservative,”  I am a conservative who has written extensively about the Common Core.

There are six primary reasons really…

  1. There is nothing conservative about centralizing education around a set of common standards.
  2. Conservatives object to the process in which they were adopted which allowed for little to no public debate, cut out the legislative process, and was introduced via the backdoor which cut out “We the People.”
  3. While perhaps the intent was not to have hyper-federal involvement, but the fact remains it does which violates the constitution and Federal law.
  4. Conservatives typically don’t approve of student privacy being violated by data mining which will be fostered through the assessment consortiums.
  5. They simply are not rigorous, they are mediocre and the embrace of the Common Core represents a collective race to the middle.
  6. They are costly and states adopted the Common Core and entered into assessment consortium without having a handle on the costs.  Is this good fiscal discipline?

The Common Core centralizes education and erodes local control.

When you are promoting commonality among several states adopting standards you can’t deny that centralization exists.  Centralizing standards are an affront to local control, as well as, parental control and influence.  When there were problems with standards and curriculum before the citizens and parents within a school district could petition their locally elected school board with their grievances.

The same can’t be said about the Common Core State Standards.

Local control also meant school districts could be nimble in making adaptations.  Not so when you have centralized education that requires jumping through numerous bureaucratic hoops.  Somebody please point out to me where adding layers of bureaucracy has improved anything let alone education?

States were required when joining to adopt 100% of the standards.  They are copyrighted and unamendable.

Do school districts make mistakes?  Sure.  Do they always do the right thing by students and parents?  No, not always.  There are two remedies when this takes place – school board elections and moving.  When all but five states adopt standards what is the remedy?  Change becomes much, much more difficult.

That’s the beauty of federalism which conservatives should embrace, not reject.

The Common Core implementation subverted representative government.

The simple fact that your average parent, teacher, school board member and state legislator know nothing about the Common Core demonstrates that the implementation process was flawed.  There was little to nothing said in the local media about the Common Core when state boards of education approved them.  There were no state legislatures that debated and voted on them.

Now Porter-Magee and Stern wonder “why the fuss?” when the Common Core is finally now getting the attention it deserves.  This isn’t what they wanted.  They wanted to avoid debate in favor of expediency of getting the standards approved.

That is an affront to our founding and no conservative should endorse this process.  We are a representative democracy and we the people did not have a voice through our duly elected representatives.

Even if the standards were wonderful we must object to how they were implemented.

The Common Core violates the Constitution and Federal law.

Porter-Magee and Stern write that no state would lose Federal funding if they didn’t adopt the Common Core.  In fact states that did not adopt the Common Core did lose out on Federal funds.  They stated that the Obama Administration did not specifically require the Common Core, that any “college and career ready” set of standards would do, but in the Race to the Top application rules it states:

Reviewer Guidance Specific to (B)(1)(i)(b) – Significant Number of States:
. "High" points for significant number of States are earned if the consortium includes a majority of the States in the country.

What set of standards would meet the commonality requirement other than the Common Core?

The Constitutional argument is pretty clear.  Education is not listed in the enumerated powers of Congress found in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.  The 10th Amendment then clearly states that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Robert S. Eitel and Kent D. Talbert in their white paper entitled: “The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top and Conditional Waivers” point out several limits on the Federal government’s involvement in education enacted by Congress.

The General Education Provisions Act states:

No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over 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, or to require the assignment or transportation of students or teachers in order to overcome racial imbalance.

Also from this same act we see

…no funds provided to the Department of Education or to an applicable program, may be used to pilot test, field test, implement, administer or distribute in any way any federally sponsored national test in reading, mathematics, or any other subject that is not specifically and explicitly provided for in authorizing legislation enacted into law.

Considering that the Federal government will now be involved in reviewing the two state testing consortia this should raise eyebrows.  Neal McClusky pointed out the Federal incursion into curriculum that this news represents:

And what will that review look at? Not compliance with accounting standards or something administrative, but test “item design and validation.” That means, most likely (in-depth information from the Department was off-line as of this writing) reviewing the specific questions that will go on the tests. And what is tested, of course, ultimately dictates what is taught, at least if the test results are to have any concrete impact, ranging from whether students advance to the next grade, to whether schools gain or lose funding. Since the ultimate point of uniform standards is to have essentially uniform accountability from state to state, they will have to have some concrete impact, rendering this a clear next step in a major Federal incursion into curricula.

It should also be noted that Porter-Magee will be a member of that review panel.

Kent Talbert in an email sent yesterday also pointed out…

The RTT Assessment program which funds the consortia relies upon the Recovery Act (Pub. L. No. 111-5) for its authority.  The question is whether the language in the Recovery Act at 14005(d)(4)(A) or elsewhere is sufficiently specific and explicit to authorize federal funding of the consortia.  And same question as to whether the consortia-developed tests are considered "federally sponsored national test[s]."

Also, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 states:

Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s curriculum, program of instruction, or allocation of State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this Act.

The law also states that “no funds provided to the Department under this Act may be used… to endorse, approve or sanction any curriculum designed to be used in an elementary school or secondary school.”

ESEA also prohibits the use of its funding for assessments should the DOE decide to use those funds down the road as well.

The intent of Congress is clear, but the U.S. Department of Education is skirting this by proxy in establishing national standards that WILL dictate course curriculum.  The assessments linked to the Common Core State Standards guarantees that.

Anyone who respects the Constitution and the rule of law, conservative or otherwise, should be concerned about this.

The Common Core violates student privacy through data mining.

Joy Pullman said it best when she wrote:

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating how public schools can collect information on “non-cognitive” student attributes, after granting itself the power to share student data across agencies without parents’ knowledge. The feds want to use schools to catalogue “attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources, independent of intellectual ability,” according to a February DOE report, all under the guise of education.

The report suggests researching how to measure and monitor these student attributes using “data mining” techniques and even functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, although “devices that measure EEG and skin conductance may not be practical for use in the classroom.” It delightedly discusses experiments on how kids respond to computer tutors, using cameras to judge facial expressions, an electronic seat that judges posture, a pressure-sensitive computer mouse, and a biometric wrap on kids’ wrists.

I wrote earlier this week that data mining is being promoted by the U.S. Department of Education in order to measure “grit.”

Pullman also notes that the data the Feds want to collect goes beyond the classroom.

The department is also funding and mandating databases that could expand each kid’s academic records into a comprehensive personal record, including “health-care history, disciplinary record, family income range, family voting status, and religious affiliation,”according to a 2012 Pioneer Institute report and the National Center for Educational Statistics. Under agreements every state signed to get 2009 stimulus funds, they must share students’ academic data with the federal government.

Missouri Education Watchdog recently demonstrated how this is tied to the Common Core.

Since when is violating student privacy a conservative value?

The content of the Common Core State Standards is subpar.

Dr. Christopher Tienken at Seaton Hall University recently objected and asked “what proof” is there that would show this will improve student achievement?  In a recent video he asked, ““It is utterly anti-intellectual to think that standardizing knowledge is going to lead to creativity and innovation.  It’s not logical.”

Tienken also pointed out how the Common Core represents an example of data-less decision making.  In fact many state boards of education adopted these standards before they were even written.

Scholars like the University of Arkansas’s Sandra Stotsky has spoken out numerous times regarding the Common Core ELA standards and the problems within.  You can find a compilation of her testimonies here.  Thomas Newkirk has spoken out.  Ze’ev Wurman has addressed concerns within the Common Core Math Standards.  Dr. James Milgram of Stanford University and Fabio Augusto Milner of Arizona State University has as well.

All one has to do is look at the way math is being taught.  There is a definite literature deficit which Porter-Magee & Stern try to refute, but  Christel Swasey provides an effective rebuttal:.

The National Review’s authors claim Common Core won’t “eliminate American children’s core knowledge base in English, language arts and history.”  By cutting classic literature by 70% for high school seniors, they are absolutely doing exactly that.  The article says that Common Coredoesn’t mandate the slashing of literature.  Maybe not.  But the tests sure will.

What teacher, constricted by the knowledge that her job is on the line, will risk lowering the high stakes student scores by teaching beyond what is recommended in the model curriculum of the national test writers?

And that’s the tragic part for me as an English teacher.

Classic literature is sacred.  Its removal from American schools is an affront to our humanity.

Common Core doesn’t mandate which books to cut; the National Review is correct on that point; but it does pressure English teachers to cut out large selections of great literature, somewhere.  And not just a little bit.  Tons.

Informational text belongs in other classes, not in English.  To read boring, non-literary articles even if they are not all required to be Executive Orders, insulation manuals, or environmental studies (as the major portion of the English language curriculum) is to kill the love of reading.

Truth in American Education lists some basic concerns about the Common Core content:

The CCSS Mathematics Standards:

  • Delay development of some key concepts and skills.
  • Include significant mathematical sophistication written at a level beyond understanding of most parents, students, administrators, decision makers and many teachers.
  • Lack coherence and clarity to be consistently interpreted by students, parents, teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, textbook developers/publishers, and assessment developers.  Will this lead to consistent expectations and equity?
  • Have standards inappropriately placed, including delayed requirement for standard algorithms, which will hinder student success and waste valuable instructional time.
  • Treat important topics unevenly.  This will result in inefficient use of instructional and practice time.
  • Are not well organized at the high school level.  Some important topics are insufficiently covered. The standards are not divided into defined courses.
  • Place emphasis on Standards for Mathematical Practice which supports a constructivist approach. This approach is typical of “reform” math programs to which many parents across the country object.
  • Publishers of reform programs are aligning them with the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice.  The CCSS will not necessarily improve the math programs being used in many schools.
  • Unusual and unproven approach to geometry.

The Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (ELA):

  • Use confusing language in some standards.
  • Are not always clear or measureable on expected student outcomes.
  • Are not always organized in a logical way and are difficult to follow.
  • Treat literary elements inconsistently.
  • Have some writing standards that are general and do not specify what a student should be able to know or do.
  • Focus on skills over content in reading.
  • Do not address or require cursive writing.

If conservatives are going to rally around a set of standards shouldn’t they actually be good ones?

The Common Core is costly to the states.

A year-old study done by Pioneer Institute shows that the estimated costs to the states is $16 billion.

The study, which only calculates expenses directly associated with the transition, finds that states are likely to incur $10.5 billion in one-time costs.  These include the price of familiarizing educators with the new standards, obtaining textbooks and instructional materials aligned with the standards, and necessary technology infrastructure upgrades.

An estimated $503 million will be incurred in first-year operational costs like technology training and support and higher assessment costs for some states.

AccountabilityWorks (AW), which developed the analysis, estimates that an additional $801 million will be incurred annually in years two through seven for ongoing support of the enhanced technology infrastructure and the introduction of new assessments that are currently under development.

“The nearly $16 billion in additional costs is nearly four times the federal government’s Race to the Top grant awards,” said Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios.  “With state and local taxpayers footing 90 percent of the bill for K-12 public education, the federal government’s push to get states to adopt national standards and tests amounts to one big unfunded mandate.”

Florida is a prime example of how the runaway costs of assessments was overlooked.  The Orlando Sentinel recently reported:

The state’s new “readiness gauge” shows more progress on the standards than the technology, as many schools still don’t have the computers, bandwidth or high-speed Internet access needed for the tests and the state’s overall “digital learning” push.

The State Board requested more than $400 million for new school technology in the next year, but Gov. Rick Scott has proposed a smaller hike of $100 million.

“One hundred million won’t get done everything we need to get done,” Barbara Jenkins, superintendent of Orange County schools, told the board.

State Impact Florida (NPR) said that Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett is coming up with plan B.

Common Core will also mean a new standardized test in Florida, PARCC, or the Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers. Those math and English tests must be approved by a coalition of 22 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Bennett said Monday that some states are going to face sticker shock when they realize the cost of the new testing. Others, he said, might want to set lower passing scores than Florida.

It’s one reason he said he’s working on a “Plan B” in case Florida schools or the new tests aren’t ready by the fall of 2014 deadline.

…Bennett said he plans to report back to the board next month. That report will include a date for the agency to make a go/no-go decision on Common Core and PARCC for the 2014-2015 school year. It will also include “Plan B” alternatives.

“I don’t want this to imply…to mean PARCC won’t happen,” Bennett said. “But I do believe it’s good management to consider what we’re going to do around a Plan B if PARCC gets delayed, or if for some reason PARCC doesn’t come to fruition.”

Jesus shared a basic truth that states should have considered before embracing the Common Core, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28, ESV).

Count the cost, count the cost, count the cost.  Taxpayers gave states a sacred trust with their hard earned taxes.  How is fiscal mismanagement a conservative value?


While Porter-Magee and Stern ask conservatives how they could oppose the Common Core State Standards, conservatives should be asking them (as well as Republican lawmakers who back them) how they can.

  • Eroding local control…
  • Subverting the principles of a constitutional republic.
  • Ignoring the Constitution and Federal law…
  • Embracing subpar standards that haven’t been proven…
  • Violating student privacy…
  • Fiscal mismanagement…

None of these are conservative values.

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