The Public-Private Partnership: How Private Entities Developed the Common Core and Enlisted the Federal Government to Drive It Into the States

This is the third in a series about the report released by American Principles in Action, ThePulse2016, and Cornerstone Policy Research Action.  Permission has been granted for text from Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates to be published on Stop Common Core in Washington State.  The Executive Summary from the report was published in the first post.    The second post in the series was The Need for a Scorecard.  Here is the second section.

2. The Public-Private Partnership: How Private Entities Developed the Common Core and Enlisted the Federal Government to Drive It Into the States

Within a few short months in 2010, the vast majority of states committed to the Common Core and its attendant system of policy changes. This happened as a result of the heavy hand of the U.S. Department of Education (USED) and its responsiveness to the private entities that drove the process. The Standards were pushed into the states with little, if any, notice to parents and other citizens and in a way that circumvented the usual checks and balances in the constitutional structure. Understanding how that happened is crucial to understanding what’s wrong with American education and why government does not work as intended.

Two private organizations – the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) – developed, and own, the standards. They also have a copyright on them.7 It is because of the seminal involvement of NGA and CCSSO that Common Core proponents proclaim that it is a state-led initiative. The reality, though, is far from that.

Those entities were, and are, merely private trade associations acting without a grant of authority from any state. They developed the Common Core in response to massive private funding, most notably from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.8 From the Gates Foundation alone, NGA, its partners, and Student Achievement Partners – another private entity heavily involved in advancing the Common Core — have accepted an estimated $147.9 million for a variety of purposes, $32.8 million of which is expressly earmarked to advance Common Core.9 Overall the Gates Foundation spent, as of 2013, an estimated $173.5 million in advancing the Common Core.10 To date, it has spent far more than that.

The Gates foundation’s footprint on education policy-making is enormous. It has funded a wide range of other entities that includes, but is not limited to, National Association of State Boards of Education, Education Commission of the States, PTA associations, Military Child Education Coalition, Council of State Governments, National Writing Project, National Council of Teachers of English, American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation, National Education Association Foundation for the Improvement of Education, American Legislative Exchange Council, and WestEd.11 In furtherance of the NGA Common Core product, the Gates Foundation has even funded state entities including the Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania departments of education, as well as local education offices in Indiana, Ohio, and New Mexico. The Gates funding footprint extends to the College Board – owner of the SAT and Advanced Placement tests — to which Gates has provided over $32 million in funding since 2001. In fact, the College Board’s president, David Coleman, was one of the architects and chief writers of the Common Core and, upon his appointment by the College Board, stated his intention to align the SAT to the Common Core.12

The plan was to create a national education system of common standards, national assessments aligned to the standards, and teacher and school evaluations tied to the assessments. In late 2008, with President-elect Obama preparing to take office, those entities, along with their partner Achieve, Inc., published their education transition plan, Benchmarking for Success.13 It encouraged the federal government to provide funding to states to, among other things:

  • “[u]pgrade state standards by adopting a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12 . . .”
  • “ensure that textbooks, digital media, curricula, and assessments are aligned” to the standards
  • “offer a range of tiered incentives to make the next stage of the journey easier, including increased flexibility in the use of federal funds and in meeting federal educational requirements . . . ”
  • “revise state policies for recruiting, preparing, developing, and supporting teachers and school leaders to reflect the human capital practices of top performing nations and states around the world.”14

These ideas served as the basis of USED’s Race to the Top grant competition program — which USED funded with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, PL 111-5, enacted on February 17, 2009 (the “Stimulus Bill”). The Stimulus Bill created a $4.35 billion earmark for states “that have made significant progress” in meeting four education-reform objectives, including taking steps to improve state standards and enhancing the quality of academic assessments.15 Thus, contrary to what many politicians and Common Core proponents claim, the Obama Administration did not “hijack” the Common Core. Rather, the Common Core owners and developers asked the Administration to spearhead the process of driving the standards into the states.

As set forth below, the enactment of the Stimulus Bill on February 17, 200916 set into motion three dynamics that unfolded through 2010: (1) USED began preparing the Race to the Top grant competition program for the states; (2) under tremendous pressure to obtain as much Stimulus money as possible as an antidote to the widely forecast impending fiscal and economic calamity, most states began positioning themselves to win money in the grant competition against other states; and (3) NGA, CCSSO, and Achieve began to develop the Common Core Standards through a private process.17 Even though at this point the Common Core standards had not been drafted, USED followed the lead of NGA and CCSSO and began herding the states into their adoption.

The week following the Stimulus Bill’s passage, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced in a C-SPAN interview that USED would distribute this Stimulus earmark to the states through a competitive grant program called Race to the Top. Through that process, USED would identify a “set number of states” that would commit to high common standards, “great assessments,” and building “a great data system so that you can track those students throughout their academic career.” When asked whether he envisioned “national standards for every kid across all subjects and national tests,” the Secretary replied, “We want to get into this game . . . . There are great outside partners — Achieve, the Gates Foundation [Achieve co-authored Benchmarking for Success and the Gates Foundation funded it], others — who are providing great leadership . . . . I want to be the one to help it come to fruition.”18

On March 7, 2009, one month after passage of the Stimulus Bill, USED announced the Race to the Top “national competition” to distribute the Stimulus money through two rounds of grant awards.19

On June 1, 2009, NGA and CCSSO formally launched their Common Core Standards Initiative to develop and implement the Common Core – the effort referred to by Secretary Duncan several months earlier. Before they had actually developed the standards, NGA and CCSSO made qualitative promises, including that the standards would be the result of “a state-led process”; that the standards would “be internationally benchmarked” and “research- and evidence-based”; and that “no state will see a decrease in the level of student expectations.”20 They planned to “leverage states’ collective influence to ensure that textbooks, digital media, curricula, and assessments are aligned” with the Standards. At the time, CCSSO President-elect Sue Gendron, who was subsequently policy advisor and coordinator for one of the federal assessment consortia, described the initiative as “transforming education for every child.”21

In its Race to the Top request for applications, USED changed Congress’s Stimulus Bill objectives from general improvement of state standards and assessments to acquiescence to specific federal dictates.22 These dictates included the following:

  1. adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
  2. building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve their practices;
  3. increasing teacher and principal effectiveness and achieving equity intheir distribution; and
  4. turning around the lowest-achieving schools.23

Notably, with respect to the “standards and assessments” objective, the Race to the Top restatement tracked the language of the NGA-CCSSO-Achieve Benchmarking for Success plan issued in December 2008.24 Furthermore, it designated the four reform objectives as “absolute priorities,” meaning that an applicant state had to address them to be considered for funding.25

It is beyond dispute that USED wanted all the states to adopt the Common Core Standards. Its Race to the Top request for state applications defined “internationally benchmarked standards” as a “common set of K-12 standards” that are “substantially identical across all States in a consortium.”26 It directed the competition judges to award a state “high” points “if the consortium includes a majority of the States in the country,” but “medium or low” points if the consortium includes one-half the states or fewer.27 USED admitted that the “goal of common K-12 standards is to replace the existing patchwork of State standards” and that its view was “that the larger the number of States within a consortium, the greater the benefits and potential impact.”28 At that late date in the process, the only effort that qualified under this language was the Common Core, which at that point had well over half the governors committed to it as a political, rather than as a legal, matter.29 USED thus discouraged states from forming competing consortia, and the NGA, for its part, exacted endorsements from governors that, although not enforceable, locked down their political commitments.

Through the assessment (standardized test) component of Race to the Top, USED further bound the applicant states to the national standards. The Race to the Top applications required that states, as one of the competition’s “absolute priorities,” participate “in a consortium of States that … [i]s working toward jointly developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments (as defined in this notice) aligned with the consortium’s common set of K-12 standards (as defined in this notice) . . . .”30 To this end, the Stimulus Bill authorized $362 million in funding “to consortia of states to develop assessments . . . and measure student achievement against standards.”31 USED used that money to award grants to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (“PARCC”) consortium and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (“SBAC”), two entities that were formed for the purpose of applying for Race to the Top money.32 In signing on as a full member of one of these assessment consortia, a state committed itself to adopting the Common Core and to using the consortium’s assessments. By implication a state also committed itself to junking its own assessments and standards. Both consortia’s memoranda of agreement (SBAC’s explicitly so) required the states to commit to the Common Core.33

States had to commit to the standards and assessments without having a meaningful opportunity to evaluate either product. NGA and its partners drafted the Common Core standards through an opaque and unprofessional development process.34 State involvement amounted to little more than suggestion-box input, none of which remotely involved individual states’ systems of checks and balances and public processes.
The development process sheds further light on the private nature of Common Core’s origins. For example, the process was not subject to open-meeting requirements, public notice-requirements, or freedom of information requests. It lacked the checks and balances of a public process that ensure that policy reflects the will of the people. And the project itself was predicated on monopoly, thus preventing quality-ensuring competition.

The limited state role was only exacerbated by the short timeline for Common Core’s development. The continuing federal timeline is revealing:

  • November 18, 2009 — USED invited applications for Phase I of Race to the Top.
  • January 19, 2010 — Deadline for submission of applications. At this time, the Standards had not been completed.
  • February 22, 2010 – In a speech to NGA, President Obama made clear his intention that states would ultimately have to adopt the Common Core to receive federal Title I education funding:

I also want to commend all of you for acting collectively through the National Governors’ Association to develop common academic standards that will better position our students for success. . . . we’re calling for a redesigned Elementary and Secondary Education Act that better aligns the federal approach to your state-led efforts while offering you the support you need. . . . First, as a condition of receiving access to Title I funds, we will ask all states to put in place a plan to adopt and certify standards that are college and career-ready in reading and math


  • March 2010 – USED released A Blueprint for Reform, which stated, “Beginning in 2015, formula [Title I] funds will be available only to states that are implementing assessments based on college and career ready standards that are common to a significant number of states.”36
  • March 2010 ( two months after states had submitted their Phase I Race to the Top applications) — NGA and CCSSO issued a public draft of the Common Core Standards.
  • April 14, 2010 — USED invited applications for Phase II of Race to the Top.
  • June 1, 2010 – Deadline for submitting applications for Phase II.
  • June 2, 2010 — NGA issued the final K-12 Common Core Standards. Significantly, in certain respects the quality of the standards declined from the March draft to the final product.37
  • August 2, 2010 — Deadline for amending states’ Race to the Top submissions to provide “evidence of having adopted common standards after June 1, 2010.”

Thus, to be competitive for a share of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund, applicant states had to adopt the Common Core with, at most, two summer months to evaluate the final product, compare it to their current standards, discuss the matter with their citizens, and commit to replace their standards with the Common Core. Even that description is charitable. As noted above, when it signed onto one of the federally sponsored testing consortia, the state had committed itself to using standardized tests aligned to the standards. At that point, to reverse course would have caused state policymakers enormous political embarrassment. To make matters worse, the federally sponsored tests were not fully developed until years later.

But that is not all USED did to impose its education policies on the states. For one thing, it used the federally funded assessments explicitly as a way to develop and impose Common Core-aligned curricula. Both consortia, as Secretary Duncan has said, “will help their member states provide the tools and professional development needed to assist teachers’ transitions to the new assessments.” For PARCC, this includes “curriculum frameworks” 38 and “model instructional units.”39 Similarly, SBAC is using the federal funding “to develop curriculum materials” and to create “a model curriculum” and “instructional materials” aligned with the Standards.40 In The Road to a National Curriculum, Robert Eitel and Kent Talbert, the former deputy general counsel and general counsel, respectively, of USED, concluded:

The assessment systems that PARCC and SBAC develop and leverage with federal funds, together with their hands-on assistance in implementing the [Standards] will direct large swaths of state K-12 curricula, programs of instruction and instructional materials, as well as heavily influence the remainder.41

Moreover, USED clearly signaled its intent for continued involvement: (1) It required the consortia “to make student-level data that result from the assessment system available on an ongoing basis for research, including for prospective linking, validity, and program improvement studies” and (2) it gutted, through unauthorized regulatory changes, federal family and student privacy protections in order to do so.

USED made it clear that the adoption of these national standards, assessments, and curricula would be cemented regardless of the outcome of the Race to the Top competition. USED’s Phase I request for applications required states to submit a plan “demonstrating [the state’s] commitment to and progress toward adopting a common set of K-12 standards (as defined in this notice) by August 2, 2010 … and to implementing the standards in a well-planned way.”42 The request for Phase II applications required states to have adopted “a common set of K-12 standards (as defined in this notice) by August 2, 2010” and to demonstrate their “commitment to implementing the standards thereafter in a meaningful way.”43 States were thus in a competition to see which ones could most firmly adopt USED’s agenda before the two grant application due dates. The race was on.

At this point, it’s worth mentioning that this is a threshold issue for presidential candidates: Will they “stand at the constitutional line44” – and have they done so – to prevent the federal government’s natural inclination to expand its footprint? How, specifically, do they propose to do this? Will it just be the policy of their Administration, or do they propose systemic changes to prevent future train-wrecks?

UntitledThe footnotes are available in the full report.  You can download the full report by clicking on Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates.

The Need for a Scorecard

This is the second in a series about the report released by American Principles in Action, ThePulse2016, and Cornerstone Policy Research Action.  Permission has been granted for text from Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates to be published on Stop Common Core in Washington State.  The Executive Summary from the report was published in the last post.    Here is the first section of the report following the Executive Summary.

1. The Need for a Scorecard

The Common Core wave swept over America with little notice. Long before the Standards were developed, private entities developed the plan to push them into the states. Then, as President-elect Obama was preparing to take office, they convinced his education team to make it part of the $1 trillion economic stimulus effort that had bi-partisan billing as being necessary to save America from economic and fiscal catastrophe.

The strategy underlying the Common Core initiative rested on the No Child Left Behind structure of standards-based education. Accordingly, significant changes in a state’s standards would, if necessary to ensure alignment, lead to changes in the state’s assessments and curriculum. The intent to have such alignment is well documented.1 In addition, it is a matter of common sense: if you have standards-based education, then of course standardized tests and curriculum should be aligned to those standards.2

Initially, 48 governors signed onto the concept of developing a common set of K-12 curriculum standards.3 However, as the Common Core train gathered speed, parents and policymakers started to realize the significance of the attendant policy and academic changes. They started pushing back against those changes. Within a few years, the pushback had become a true national movement. By the end of 2014, potential presidential candidates realized that the Common Core had grave defects and was a political liability. As Sen. Paul said in 2014, “I’m saying that that the hypothetical candidate that’s for Common Core probably doesn’t have much chance of winning in a Republican primary.”4

Just as the Common Core wave swept over America unnoticed by citizen and legislator alike, politicians have vastly underappreciated the pushback against it. It has become a true national cause fueled by fact, citizen passion and parental love. This comes at a time when 60% of Americans (68% of Republicans) think education is on the wrong track versus 32% (27% of Republicans) who think it is on the right track. Moreover, 77% of Americans (79% of Republicans, 73% of Democrats, and 83% of Independents) have a dim view of the federal government’s performance in K-12 education.5

Now, almost every GOP candidate opposes Common Core or at least criticizes how it was pushed into the states. But, as Joy Pullmann discussed last December, the content and consequences of their policy views vary greatly.6 For example, in stating his opposition to Common Core, a candidate might merely mean the federal government should not have incentivized the adoption of the national standards. But does the candidate believe the standards are of poor quality? Does the candidate recognize the nexus between the poor quality and the perversions of the constitutional process through which the Common Core was foisted on the states? Does the candidate have policy prescriptions for preventing future federal overreach? Does the candidate believe that all would have been fine if the federal government, the Common Core owners, and the state bureaucracies had done a better job of “selling” the program to parents? Does the candidate support parents in their battle to reclaim control of education policy-making? Does the candidate recognize the implications to student and family privacy and parental rights inherent in massive amounts of data collection and sharing?

UntitledThe footnotes are available in the full report.  You can download the full report by clicking on Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates.

Common Core Report Card on GOP Candidates

Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates is a report released by American Principles in Action, ThePulse2016, and Cornerstone Policy Research Action.  This report provides information about the issues and the positions or most of the major Republican candidates.  It also gives them a letter grade for each of three issues and an overall grade.  The three issues are 1) Ending the Common Core System, 2) Protecting state local decision making, and 3) Protecting child and family privacy.  These issues that served as the basis for evaluating the candidates are elaborated on in the Executive Summary of the report.  The text of the Executive Summary is provided later in this article.

Here’s the report card from the report.


From Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates

Whether you agree with the grades presented here or not, it may be a good starting point as you evaluate candidates for yourself.  You are encouraged to download and read the actual report.  It provides further information about each candidate and their position, as best it may be determined, on the three issues.

Permission has been granted for text from the report to be published on Stop Common Core in Washington State.  The Executive Summary from he report is going to be published here as a start.  As time goes on, other sections of the report may be published since the report provides excellent background information about some issues related to the Common Core.

You can download the full report by clicking on Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates.

Executive Summary

Four years ago, Common Core was considered a “done deal,” uncontroversial and approved by Democrats and Republican leaders alike. It had been pushed into 45 states without notice to legislators and parents alike. Today, Common Core and related educational issues of local control of schools and family privacy have emerged as significant campaign issues for candidates and for a motivated network of grassroots citizens-turned activists. (a project of American Principles in Action) and New Hampshire’s Cornerstone Action are releasing our first formal report card to voters on how GOP candidates are doing in responding to the concerns of Common Core parents and the experts who have validated their concerns. We have carefully evaluated the candidates on three separate—but related—issues:

  1. First, have they spoken out and acted against Common Core? Statements opposing Common Core must acknowledge that the standards are of low-quality, fail to meet the expectations of high-performing countries, and contain language that controls the curriculum and instructional methods used in the classroom. Recognition of these deficiencies is central in determining whether a candidate’s actions have been a sincere effort to replace the Common Core with high standards or to simply rebrand it under another name.
  2. Second, do they understand and have they made a specific commitment to protect state and local control of education from further federal intrusion? In particular, we are looking for candidates who understand how the federal government intrudes onto state decision-making and who advocate for structural changes to prevent such intrusions. Moreover, the candidate must understand that the intended division of power between the federal government and the state is meant to ensure that people can shape state and local policies. He must understand how the breakdown of that division destroyed the safeguards that could have, and likely would have, prevented Common Core.
  3. Third, what efforts has the candidate made to protect student and family privacy interests against the rising demands of industry and central planners for more personal student data. Such interests include the right of parents to control what type of information is collected (e.g., social and emotional information, behavioral history, family information), who may collect such information, and with whom that information may be shared. Reliance on the Family Educational Rights to Privacy Act (FERPA) to protect student data is no longer a sufficient argument for calls against expanding student-data systems. A 2009 executive order allowed regulatory changes to be made to weaken the law, such as the removal of language requiring parental consent, without Congressional consent. A candidate must understand how this is symptomatic of a larger issue: the federal executive’s continued abuse of the intended system of governance in order to push its favored policies and practices into the states.

With regard to the second and third questions, we give outsized weight to whether a candidate recognizes that a prohibition on the federal executive branch is often ineffectual if the intended beneficiary has no means of enforcement. Federal law prohibited the federal government from its activities to propagate Common Core and the Common Core testing. Moreover, the Race to the Top program itself exceeded the authorities in the Stimulus bill that funded it. And the Administration’s regulatory changes under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) were unfaithful to the underlying federal statute. Yet, none of those laws provided either states or individuals remedies or an accessible, or for that matter any, enforcement mechanism. Except for the quixotic hope of speedy Congressional oversight, that left the federal executive branch as the judge and jury of its own actions.

We have made allowances for what a candidate is in a position to do: governors have played a direct role in implementing, or refusing to implement, Common Core directly; senators have either seriously fought to restrict the federal intrusion in No Child Left Behind or have acquiesced to the federal power grab; and non-office holding candidates have only been able to make strong, general statements, which is a good first step. As the campaign marches on, however, this wears thin, and follow-on statements on the particulars are needed from all candidates.

The Common Core is a touchstone for Republicans, and they should be making a bigger deal of it. People are fed up with the Common Core and the terribly expensive and overbearing Common Core tests. They view the federal government’s involvement in education policy as a colossal failure that has harmed, not helped, children. The Common Core set of issues gives candidates a chance to impress the voter that they know what they are talking about, are serious about doing it, and will fight to get the job done.

Rather than championing the big issue and truly demonstrating their presidential mettle, some candidates are making it into a small issue. They are parsing out the issue in order to voice opposition to some aspect of the problem but fail to address the overall concerns of parents. These candidates actually favor Common Core, they do not understand the issue, or they hope that the small approach will save them from offending Common Core proponents.

We have evaluated the candidates on each of these issues and then averaged the score for an overall grade. In each case we have suggested what candidates could do if they wish to improve their grade.

For the full report, including a page-long explanation of each candidates grade, and an appendix that explains the issues, go here. We hope that this Common Core Report Card will be clarifying for voters first of all, for candidates, and for political reporters.



ECAA Talking Points


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American Principles in Acton’s talking points about the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) are posted below.  You can download the four page pdf file by clicking here:  ECAA Talking Points. It appears ECAA is scheduled to be heard on the … Continue reading

Common Core Revolution

‘The Revolution Band’ from Massachusetts perform “Common Core Revolution”. Original music by The Beatles (duh).

We say we want a Revolution
Well you know, we all hate Common Core
You tell me it’s a school solution
Well you know, it makes a parent go to war

And when you take away democracy,
Don’t you know that you can count me out!

Well we have to tell the Feds, it’s not all right…

Politicians fear no retribution
Well you know, we’re all going to vote them out
‘Race to The Top’ is no contribution,
Well you know, control and money’s what is what its about

If you want math and tests we really hate,
No art and music makes us really irate

Well we have to tell the Feds, it’s not all right…

You’d have to change the Constitution
Well you know, you just spit on it instead
Teachers have no say in education
Well you know, schools should be state led

But if you go carrying pictures of Bill gates
The 99% better change our fate

Well we have to tell the Feds, it’s not all right…

The Common Core State Standards: What are they and why should I care?


Here is a video presentation about the Common Core State Standards. It is loaded with information. The script of the video is provided below so you can easily read the sections that are of most interest to you. Hot links … Continue reading



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Congressional Leadership Is Bull-Rushing Through HR5, the 600 Page Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (rebranded the “Student Success Act”) The House votes on it this week.  Call your Representative and call the Speaker of the House and tell them … Continue reading