Making Big Ideas Into Small Ideas: The GOP Tendency

This is the seventh 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.  The third post in the series was The Public-Private Partnership: How Private Entities Developed the Common Core and Enlisted the Federal Government to Drive It Into the States.  The fourth post in the series was Common Core System.  The fifth post in the series was The Common Core Standards Lock Children Into an Inferior Education.  The sixth post in the series was The Common Core Pushback.  Here is the sixth section.

6. Making Big Ideas Into Small Ideas: The GOP Tendency

Common Core has become a flash point in the public square across the political spectrum. Its adversarial divide is elitists (those who believe that a people’s lives should be managed) versus populists (those who believe that people should govern their own lives) rather than along party lines. Republican and Democratic activists alike recognize that Common Core is the result of a systemic breakdown in governance.

Common Core activists understand how Common Core won an immediate, albeit a vague and pre-development, commitment from 48 governors and subsequently swept, almost in unison, into 45 states. Activists have fought against the federal, state, and local government. Many activists have reviewed thousands of pages of government statutes, regulations, grant documents, studies, and meeting minutes and have met with their governor, executive agencies, and federal and state legislators. They understand that the adoption of Common Core so quickly by so many states came about because elitist private entities prevailed on the federal executive branch to push the standards into the states through grants and regulatory threats disguised as relief from burdensome regulations.

Activists understand the crucial breakdown: the state education executive bodies (departments of education and state boards of education) pine for the conditional federal dollar and, in addition, many, perhaps most, of their jobs exist to administer that dollar. As a result, the state education apparatus turns toward the federal executive and away from the state’s legislature and citizens. That near exclusion of the citizen paves the way for the series of education fads and poor products like the Common Core. In state after state, on matter after matter, the controlling policy is simply, “What do the Feds want?”

Courageous public officials have made this observation. The experiences of Andrea Neal provide a case in point. Neal is an English language arts teacher and journalist who served on the Indiana State Board of Education during the implementation of a state law requiring the adoption of new, high-quality standards to replace Common Core. Regarding the state education apparatus’s efforts pursuant to that law, Neal observed:

The ‘new’ academic standards are at minimum 85 percent Common Core or Common Core paraphrased. The feds made clear they’d grant no waivers to states that didn’t have ‘college and career ready’ standards, assessments tied to those standards and teacher evaluations based significantly on test scores. The safest bet — as states quickly learned — was to adopt standards that looked a lot like Common Core. Hoosiers don’t determine education policy in Indiana. The federal government does.

In that vein, the Texas Commissioner of Education in 2010, Robert Scott, and the governor, Rick Perry, were particularly attuned to the federal influence on education policy. In rejecting, the Race to the Top application Gov. Perry stated:

[W]e would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington, virtually eliminating parents’ participation in their children’s education. If Washington were truly concerned about funding education with solutions that match local challenges, they would make the money available to states with no strings attached.75

Some have suggested that, whether the funding or decision-making comes from the federal government or a state government, it should not matter in terms of the quality of the consequent policy or product. After all, aren’t both the federal and state governments constructed along the same lines with a legislative, executive, and judicial branch?

As the activist knows well, the current interplay between the federal executive and the state executive turns the constitutional structure on its head. It presently works contrary to its purposes of securing “the freedom of the individual”76 and of:

[allowing] local policies “more sensitive to the diverse needs of a heterogeneous society,” permits “innovation and experimentation,” [enabling] greater citizen “involvement in democratic processes,” and [making] government “more responsive by putting the States in competition for a mobile citizenry.”77

The current practices subvert that apparatus. Tying conditions or policies to funding deceives citizens and legislators. Where did the policy originate? Is it the view of the state executive that it is the best policy possible? Was that view the result of a prudential evidence-based approach? Who is driving the policy? Does the state executive believe it is being implemented in the best way possible? The answers to those questions are, at best, unknowable under current federal practices.78

We note that, on the continuum from legally mandated to politically coerced to induced through conditional grants, it is likely grant inducement that causes the most harm to the constitutional structure. It creates the most ambiguities, or confusion, to the citizen as to why a state or locality has adopted a certain policy or product.

In rejecting the Race to Top grants, Governor Perry touched on this problem:

Through Race to the Top funding, the U.S. Department of Education seems to be coercing states like Texas to suddenly abandon their own locally established curriculum standards in favor of adopting national standards spearheaded by organizations in Washington, D.C.79

As with other citizens, legislators who delve into the process understand the nexus between the perverted process and the poor quality of policy. As stated by Texas state Rep. Rob Eissler, Public Education Committee chairman in 2010, “[T]he two things I worry about in education are fads and feds, and this combines both.”80

Amy Edmonds, education policy analyst, Wyoming Liberty Group and former Wyoming state legislator, elaborates on that sentiment:

We continue to give lip service to the fairytale that states have control over the development and delivery of education in public schools. This is simply not true. The federal government has effectively created a system of “incentives” using the power of the federal purse to hammer states into submission. Wyoming, like most states, does not develop education policy that makes sense for our rural Western public schools, we develop policy based on what the federal government wants us to do. But we slap the word Wyoming in front of the legislation and say it’s state based. It’s utter lunacy.

Similarly, Del. Jim Butler of West Virginia observes:

As a state legislator I have been at first surprised and now very disappointed that the West Virginia State School Board and the State Department of Education officials have been so willing to mislead the public, and legislators, in order to prop up deeply flawed policies that are potentially harmful to West Virginia children only because they are promoted by lobbyists and federal agencies.

At the federal level Congress has the talking points on education and local control down pat, unfortunately it appears that they are only cementing into place federal authority at the expense of parents and children.

And Indiana state Sen. Scott Schneider:

According to our United States Constitution education is the sole responsibility of the states, to be carried out according to each state’s constitution. The Federal government, through the Federal Department of Education, has its tentacles entangled in just about every aspect of education at the state level. Through the threat of reduced or lost funding, the feds dictate policy directly and indirectly to states’ boards of education and departments of education, rendering the voice of the people – through their legislatures – mute. To truly improve education in this country, the Federal government must get out of the business of education completely, and return this function to the states. It is time to abolish the Federal department of education.

The activist –be she a parent, teacher, or some other citizen– knows this all too well. She has gleaned it from the volumes of papers she has read, from her entreaties to legislators, governors, and state board members, and from her networking with other activists from across the country.

With regard to the GOP presidential contest, almost all candidates have now voiced some sort of objection to the Common Core. However, as is the tendency in the party on issue after issue, rather than fighting on grand, timeless ideas or principles, many GOP politicians have responded to this issue by latching onto an insipid, flavorless part. They have made a big idea into a small idea. They argue that the standards were a good idea but that the federal government “hi-jacked” them (not true); that the standards were good (not true) but that the implementation is poor; or that government did not reach out to parents and get them on board. Or, some go along with a fallacy that standards re-branded and accepted by the state educational structure have replaced the Common Core with something different (in truth such standards are aligned with the Common Core such that children are taught with Common Core-aligned textbooks and subjected to Common Core- aligned standardized tests).

Making the big idea into a small idea gives short shrift to the parents fighting for their rights and for their children’s future and to the activists who have devoted so much of their energy and time. Such tactics fail to address the root problem, thus opening the door for the same or another fad to be pushed right back into the schools. They also give the impression that the candidate (or the officeholder or the party) lacks courage.

We looked positively on those candidates who opposed the recent NCLB reauthorization legislation as inadequate in regard to protecting parental rights and state and local decision-making, especially in the context of substantial GOP majorities in Congress.81 We note that three GOP candidates who are senators voted against the legislation, whereas Sen. Graham (SC) did not cast a vote.82

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the sponsor of the senate NCLB bill, S. 1177 (also known as the Every Child Achieves Act), contends that the bill is conservative due to its prohibitions on USED; due to its elimination of the NCLB dictate that a state show Annual Yearly Progress toward 100% student proficiency; and due to purported flexibility that the government is giving the states with regard to matters such as state accountability systems.83 We do not discount the bi-partisan support the bill enjoys in the Senate: for the first time, there is bi-partisan consensus that the federal education footprint should be reduced. This is even more remarkable because Congress has generally lost its big battles with this President. However, S. 1177’s federal restrictions are illusory. For example, its vaunted prohibitions on the federal government largely replicate the existing ineffective prohibitions contained in NCLB (like the current prohibitions, they lack an enforcement mechanism for the states); it keeps the ineffective, expensive, and overbearing federal testing mandates; and it denigrates student privacy.84 A NCLB reauthorization put forward by the GOP-controlled Congress should have done much more to return power to the states and the people.85 It should have, for example, eliminated the federal testing mandates and the requirement that states submit a state education plan for USED approval.

At the heart of the report card is a parent and citizen movement to take control over education decision-making versus the GOP tendency to make big issues into small issues. Activists recognize a strong connection between, on one hand, the poor quality of the Common Core and the intrusive data collection and, on the other hand, the federal government’s dominant role in these policies. They understand that the failure to address the big idea, restoring federalism (returning power to the states), will negate the success of any small ideas suggested to tweak failed policies.

Because of the duplicity with which the Common Core was introduced and because the pushback movement is relatively recent, we view through a charitable lens candidates who initially supported the Common Core system but then changed their minds. At the same time, though, we must acknowledge those who opposed the Common Core from the beginning.
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.

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The Common Core Pushback

This is the sixth 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.  The third post in the series was The Public-Private Partnership: How Private Entities Developed the Common Core and Enlisted the Federal Government to Drive It Into the States.  The fourth post in the series was Common Core System.  The fifth post in the series was The Common Core Standards Lock Children Into an Inferior Education.  Here is the fifth section.

5. The Common Core Pushback

Participants in the pushback movement initially become engaged for one of multiple reasons: the qualitative defects of the Standards themselves and the aligned curricula, concerns with the assessments aligned with the Common Core, or concerns with the connected intrusions into student and family privacy. But many quickly became alarmed by the broader picture: The Common Core scheme is designed to influence other subjects in K-12; to transform education in America by promoting non-academic “outcome-based” training (not education) of the type rejected by parents 20 years ago; to feed into elitist economic policy whereby children are reduced to “human capital”; and to establish a sweeping and intrusive system of data-collection and student-tracking. Moreover, these dramatic changes were forced onto America with only a cursory nod to political institutions designed to ensure high-quality policies and adherence to the will of the people.74

In the absence of systemic changes, a national train wreck as bad as, or worse than, the Common Core will once again be pushed onto the American people. Thus, citizens want to know what reforms a candidate would champion as president to guard against such catastrophes.

The media, including much of conservative media, and the vast majority of politicians do not appreciate the depth of this issue. The federal executive has de facto unchecked power over state policy-making, and for their part, private entities heavily influence federal policy. Politicians who do not recognize this systemic breakdown leave citizens with the impression that they do not understand, and therefore will not fix, the problems that facilitated the Common Core. They may also leave the impression that they lack courage. Such politicians leave the door open for an illusory fix, such as the “rebranding” of Common Core in Indiana and other states, and for further policy dystopia.

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 System

This is the fourth 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.  The third post in the series was The Public-Private Partnership: How Private Entities Developed the Common Core and Enlisted the Federal Government to Drive It Into the States.  Here is the third section.

3. Common Core System

The Common Core Standards do not exist in isolation. The stated plan of Common Core’s owners and funders and of the federal government is that the assessments required by No Child Left Behind would align with the Common Core and that teachers, schools, and school districts would be evaluated in significant part according to how students perform on those assessments. The states would continue to build out massive student databases that the federal government had incentivized beginning in 2002.45 The data from the assessments (and from other sources) would be, and is, fed into these databases. The goal is to track teacher-student connections for purposes of performance evaluation, and to track all students from early education into the workforce.46

Standardized testing deserves special mention. From kindergarten through 12th grade, depending on the state, district, and school, children may be subjected to as many as 113 standardized tests.47 In a single year, class time devoted to preparing for and taking such tests can amount to over one month. This is in large part due to No Child Left Behind’s testing requirements and attempts by administrators to prepare children to do well on those tests, sometimes by providing for additional tests.

But it gets worse.

Often, such tests have very little instructional value. As Prof. Christopher Tienken explains, to be useful for instruction, test results must be returned quickly to teachers and parents, who need to see a child’s actual questions and answers.48 Standardized tests fail on these counts. For most Common Core students, the lost instructional time is precious time wasted. This will not close achievement gaps, nor will it prepare children for college.

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 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

.35

  • 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.

scorecard

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.

ThePulse2016.com (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.