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Two Moms vs. Common Core
How an eight-year-old’s homework assignment led to a political upheaval

Heather Crossin, Emmett McGroarty, and Erin Tuttle

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On April 20, Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (R., Mo.) sent a letter — co-signed by 33 other congressmen — to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asking for a detailed accounting of changes in student-privacy policies associated with the new national database the Obama administration is building as part of its Common Core support. The letter pointed out that the Education Department had already made regulatory changes — without consulting Congress — that appear to circumvent the 1974 law that limits the disclosure to third parties of any data collected on students.

“The Common Core places inappropriate limitations on the influence of states and localities, while burdening them with additional, unfunded expenses,” Representative Luetkemeyer told me via e-mail.

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Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa is taking the lead nationally in shining light on the Obama administration’s key role in promoting Common Core. On April 16, Grassley was joined by seven other GOP senators (including major presidential contenders Ted Cruz and Rand Paul), who signed a letter calling on their colleagues to stop funding the implementation of Common Core, which, they point out, appears to violate federal laws that explicitly forbid the Education Department to influence curriculum or assemble a national database. “I voted against the Economic Stimulus Bill that essentially gave the Department of Education a blank check that was used for Race to the Top, and I have been very critical of how the Department of Education used those funds to push a specific education policy agenda from Washington on the states without specific input from Congress,” Senator Grassley told me via e-mail.

The recent announcement by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, that the AFT wants to delay implementation of the Common Core tests in New York put a bipartisan nail in the coffin of consensus.

And more moms are following the trail Heather Crossin and Erin Tuttle blazed.

One major objection to the Common Core standards is that they are not evidence-based. Their effect on academic achievement is simply unknown, because they have not been field-tested anywhere in the world.

But moms have a more elemental objection: The whole operation is a federal power grab over their children’s education. Once a state adopts Common Core, its curriculum goals and assessments are effectively nationalized. And the national standards are effectively privatized, because they are written, owned, and copyrighted by two private trade organizations.

“Legislators are incredulous when they learn the standards and assessments are written by two private trade organizations — the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. This creates concern why public education is now controlled by two private organizations,” says Gretchen Logue, a Missouri education activist and one of the co-founders of Truth in American Education, a network of activists and organizations opposing Common Core. “They also don’t like that the standards and assessments are copyrighted and cannot be changed or modified by the states.”

So why are so many good conservatives, from Jeb Bush to Rick Snyder, supporting Common Core? Many conservatives signed on to a clever strategy that asked them to endorse, not the specific standards, but the idea of high “internationally benchmarked” national standards. It is a principle of psychological persuasion that, once you act, in however small a manner, you will feel cognitively compelled to justify your action. Many business leaders with no experience or expertise in education reform have come on board.

This is as good an explanation as any for why so many conservatives are aggressively promoting a set of national standards about which we know, for sure, four things:

a) They are not internationally benchmarked. In fact, for math in particular, they are exactly contrary to the kind of national standards used in high-performing countries.

b) The two major experts on content who were on the Validation Committee reviewing the standards backed out and repudiated them when they saw what the standards actually are.

c) State legislatures and parents were cut out of the loop in evaluating the standards themselves or the cost of implementing them.

d) The Common Core standards are owned by private trade organizations, which parents cannot influence.

These objections, among others, led Diane Ravitch to call on her blog for backing out of Common Core, as the standards were “flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.”

Ravitch went on: “The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of the nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.”

I asked Heather how she felt on that historic day she saw the very first anti–Common Core bill in the nation pass. “I was elated!” she told me. “We were up against so many powerful groups with so much money. We fought against all odds, tons of money, a slew of paid lobbyists. All we had was the truth, the facts, and a passion to protect the future of our children. Our victory is proof that our American system of government still works.”

— Maggie Gallagher is a fellow at the American Principles Project. Her work can be read at MaggieGallagher.com.



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