When federal and state-government elites quietly combined to enact the Common Core national education standards, they thought that the train had left the station and that this radical reordering of American public education was an over-and-done deal. They thought wrong. Parents and teachers from across the political spectrum are joining together in a nationwide grassroots rebellion to protest the lack of transparency in the Common Core adoption process, the exclusion of public input, and the disempowerment of local educators and the public.
Although the Common Core standards are trumpeted as a product of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the actual writers of the standards were a small committee of insiders, many representing testing organizations. In fact, as Joy Pullman of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute pointed out last year, “meetings between members of the Council of Chief State School Officers to write and discuss [Common Core] standards and corresponding tests are closed to the public,” and parents who tried to attend these meetings were shut out.
When the Obama administration dangled billions in federal-grant dollars to strong-arm states to drop their existing state standards and adopt the Common Core national standards, many states agreed even before the standards were actually written. This rush to adopt standards supported by the federal government meant that there was no time for real public input — a fact noted by observers on the right and the left.
“There was no discussion, no public debate” when key decisions were made as to what went into Common Core and what stayed out, according to Ze’ev Wurman, former senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Education under George W. Bush.
Anthony Cody, a left-leaning blogger for Education Week and a former teacher, has written that it takes “colossal hubris” for the U.S. Department of Education and its allies “to think that they could assemble a small group of people, write a set of standards that would totally transform the way our children are taught, and coerce states into adopting them with zero genuine discussion or debate in the public arena.”
In contrast, when California adopted its state subject-matter standards, which are now being replaced by Common Core, public hearings were conducted across the state. Groups and individuals had ample opportunity to comment. Yet, now, Common Core has made fundamental changes in what California students will learn, without any meaningful consultation with the public.
Take, for example, the teaching of algebra I. Under California’s previous state standards, most students took algebra I in the eighth grade. Now, under Common Core, most won’t take it until the ninth grade. Despite the important ramifications that this has for student learning and college preparation, California’s early adoption of Common Core meant that local educators and parents had little influence over the decision to make this change.
In addition to the national standards, two federally funded consortia are preparing national tests aligned with Common Core, and publishing companies are hurriedly preparing instructional materials aligned with the national standards. All of this activity is occurring without any significant deliberation by the public, which is why parents and teachers are rebelling in states that have adopted Common Core.
In New York, public pressure has forced the state’s education commissioner to hold open hearings on Common Core. Writing about one of them, Cody noted that “these citizens are raising concerns which, prior to this event, have not been given a chance to be aired. The frustration at their lack of input is palpable.”
In Florida, a tidal wave of grassroots parental opposition has forced Governor Rick Scott to back away from Common Core–aligned testing and, according to his official statement, “hold public comment sessions to receive input on any alterations that should be made to the current Common Core standards.”
To address a key issue of public concern, one of the federal consortia producing the Common Core tests has issued a policy that purports to protect student privacy. However, the agreement between that consortium and the Department of Education states that the consortium must provide the department with “complete access to any and all data collected at the State level.”
Jane Robbins, an expert analyst on Common Core and a senior fellow with the pro-parent American Principles Project, says that the Department of Education will receive individual student data, which it can then send “to the Departments of Labor, or Health and Human Services, or the IRS — literally anywhere.” She warns that “parents will have no right to object to the uses of their children’s information; in fact, they won’t even know the sharing has occurred.”
The broad-based grassroots rebellion against Common Core is ultimately not about academic rigor, costs, or job skills, as important as those issues are, but about transparency, democracy, and the ability of local people to control what goes on in their children’s classrooms — an ability the nation’s founders envisioned when they left education to states and localities through the Tenth Amendment. To the chagrin of establishment elites, the rebellion is gaining momentum and may end up toppling Common Core, which would be a victory both for the people and for the principles on which our republic was founded.
— Lance T. Izumi is senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute and author of Obama’s Education Takeover (Encounter Books, 2012).