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Expert’s take: Is the fed forcing Common Core on the states?

Expert's take: Is the fed forcing Common Core on the states?

Liberals, conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans are divided on the issue of centralized, standardized education. Gov. Jeb Bush is making a push in favor of Common Core, leading voters to believe it doesn’t stem from the federal government. Neal McCluskey, associate director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom, sets us straight:

Jeb Bush is downplaying the fact that Common Core has its roots in the federal government. How is he wrong about this?

I wouldn’t say that it has its ‘roots’ in the federal government. He’s correct in saying that Common Core was created by an operation put together by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Here, though, is where he is wrong, or at least misleading: What he has indicated many times, or suggested, is that, if there was federal involvement, it came from the Obama administration and was unwanted, that this was supposed to be state-led and voluntary, and for the most part, he’s saying it is. That is a completely inaccurate characterization of what happened.

First of all, the Common Core was not intended to be state-led and voluntary. While the NGA and CCSSO put it together, you can go to a 2008 report called “Benchmarking for Success,” which proposed that there be internationally benchmarked standards common to a number of states, preferably all states. And it said very clearly that the job of the federal government in this regard was to incentivize adoption of the internationally benchmarked standards by all states, and to do this through 1.) funding – to provide funding for states to adopt and implement these national standards, and 2.) through regulatory relief – in other words, if you adopt these standards, you can be relieved of, at that time, unspecified federal regulations for accountability and things like that.

This was not just the Obama administration on its own deciding that it would use Race to the Top to encourage or to coerce states into adopting the Common Core. This was something the Common Core creators called for. Absolutely there was huge federal coercion behind states adopting the Common Core. It would be fair to say, we don’t know, that probably some states would have adopted Common Core without it, but the fact of the matter is that it was there, it was there from the beginning, and it was always intended to be there.

To say continually, and it’s not just Gov. Bush, there are lots of Common Core supporters [who] continually try to make the public think that this is state-led and voluntary because the Obama administration on its own decided to use Race to the Top, and then waivers from No Child Left Behind to get states to adopt it, simply isn’t true. It is something that the CCSSO and the NGA called for from before there was an Obama administration. It’s absolutely essential that people be very clear about that. This isn’t Obama working unilaterally; this is something that Common Core creators wanted.

People need to understand, and Governor Bush needs to be very clear, if we’re going to have an honest debate about this, what happened, and the order in which it happened. The first thing was, before there was ever an Obama administration, creators of the Common Core said the federal government needs to incentivize adoption with funding and regulatory relief. Then you have to be very clear that the Race to the Top is the funding incentive before the Common Core standards had even been published, and most states applied for Race to the Top money and said they would use Common Core. And then, only two years later, they use waivers out of No Child Left Behind basically to rope in almost every other state saying, if you want out of this job that makes no sense, you’re about to hit a wall with it, you have to use Common Core. You have one other option, and a few states used it, most already said they’d use Race to the Top, so they knew full-well how states were going to get this regulatory relief that they were so desperate to have.

Is this something Gov. Bush is doing intentionally, or is it a part of his agenda to sell Common Core to people who are leery of such a broad educational program that comes from the federal government?

A lot of this is word parsing, and I don’t know what his motives are, but from the words he uses, I suspect there is word parsing here. It would be wrong to say that Common Core comes from the federal government, the right way to characterize is that it comes from the NGA and the CCSSO, but a very powerful force behind getting states to adopt it was the federal government and the CCSSO and the NGA called for the exact sort of federal coercion we got before there was an Obama administration.

What the Gov. Bush says, and what lots of other Common Core supporters often say is that, ‘well opponents to Common Core are just lying when they tell you this is a federal program.’ And then they’ll say, ‘This isn’t a federal program, it didn’t come from the federal government, and if the federal government had anything to do with it, it was the Obama administration.’ They’re right to say it wasn’t a federal program, but they’re absolutely wrong to suggest the federal government wasn’t instrumental in getting lots of states to adopt it. The message they seem to want to get out is, ‘this is all from the states, it’s totally voluntary, and if there’s any way it’s not totally voluntary, it’s because the Obama administration went off the rails and decided to push this.’ And so I suspect, although I don’t know people’s motivations, it’s hard to conclude from the rhetoric that is used, that this isn’t an intentional effort to downplay the role of the federal government, often with, it seems, a second intention, of portraying Common Core opponents as misinformed, or worse, intentionally lying to people about the federal role. And that implication about the opponents to Common Core is especially disturbing when it’s so clear that the Common Core, pro-Core people, are often most likely willfully leaving out very basic, very crucial facts, that aren’t even disputable if you’re willing to talk about them.

What is the status of and next step for Common Core?

If you’d have asked me a year and a half ago, I would have said almost every state’s about to adopt the Common Core and it’s about to be implemented. Now, that is very much in doubt in many states. Indiana last month officially dropped it. Oklahoma appears to be on the verge of doing that. More broadly you have lots of states saying they are not going to use the tests that the federal government selected and paid for to go with the national standards, and that’s another thing we don’t hear mentioned from Common Core supporters. And that’s a way of getting out of Common Core.

What has to happen for this to work, if you believe that centralized, national standards will work, is you’ve got to have the same standards, same tests, same ramifications, and the fact that lots of states are dropping those federally funded tests means you won’t have that comparability.

So when you add that to states that have just backed out of completely, the Common Core, it’s very clear that there’s a retrenchment, lots of states are backing out of what Common Core supporters I think thought they were agreeing to do. The backlash is probably just at its beginning because it’s not ‘til next year that you start to have these tests implemented, and you’ll start to see the scores likely drop as you’ve seen in New York and Kentucky, two states that did this ahead of everybody else.

New York has been a gigantic battleground since their results came out showing big drops in what was called kids who were proficient – about a third fewer are called proficient under the new tests than were under the old tests. And if you see that kind of drop in other states, you could very well see the Common Core disintegrate.

What you have seen is pro-Common Core groups have started out an ad blitz, taking out ads on Fox News on Sunday and things like that, trying to convince conservatives that they really want Common Core and these national standards. This has clearly become a much bigger, much higher visibility political battle than it was a year ago, and certainly than it was two years ago, because the Common Core finally hit schools and districts for implementation about a year and a half ago, suddenly everyone became aware of these things that most states adopted totally under the radar in an extreme rush in order to try to get Race to the Top money.

I think you’re going to see a long, continuing battle over the Common Core across the country.

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  • reddarin

    The formatting of the article is a bit confusing. Who is writing this analysis? Teresa or McCluskey? The link in the first paragraph just goes to the CATO site not a specific article.

  • commoncorecult

    Arne Duncan gave a speech to UNESCO in 2010 where he clearly says that the Stimulus money original intent was to save teacher jobs, but in actuality it was used to get the states to adopt the Obama Admin. education reforms pushing towards federally directed education. The book “Cult of Common Core” is just out on Amazon and is a good primer about this topic, written by a teacher and former Common Core insider who now opposes the CCore. http://amzn.com/B00J8DZYRY

  • Benedictine

    The article IS confusing. Of course there is ‘word parsing’. I can recognize that, because I was fortunate enough to receive my education before Common Core was even thought of.
    Something being pushed on a national level, for the taxpayer-funded public schools, is coming from the federal government level NOW, whether it has its roots in that level or not. Arne Duncan wants to be both for Common Core and against it, now that Americans are waking up to this stealth plot.
    New York’s Education Commissioner, the one who arrogantly told concerned citizens that Common Core “isn’t going away”, does not deign to send his own children to a public school where they might partake of the benefits of the wonderful “higher standards”. Isn’t that odd?

  • anothercrawfish

    That’s not odd at all. Look at that other “wonderful” national law pushed down the citizen’s throats. Some how those who wrote the law were able to escape the law.

  • Bruce Price

    Common Core is best understood as ObamaEd. It’s your basic diseased pig with lots and lots of lipstick on it.

    I put this piece on American Thinker a week ago and many people said it’s a good, quick look at why Common Core is bad and will fail:


    “Common Core: Anatomy of a Failure”

  • terry1956

    Common Core, federal funding of education ( except promises made to Vets) and federal Medicaid are terrible idea.
    Are the above being forced on the states?
    No, not even under the post constitutional goverence of the present congress and the congress for the past 50 years.
    States can and should refuse the federal money and the strings attached.
    Plus there are other things states can refuse and require their county and local governments to do the same such as transportation and road funds from the federal government, various feeding programs.

  • terry ellis

    Some questions I’d like to know the answers to about Common Core:

    a. Are the standards at each grade level reasonable and better than what they replace?
    b. To the extent that teaching methods or materials are part of Common Core, are those methods and materials effective?
    c. Who developed the Common Core standards and how was it done?
    d. How did states decide (i.e. what factors and processes) to adopt CC or not?
    e. What was the role of the federal government in c. and d.?

    The article focuses on d. and e, with a bit of c. That’s fine, but largely political. Fair enough, this is a political site.

    But a. and b. are far more important; they affect what’s being taught and how.
    If a & b are weak, that needs to be fixed. All the rest is conversation. If a & b are strong, the political-philosophical battles can drone on, but the kids’ education will be in good shape.

    A debate that ignores a & b seems to me beside the point. (e.g. one can argue endlessly about the fed v. state government’s role in food and environmental safety, but what I really want to know is am I being poisoned or not.)

  • Borghesius

    My wife has a degree in English Education and classroom experience. She is currently a learning coach for a cousin (autism/aspergers), who was given a IEP in grade 1 but was not being taught (rural district), so she has been enrolled in an on-line charter school and has since been brought back up to and above grade level, despite a home life not inducive to education. For the last two years, they have been phasing in common core compliant texts.

    a. The standards at the grade levels are not better than what they replace. The math methodology appears to be based on a “wave moving up a beach approach”, running through all previous concepts each year before advancing but never working long enough to master any concept. History is politicized. Literature is heavy on feeling and emotion, both in selection and emphasis (hard with aspergers). There is actually less material than in previous years.

    b. Teaching materials are becoming all common core compliant, including textbooks. Materials are directed exclusively toward the assessment tests, so even if a teacher decides to use alternative method, they must cover the common core materials, or else the student will be penalized by not being up on the test materials. The tests are the key for conformity.

    c. Common core standards: this has been covered in previous stories. The math and literature teaching experts have been cut out and have disavowed the standards. Standards have been formed by people with limited practical teaching experience at the direction of administrators, with most emphasis on testing.

    A LARGE amount of teaching time is redirected to either preparing for assessment tests, or taking assessment tests.

    The kids education is not in good shape. I would hope that teachers who care will team with parents that care to change things. Too bad that means kids with teachers who care less with parents who don’t care will go down even further.

    That is my take, through my wife, actual experience. That’s all we have now, because this is an untested system that is being experimentally applied on almost all of our children without a formal control group, except for homeschoolers who have too many variables to be valid as a control.

    Jeb Bush and Arne Duncan are administrators. This is a administrator and politically driven change.

    Take this as you may, and find other sources.

  • Nigg.Newton

    Has it EVER occurred to you that MAYBE, the COUSIN is just not that smart of a child.

    Every thing I have read on Common Core, seems to validate making it NATIONAL.

    Sorry, but the Average American is not that SMART against the Average Foreigner.

    In the 1930′s up til present most Americans were Average, but the world has caught up with us. So to push ahead we need Common Core.

  • Nigg.Newton

    But it works, so what’s the problem?

  • terry ellis

    Thanks. Interesting to hear a teacher’s perspective. I consult for NCES on NAEP (on statistical issues; I’m not an education expert). I know that the Common Core development made a lot of use of NAEP data, partly because it’s very hard, almost impossible, to do large-scale exeriments with control groups for this kind of proposed change. You have to match groups on everything that could affect the outcome (students’ prior performance, race, income, parents’ education etc etc). Without those matches, the analysis gets very complex, i.e. not for a non-tech audience. There are also ethical issues: if one thinks one program is clearly better than another, it’s not fair to the control group kids. The effects can’t be undone.

    But again, thanks for the alternative perspective.

  • Borghesius

    My wife has degrees in English Education (BA) and Moral/Systematic Theology (MA). I have degrees in Physics (BS) and Architecture (MArch). Our SAT and ACT scores were over 95% in the early 1980′s.
    The cousin is not that, and we know it. Her assessments put her above average, but it took individualized instruction to do it.

    I don’t know how you can say “Common core , seems to validate making it NATIONAL.” There doesn’t appear to be any empirical evidence that it is better than previous methodologies, much less that it is (as Terry Ellis puts it) clearly better. We just hear people say: It’s better, this quasi government group says so, and it has tests. Trust us. There isn’t even any evidence that it has been internationally benchmarked: proponents just say that without saying how it has been.

    From my wife’s education experience, the educational professionals (many of whom never actually taught at the elementary or secondary levels) still have to come up with new methodologies and publish or perish them in order to advance and get tenure. They teach teachers what they imagine will work, while being biased against previous methods simply because they aren’t their methods.

    In about 12 years, we will find out for certain. I would of had about 1/3 of the states try it, and if significant changes appear to be happening, cut the experiment short and go one way or the other.

    We are not talking smartness: we are talking methodologies, to get best return. I think cultural and family characteristics count for more than genetic makeup: our humans are a mix of all those from the rest of the world.

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  • 1tomritter1

    Where in the Constitution does the federal government have anything to say about education?

  • terry ellis

    You make some additional good points. The education researchers I know (who are way beyond concerns about tenure) have usually had teaching experience— but not recently. Being a first rate researcher and a regular teacher is a tough match.

    We may have different ideas about what we’re thinking of as “education professionals.” I know people who specialize in how to develop tests that are fair and accurate measurement tools and who study different teaching practices etc. This is a very different group from those in educational administration or teacher training (whom I don’t know at all) .

    In principle, I like the idea of trying something out (and, frankly, I don’t know what small scale experiments or other research went into Common Core); and the decision makers don’t always (by a long shot) listen to the researchers any more than to anyone else.

    It is very hard to do national experiments for reasons I won’t repeat.

    One issue that I think is overlooked, at least in the general discussions, is the starting point. States’ schools’/student performance currently, by most measures, varies enormously. Mass is usually at the high end, while poorer, often southern states, do much worse. It could well be that Common Core would be very effective in, e.g., a state such as Mississippi (though lots of other approaches might do just as well). In a state, e.g North Carolina, that always does well, CC may have little or no effect. It’s also harder to show gains in places that already do well. If you’re in the 90th percentile, a 5 point (or any) gain is much tougher than if you’re starting in the 50th percentile.

    I think that had there been more transparency, there’d be fewer problems now. But as with many issues that involve technical factors, it’s nearly impossible to present evidence untainted by political principles/positions and economic pressure/incentives.

    I do think that on many such issues there are smart, well-trained, sincere people on both sides who could come together and make really good sensible recommendations. Getting anyone with power to listen is another matter.

    I think the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP, might be a good model (even though I think Jeb served on it briefly).

    Finally, I think CC may suffer from a similar problem as Obamacare (aside from the incompetent rollout): it is extremely difficult to implement a new program effectively on a national basis. Some sort of staged process would be better. Start with the component most people expect to perform well. If the one you think has the best shot doesn’t live up to expectations, don’t do more of the same.

    Sorry to be so long winded.

  • Borghesius

    I am also long winded: because some subjects can not be covered in 140 characters, its ok. Its actually refreshing to have an exchange of views.

    Teachers are supposed to be professionals, often with advanced degrees, and the best ones try to tailor individual attention to different classes and different students. It makes no sense to have professional teachers, lower class sizes, pay for performance, educational rewards, and then say “one size fits all”.

    But a national board or clearing house is a great idea, so the local and state education people can say and see which methods lead to success, and can be implemented piece by piece if/where appropriate. The Mississippi teachers can look at Mass and ask: what do they do? We could look at Finland and ask: what do they do? Then something like the Iowa tests and psat sat at 4, 8 and 12 for comparison purposes. If the local parents and communities are engaged, that is the accountability. If not, No Child Left Behind or Common Core Assessments won’t really Improve performance.

  • Nigg.Newton

    To: Terry Ellis and Borghesius

    I have read both your comments, and I will keep this short. American Students are not keeping up with our Foreign counterparts so COMMON CORE will shore-up the bottom and middle students.

    Sorry but if ONLY a handful of students are exceeding, it doesn’t help the NATION as a whole.

    Standard teaching practices will SOLVE this problem. So get on BOARD or get out of the WAY!

  • Doug Lynn

    Common Core is being pushed, not forced, on the States. They are not using the stick, they are using the carrot. If you want Federal money, you implement. The first two things Hitler did were to nationalize education and healthcare. They take our money and then refuse to give it back to us unless we submit, conform and worship the central government.

  • Doug Lynn

    “Promote the general welfare”. It is a phrase the people in charge can use to do absolutely anything they want. Never should have been in the Constitution and should be removed now.

  • Doug Lynn

    I agree that Jeb Bush is not what we need at all. He is a wealthy, big spending globalist with no tangible desire to reduce the heavy burden of government on our lives. Different from Obama, but still very bad for our freedom, our economy, our future.

  • Doug Lynn

    Dangerously ignorant comment. Standards are not the problem at all. Attitudes are the problem. Far too many groups in our society have no interest in applying themselves. In England, it is mostly slum whites. Here is it is mostly slum Black and Browns.

    The education system is not at fault for poor attitudes and poor study habits. That is a culture problem. That is a leadership problem in those communities and at the highest levels of our government.

    Many kids of all colors in this country can compete with anyone in the world. The difference between them and the dropouts is primarily attitude.

    Common core is not addressing in any way the real issue which is too many rotten attitudes and poor work habits by teachers, administrators, politicians, parents and students.

  • Nigg.Newton

    HOW would my COMMENT be a danger to anyone with a BRAIN…

    Our problem is not LAZY people, but LOW WAGES in a High Wage Economy.

    Sir let me KINDLY inform you as you are VERY uninformed.

    1. Blacks want to work, but not for $7.25 an hr.

    2. Blacks are educated, but are not going to agree to racial preferences when hiring and promoting.

    3. Blacks want and DEMAND equal pay for EQUAL work.

    4. So do Hispanics.

    When you and others like you start doing the RIGHT THING…you will see CHANGE.

    If not then you will see BLACKS and Hispanics, doing other than what you expect from them.

  • Steve Tanton

    Perhaps I read too quickly, but in trying to rehash the truth about Common Core has left out Bill Ayer’s involvement through the CAC (Chicago Annenburg Challenge), I suspect part of the Annenburg Foundation, the CAC, which helped to develop The Common Core for the CCSSO was once headed up by none other than Barack Hussein Obama…or so I have read. If true, it should at least be mentioned one would think.

    I have also read the 10th Amendment. The best course is to get the federal government totally out of the business of education, for their monopoly idea will screw it up, just as they have with everything else they touch. The answer is free-market competition with private and public schools, the tax money flowing to the school of choice and the personal responsibility of education at the local level as suggested by none other than Thomas Jefferson, father of the Declaration of Independence and consultant to the Constitution. Who’da thunk it?

    “If it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by the governor and council or any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward, it is a belief against all experience.” – Thomas Jefferson (in response to a 1780 bill which proposed placing education in the hands of state officials, The Commonwealth of Virginia)

  • Buypass

    You see what they did to school lunches, but a good supper can cure that.
    Putting lefty rot in kids brains? Not so easy to fix.

  • 1tomritter1

    “General welfare” appears twice in the Constitution. Once in the Preamble which is a general statement of intent and has never been subject to adjudication and once for an excuse to tax i.e. the power is to tax.


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  • Libslayer

    Obamacore is socialized education, and a “race to the bottom”
    Dumb students make perfect democrat voters.

  • Cal Quelus

    I’ve found this to be a useful antidote against the ancient manifesto worshiped by today’s liberals and progressives: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094KY878

  • Raiderwolf

    The original intent of “Promote the general welfare”, I believe is set a level playing field, a general foundation for society to operate on, for all. But the left have hijacked it and are lying when they use it because they claim that but the result is that, what actually happens is promoting the welfare of others at the expense of others or in actuality “Promote the general POOR welfare” of all. Have everyone suffer equally.

  • Raiderwolf

    I agree, he is an arrogant Establishment Republican who, just like the liberals and other RINO Republicans, such as McCain and McConnell and Boehner, thinks he knows better than the people do what is best for them.

  • Raiderwolf

    I wouldn’t put too much stock on what works and doesn’t work from someone who has sexually suggestive pictures of women as their icon. I’d think they have too much sex on the brain to think straight enough to know what works and doesn’t work.

  • Raiderwolf

    The reason they are below average is because it’s being run by liberals, such as the NEA and the Democrats and Common Core is just more control of education turned over to the liberal based ideology of what education should be. Do liberals have more control or less control over education? They have more. So if liberal ideas, which Common Core is, are supposed to make education better, why has it gotten worse as more liberal ideology has been applied to education, through the liberal NEA and political correctness, and not less? Your reasoning, again, is flawed. It amounts to liberals are breaking it so that they can claim that it needs to be fixed by them and you believe their false claims. No, Common Core won’t solve the problems education is facing. Purging it of liberal ideology will.

  • Raiderwolf

    “I have read both your comments, and I will keep this short. American Students are not keeping up with our Foreign counterparts so COMMON CORE will shore-up the bottom and middle students.”

    No it won’t. There is no evidence it will. You don’t understand WHY they are falling short. You think more federal government control will fix it? More government control rarely fixes anything. It hasn’t fixed anything but only made things worse the vast majority of the time.

  • Raiderwolf

    Our problem is not LAZY people, but LOW WAGES in a High Wage Economy.
    Sir let me KINDLY inform you as you are VERY uninformed.

    1. Blacks want to work, but not for $7.25 an hr.

    No, they want a high wage for low level work and that is laziness. They don’t want to do what it takes to get the skills and knowledge for high wage jobs.

    2. Blacks are educated, but are not going to agree to racial preferences when hiring and promoting.

    According to what standard are you saying they are “educated”. Are not the highest drop outs blacks, second to hispanics (due to so many illegal aliens in the country)? They are just using race as an excuse for their poor work ethic and refusal to work. It’s not RACIAL preference, it’s WORK ETHIC preference. But you can falsely claim racial preference all you want.

  • Nigg.Newton

    Yes I do Believe more GOVERNMENT will fix the problem. Especially when it’s the government setting the STANDARDS.

    Sorry if you want me to BELIEVE the states can fix this…Just look at Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama. White Students their are FAILING.

    Then you go to places like Boston, MA, Virginia, and New York, you got Minorities outperforming Southern White Students.

    We need a STANDARD so most students are above average. Not just a few.

  • Nigg.Newton


    Your very explanation, is why COMMON CORE, is needed. What made you BELIEVE in the past, education was better?

    You all only had to compete against each other (i.e. Alabama versus Mississippi) that’s not the case today. Children are now competing with Chinese, Indian, and etc.

    ALSO…I would say if YOU ALL had to compete in today’s Education climate, you all would be worse than today’s Students.

    Can you prove me WRONG? Nope.

  • Bruce Price

    Let’s think BIG here. It’s not enough simply to repeal and cancel this stupid thing. Ideally, we make sure that the people who brought it to us are removed from public life. (45 governors accepted bribes to endorse a set of “standards” that had not, at that time, even been written!!!! Surely you can find better governors than that.)

    A lot of people will have to make some quick revisions in order to preserve their political careers. Great! Do it loudly and publicly. That means you, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, and many more.

    I have a lot of articles on American Thinker about this. Easy to find. But if you want a 100-page book, see the excellent new “The Cult of Common Core” by Brad McQueen. See reviews on Amazon.