From Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record],
Monday, February 4, 2012, Volume 32, Issue 20, pages 1,26 See
Pressure Mounts in Some States Against Common Core
Opponents of common core redouble legislative efforts
By Andrew Ujifusa
Opponents of the Common Core State Standards are ramping up
legislative pressure and public relations efforts aimed at getting
states to scale back-or even abandon-the high-profile initiative,
even as implementation proceeds and tests aligned with the standards
Critics of the common core have focused recent lobbying and media
efforts on Colorado, Idaho, and Indiana, all of which have signed on
to the standards. Forty-six states have adopted the standards in
English/language arts, and 45 have done so in math.
And just last week, Alabama announced it was withdrawing from the two
consortia developing tests aligned with the common core.
Opinion on the common core does not break down neatly along party
lines, and critics cite a variety of reasons for their views.
Some see the new standards providing a pipeline for the private sector
to access taxpayer dollars. Others say Washington is using the common
core to lay the groundwork for a national curriculum, with an assist
from such prominent supporters of the standards as the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative's emphasis on student testing
also has prompted concern.
Opponents of the core have claimed some progress in Indiana and Utah.
The latter state, for example, withdrew from the Smarter Balanced
Assessment Consortium last year, a move that anti-core advocates there
counted as a small step forward.
Common-core supporters say the opposition is small, with a track
record of failure. They point, for example, to the foes' setback in
the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative think tank
in Washington that provides model legislation on a number of issues.
In November, ALEC rejected an internal push against the standards and
announced a policy of neutrality.
But opponents aren't fazed.
"All of a sudden, I find myself in opposition to some of the most
politically powerful people in our state," said Stephanie
Zimmerman, a public school parent in Boise, Idaho, who testified last
month against the common core before state legislators. "My goal
is to educate people."
The common-core initiative was shepherded by two major organizations
of state leaders, the National Governors Association and the Council
of Chief State School Officers. Groups of experts were assembled to
write the standards, which were issued in 2010 and are aimed at
ensuring students' readiness for college and careers.
But critics say the position of the NGA and the CCSSO as the
public-sector face of the push masks what they assert is a strategy of
coercion by the U.S. Department of Education. They note, for example,
that the agency has tied federal Race to the Top grants to adoption of
college- and career-ready standards.
State and federal officials deny charges that Washington is pulling
Time is short for opponents of the common core, as states get ready
for assessments aligned with the standards starting in the 2014-15
"At least in some states with politically conservative voters or
tea-party-influenced legislators, it's more than just venting,"
said Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, the director of the Brown
Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, who led the
Education Department's research agency during the George W. Bush
Perhaps no state epitomizes the pushback better than Indiana.
When state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican and a
champion of the standards, lost his November re-election bid to a
common-core skeptic, Democrat Glenda Ritz, opponents of the common
core attributed his loss in part to his support for them.
Then, early last month, state Sen. Scott Schneider, a Republican
member of the Senate education committee, introduced legislation that
would require the state to drop the common standards.
Mr. Schneider said that the standards are inferior to Indiana's prior
academic-content standards, and that the common core has frustrated
legislators because it was adopted behind a "veil of secrecy"
and without good estimates of its financial costs.
"We really lose a lot of local input and a lot of local control,"
Mr. Schneider said. "And there's no parental input, there's no
The Indiana Department of Education disputes such assertions. It says
the state board of education discussed, provided input on, and
received public feedback about the common core from February to August
2010, when the board adopted the standards.
Mr. Schneider argued, in addition, that the common core would corrode
Indiana's school choice program, because some private schools would
eventually feel compelled to bend their curricula in order to prepare
for the common-core-aligned tests, which they would have to administer
to get state voucher money.
At a hearing on Jan. 16 on Mr. Schneider's proposed Senate Bill 193,
former Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott told Indiana
lawmakers, "These standards have not been piloted anywhere to
show that they lead to better student performance." (Texas has
not adopted the common core.)
Mr. Scott said parents and teachers have had little input on the
Sandra Stotsky, a professor emerita of education at the University of
Arkansas in Fayetteville, told lawmakers the common core "makes
it impossible for English teachers to construct a coherent literature
Ms. Stotsky, who helped develop highly regarded state content
standards in Massachusetts, an adopter of the common core, has also
testified against the new standards before state officials in Colorado
and South Carolina.
Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Washington-based Thomas
B. Fordham Institute, who served as a federal education official under
President George W. Bush, told the lawmakers that the U.S. government
may have pushed for the standards inappropriately by what he called
the "heavy handed" way it tied adoption of college- and
career-ready standards-in effect, the common core-to grants for
states. But he stressed that dropping the common core would be like
reverting to rotary phones.
"Indiana has been this classic case of good standards not
actually having an impact in the classroom," Mr. Petrilli said,
referring to what he said were the state's relatively low score gains
on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in recent
Mr. Schneider said his committee was set to vote on his bill Feb.
Support for the standards from the private sector and higher education
is clear, said Michael Cohen, the president of Achieve, a Washington
nonprofit group that helped develop the standards and now helps state
governments and others prepare for the common core and its
"These standards reflect the knowledge and skills needed to go on
for higher education and careers," said Mr. Cohen, who was an
assistant education secretary during the Clinton administration.
But the private sector's involvement and support are seen very
differently by opponents of the standards.
Through the common core, public schools will be used to foster
"economic fascism" in education, charged former U.S. Rep.
Bob Schaffer, a Republican from Colorado, who until the start of this
year served as the chairman of the Colorado state school board before
he left the board.
"This is a 100 percent government-regulated industry emerging
before our eyes," with potentially billions of dollars being sent
in its direction, said Mr. Schaffer, who is the principal of Liberty
Common High School, a charter school in Fort Collins, Colo.
Legislators previously desperate for federal cash attached to the
standards, he said, are "just becoming alerted to what's going
In early December, anti-common-core advocates like Emmett McGroarty of
the American Principles Project, a conservative Washington think tank,
and Williamson Evers from the Hoover Institution at Stanford
University, were interviewed on Denver-area radio stations.
On Dec. 6, opponents also spoke at a discussion about the common core
hosted by the state board with Mr. Schaffer presiding. On the same
day, Mr. Schaffer participated in an event at the pro-free-market
Independence Institute in Denver, where analysts criticized the
Mr. Cohen dismissed those he called out-of-state advocates lecturing
states that have already made their own decisions: "State
legislatures have been no more cut out now than they were when the
standards movements began in the '90s."
Others applaud what they see as the common core's ability to create a
national marketplace for innovative K-12 technology.
"When there's a potential market for high-quality digital
instruction, it's a game-changer," said Arizona state Sen.
Richard Crandall, a Republican who fought in support of the common
core within ALEC.
In Idaho, the support of conservative officeholders hasn't assuaged
Although Ms. Zimmerman, the Boise parent, was initially comforted that
Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Superintendent of Public
Instruction Tom Luna, both Republicans, supported the common core, she
soon learned more that disturbed her.
In her view, the common core was conceived by Bill Gates, the
Microsoft co-founder who co-chairs the foundation that bears his and
his wife's names, to advance the agenda of the United Nations
Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.
As evidence, she referred to an agreement Mr. Gates signed with UNESCO
in Paris in 2004 to promote shared educational objectives. Mr. Gates,
in turn, would benefit, she said, through "crony capitalism"
In response, the Gates Foundation said in a statement: "The Gates
Foundation is a strong supporter of the Common Core State Standards, a
state-led initiative focused on ensuring all students in U.S. public
schools are taught to the same high standards. The foundation's work
has nothing to do with Microsoft's efforts to support education in
developing nations as part of the UNESCO plan."
(The Gates Foundation helps support Education Week's coverage of
business and K-12 innovation.)
"Assessments drive curriculum. Standards drive curriculum. We are
on the road to a national curriculum," Ms. Zimmerman said.
Some common-core opponents say it is part of an intricate web of K-12
policy decisions designed by a few powerful groups in order to gain
authority over public schools.
According to the group Restoring Oklahoma Public Education, which
opposes federal involvement in public schools, those forces include
Teach For America, the Civil Rights Data Collection program
(maintained by the office for civil rights at the federal Education
Department), and the international publishing and testing company
Pearson, based domestically in New York City.
Ms. Zimmerman said she has relied on the Boston-based pro-free-market
Pioneer Institute for information, as well as Hoosiers Against Common
Core, a group run by two private school parents in Indiana, Erin
Tuttle and Heather Crossin.
Ms. Tuttle said she and Ms. Crossin called Sen. Schneider's attention
to the common core in 2011 after seeing math material that matched the
common core in her child's textbook, published by Pearson, that in her
view was not as rigorous as previous standards her children had
learned. She said proponents of the standards are proclaiming a
national crisis by saying that current standards don't prepare
students for college and careers, then exploiting that crisis.
"It's like a snake-oil salesman standing up in the town
center," she said.
In response, Mike Evans, the senior vice president for mathematics at
Pearson, said in a statement: "We realize that there are some who
are opposed to the [common core], but we agree with the creators of
the standards that these new, more rigorous requirements will set our
U.S. students on the track to move ahead to college and career
readiness so that they will be competitive with their global
In Indiana, Ms. Ritz, who drew strong teacher support in winning the
state chief's job, has made a case against the common core echoed by
many self-described progressives. She bases much of her opposition on
the additional-and in her view improper-emphasis on testing she
believes the new standards will create. She told state lawmakers the
common core should be studied further, though not yet voided in
Indiana, because "so many concerns are coming up," the
Evansville Courier & Press reported.
The common core also is likely to negatively affect disadvantaged
students as well as teacher evaluations, argued Robert A. Schaeffer
the public education director of the Boston-based National Center for
Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, which opposes basing high-stakes
decisions on standardized tests.
An "elite-versus-grassroots" dynamic has evolved, he said,
in which those closest to the classroom, like parents and teachers,
are most skeptical about the increased amount of testing under the
common core, while Washington think tanks and others are pushing for
"The amount of testing will increase, and the misuse of testing
will be unchanged," he said.
Contributing Writer Michele Molnar provided reporting for this
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244