Common Core’s agenda beyond what states offer

Nearly every proponent of the Common Core standards begins his description of the program by calling it a “state-led initiative.” Fiercely objecting to the accusation that it is a federal takeover of education, the defenders then explain that it is the state governors and state school officers who are behind this effort. The initial drivers of Common Core were the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, both of which are private networking associations incubated in Washington, D.C., and neither of which have any legislative authority. Funny how the “state-led” label doesn’t actually include the states – or their people.

If the Common Core is a “state-led” initiative then the frenzy of activity by the U.S. Department of Education in the last few months is truly puzzling. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is spending considerable time, energy, and tax dollars defending the Common Core, and assuring audiences around the country that the Common Core is here to stay. He is also meeting with journalist groups to help them properly report about the Common Core. Why is he dedicating any time to defending a program in which the federal government plays no role?

In May, the head of the American Federation of Teachers asked Sec. Duncan for a moratorium on teacher evaluations based on Common Core testing. Obviously, her plea should have been directed to local school districts who maintain local control over teacher evaluations, not the federal government. A few weeks later, former governor Jeb Bush, a supporter of the Common Core, sent a letter to Sec. Duncan urging him not to suspend the high stakes consequences. I guess Bush forgot that the U.S. Department of Education has nothing to do with the Common Core. You would think that two well-informed public policy figures would know that the Common Core is a “state-led initiative”!

Even more perplexing was Duncan’s response to the AFT and Governor Bush. He approved the moratorium to allow states more time to implement Common Core before teachers are evaluated on its success (or failure). By what authority did he do this? Is it possible that even Duncan doesn’t realize that this is not a federal program?!

Other than dangling a little green in front of cash-strapped states, offering No Child Left Behind Waivers, threatening to withhold Title I funds, financing the two cherry-picked testing consortia, forcing the states to choose from among one and only one common set of educational standards in order to qualify for federal money, crafting standards behind closed doors, and now determining how and when teachers will be evaluated, the federal government is not at all involved with the Common Core. Really.

While Common Core defenders like to employ jedi mind tricks to try to convince us that the federal government is not involved in the Common Core, the U.S. Department of Education can’t seem to stop meddling in this “state-led initiative.” Perhaps the accusations of a federal takeover of education are not so outlandish after all.

Khadine L. Ritter