Is Common Core state-led?

Rachel Stoltzfoos | Managing Editor, The Daily Caller News Foundation

Emmett McGroarty, executive director of education at the American Principles Project, recently sat down with The Daily Caller to explain why the widespread adoption of the Common Core is not exactly a federal takeover, but it’s also not “state-led.”

His take: It’s a plan to bypass the legislative process and parent’s authority in order to push the agenda of a few trade-corporations and progressive-minded elitists, with the help of the federal government and money-hungry governors.

“It’s a brilliant plan,” McGroarty said. “The problem is that it is completely ungrateful to our constitutional structure and it shows gross disrespect for the people.”

Here are two arguments he outlined:

1. The Common Core standards were developed, funded and written by private associations and organizations – not the states.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has granted $30.4 million to The National Governor’s Association (NGA), Council of Chief State School Officials (CCSSO) and The Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Technology (Hunt Institute) to develop and implement the standards since 2008.

NGA and CCSSO are both private trade associations based in Washington, D.C. – neither has a legislative grant of authority.

Achieve, Inc., which was instrumental in writing the standards, was founded by NGA and business leaders in 1996 at a National Education Summit, and is also based in D.C. The Hunt Institute was founded at the close of Gov. James B. Hunt, Jr.’s fourth term in North Carolina to honor his work in education.

“It is just a gross distortion of reality to say that the interests of [Common Core supporters] Bill Gates or Exxon Mobile or Pearson publishing company or General Electric or the Chamber of Commerce, their interests are identical with parents interests,” McGroarty said. “Parents are the ones who know what’s best for their children and that’s just a fundamental right. They should be able to form their children’s futures.”

2. These interest groups used the federal government’s power over the states in an economic crisis to undermine the legislative process.

In December,2008, NGA, CCSSO and Achieve, Inc. published Benchmarking for Success:Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-class Education, which outlined a roadmap to standards for the states and the federal government.

Then, in July 2009, President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Education announced a “Race to the Top” competition as part of the 2009 stimulus bill passed in February 2009. Race to the Top consisted of $4.35 billion of grants that would be awarded in two phases to an unspecified number of states.

One of the requirements in order to be competitive was a demonstrated commitment to or actual adoption of “common standards” by Aug. 2, 2010, depending on which phase applicants were in.

The Common Core Standards Initiative was announced June 1, 2009.  The final draft of the standards was released June 2, 2010 – the day after phase 2 applications were due. By September, 2010, 38 states had officially adopted the Common Core Standards.

The decision to adopt the standards was exclusively in the hands of the governors and the state boards of education, and left little or no time for assessment of the standards or discussions with parents or local leaders.

McGroarty called the process of coercing the states into adopting standards without time to consult their people “perverse.” He told TheDC he has traveled the country and has yet to find a single legislator who knew about Common Core before their state signed onto it.

The Department of Education acknowledged it was an “ambitious timeline,” but said Race to the Top funds had to be obligated by September 2010.

Forced or not, the governors were put in a politically tough position of saying no to federal money in a recession — or adopting standards without much time to evaluate or discuss them.

Leaving parents out of the process is unacceptable, said McGroarty. And to accept what happened would be to signal it’s OK for a federal department to make a state executive its administrative agent. “If we lose this battle, we need to draft a new Constitution,” he said.

The battle has been heating up in recent months: Several states have delayed implementation and/or assessments. In Florida, Common Core opponents have said they will sit out the election if former Gov. Jeb Bush doesn’t reverse his position of support for the standards. (RELATED: Jeb Bush’s Tea Party problem is a Common Core problem)

McGroarty said this is not primarily a Tea Party movement, and he doesn’t see a conservative divide – he sees a populist vs. elitist divide. Parents are uniting around this issue. And they’re better read on the subject than pundits, conservative talk show hosts, politicians and these special interests he said.

“This really does go back to the cradle of our founding,” said McGroarty. “The idea is that government should be directed by the people. And the reason why education was left to the states, was the view that it would be directed by the moms and the dads, and the teachers, and the principles around the country stepping forward and expressing what is important for them, and what their children should be learning, and who should be teaching them.”

Asked whether he’s worried about the millions being spent by The Gates Foundation and big business supporters, he answered no. “At the end of the day Exxon Mobile can run all of the tens of millions of dollars worth of ads that it wants to,” he said. “But [there’s more power in] a mom sitting across the table from a governor, saying ‘Why are my children learning this, and why is your signature on this document?’”

Here is TheDC’s timeline of the creation and adoption of the Common Core Standards:

(Graphic: Rachel Stoltzfoos)

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