Stop blaming Washington for Common Core

Dillon Jones Policy Analyst, South Carolina Policy Council
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The debate over whether or not the federal government has had anything to do with the implementation of Common Core standards is over. However Common Core proponents might insist that it’s a strictly “state-based program,” the federal government has pushed Common Core in three ways: Race to the Top grants in exchange for implementing standards essentially identical to Common Core, waivers to some No Child Left Behind (NCLB) provisions in exchange for implementation of these standards, and through federally funded assessments aligned with Common Core.

Still, Common Core wasn’t somehow foisted on unwilling states. Now that the federalized standards and assessments regime has become unpopular in many parts of the country, state elected officials often speak of Common Core as if it had been imposed from above. But that’s not the case. States happily implemented Common Core — and they did it for money.

In 2009, 48 states signed a Memorandum of Agreement to commit to the development and adoption of Common Core standards, and in the next two years, 44 states agreed to implement Common Core English and Math Standards (Minnesota only agreed to English standards). Soon after agreeing to Common Core standards, the vast majority of states signed on to one of the two federally funded Common Core-aligned testing consortiums — Smarter Balanced or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

All of this happened without federal coercion. On the contrary, when the federal government offered money in exchange for state sovereignty over education, the states happily cooperated.

Take the Race to the Top grants — a $4.35 billion fund created in Obama’s stimulus plan. States were clearly bribed, not coerced, into accepting Common Core. There was no threat to take away current funding; the federal government simply offered additional money in exchange for adopting Common Core. Many states, like my own South Carolina, applied for this grant and didn’t even receive the funds.

Or take NCLB waivers. In September 2011, President Obama announced that states could apply for waivers from some NCLB provisions. In exchange, states would have to have to implement standards nearly identical to what Common Core is described as (for example, South Carolina’s request for NCLB waivers mentioned Common Core 364 times). Federal money is attached to NCLB compliance — South Carolina accepts around $300 million in NCLB funds each year. Given this proposal, states essentially saw two options: 1) keep taking NCLB money, comply with NCLB in total, and don’t implement Common Core, or 2) keep taking NCLB money, take some NCLB waivers, and implement Common Core.

Most states took the second option.

But there was a better third option: Stop taking federal education money, regain state sovereignty over education decisions, and implement education standards and assessments that best fits their citizens.

States can only be victims to federal oppression if they willingly let themselves be. The U.S. Constitution gives no power to the federal government over areas like health care, education, and transportation; yet states willingly accept federal regulations in these areas in exchange for more money.

Here’s the problem. Some of the loudest state leaders to speak against federal overreach continue to sell state sovereignty for federal cash. My own state’s governor, for example, has been outspoken against programs like Obamacare and Common Core, while at the same time expanding Medicaid and signing off on Common Core-aligned tests (Smarter Balanced). The same is true of a number of other red-state governors as well.

States: the burden’s on you. You have willingly complied and aided with the federal government’s growth and overreach; those who take bribes are as guilty as those who offer them. It’s time to stop playing the victim and start taking responsibility.