Deconstructing Common Core

, Spencer Irvine, 2 Comments

On Capitol Hill, the Heritage Foundation recently sponsored a briefing and screening of a movie on Common Core, entitled “Building the Machine.” The movie was funded by the Home School Legal Defense Association and was directed by Ian Reid. Arriving fresh from a vote on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa addressed the audience before the movie screening.

senator chuck grassley

Senator Grassley pointed out the inconsistencies about Common Core, or by its official name, the Common Core States Standards Initiative (CCSSI), in his remarks. Referring to the federal government system, Grassley said, “The government makes decisions that affect a child’s education, the statement should be made at the level of government closest to the parents to make it effective. That’s why we have a federal system.” Common Core, on one hand, “was initially sold as voluntary effort from states.” However, Grassley and other soon discovered that the Common Core’s “federal incentives have in fact distorted the decision-making process.”

He continued, “In 2010, the states were facing tight budgets due to a poor economy. Using funds from a federal stimulus bill, the U.S. Department of Education developed a $4.35 billion Race to the Top program. The selection criteria for that program asked states to submit evidence of having adopted these set K-12 standards, the actual description of the Common Core.” However, the Common Core standards were released after the Race to the Top applications were due, leaving states befuddled about the process and standards altogether. Grassley pointed out how Mississippi, Oklahoma and Illinois bypassed their state constitutions to enact emergency legislation to apply for Race to the Top funding and “had to waive their normal standards” to reach the deadlines. Adding to that, “states had two months…to adopt Common Core standards after they became public [for] a chance to receive some of the funds.”

Not all states received the funding after rushing through their applications, as the state of Mississippi soon discovered.

Grassley declared that the federal government used, “a heavy-handed push to get states to adopt the Common Core standards during such a short time frame, preempting the necessary public debate about the standards. And I think it is a little bit analogous to the rush to get ObamaCare through the Congress of the United States.” With ObamaCare, said Grassley, “We now know there have been 38 changes have been made by the president, some of them illegal changes, but it wasn’t the piece that it was argued.”

“Now,” Grassley said, “we’re finding the same thing about the public debate about Common Core.” It is encouraging that this debate “is happening right now…at the state level throughout our country,” but it is sad that it had to happen “after the fact.”

Grassley encouraged the audience, and said, “You get back to the constitutional issue of the role of the federal government in education” and the debate around Common Core shows “there’s a lot of questions about it.” He concluded that even that “isn’t as important as keeping the federal government out of content standards driven by tests.”

sandra stotsky

The movie provided the perspective of two of the three observers, Sandra Stotsky and Jim Milgram of the Common Core standards when it was being studied in the Common Core Validation Committee. Every member signed a confidentiality agreement, which Stotsky pointed out was unusual for a civic board. Stotsky had previously served as a senior associate commissioner of education in Massachusetts and Milgram is a mathematician at Stanford. Neither of their dissents were recorded. In fact, they were both expunged from the public record, to make it seem that there was a unanimous approval by the members of the validation committee. Other teachers and experts from a variety of schools and nonprofits were also interviewed in the film. One of Common Core’s primary supporters, Michael Petrlli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, went on camera to discuss the benefits of Common Core. The complete film can be seen on YouTube here.

Afterwards, Heritage education policy expert Lindsey Burke and documentary director Reid discussed the implications of Common Core for American students and their families. Even the state of New York, which was one of the first states to adopt Common Core, has asked for delays in its implementation of the standards. Burke reiterated the concerns of Senator Grassley and those in the film, saying that “There are so many open-ended questions” about Common Core.  She warned that “Common Core 2.0” will be headed to Congress this July.

When asked about how Common Core standards and would affect special education and special needs students, Burke said, “It is a huge question” that no one has asked or answered. She added, “If regulation and testing were the answer, our public schools would be great, right? If top down mandates worked, we would have seen [it].”