Speaking off the cuff, it’s easy to make a mistake. But for a long time former Florida governor – and trendy presidential possibility – Jeb Bush has been criticizing Common Core opponents for, among other things, saying the Core was heavily pushed by the federal government. His still getting the basics wrong on how Core adoption went down must be called out.
Interviewed at this weekend’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of his father’s presidential election – an event where, perhaps, he actually knew which questions were coming – Bush said the only way one could think the Core was a “federal program” is that the Obama administration offered waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act if states adopted it. (Start around the 7:15 mark.) And even that, he said, basically came down to states having “to accept something [they] already did”: agree to the Core.
Frankly, I’m tired of having to make the same points over and over, and I suspect most people are sick of reading them. Yet, as Gov. Bush makes clear, they need to be repeated once more: Washington coerced Core adoption in numerous ways, and creators of the Core – including the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers – asked for it!
In 2008 – before there even was an Obama administration – the NGA and CCSSO published Benchmarking for Success, which said the feds should incentivize state use of common standards through funding carrots and regulatory relief. That was eventually repeated on the website of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
The funding came in the form of Race to the Top, a piece of the 2009 “stimulus” that de facto required states to adopt the Core to compete for a chunk of $4.35 billion. Indeed, most states’ governors and chief school officers promised to adopt the Core before the final version was even published. The feds also selected and paid for national tests to go with the Core. Finally, waivers from the widely hated NCLB were offered after RTTT, cementing adoption in most states by giving only two options to meet “college‐ and career‐ready standards” demands: Either adopt the Core, or have a state college system certify a state’s standards as college and career ready.
Gov. Bush, the facts are clear: The feds bought initial adoption with RTTT, then coerced further adoption through NCLB waivers. And all of that was requested by Core creators before there was a President Obama!
Let’s never have to go over this again!
Remember the Borg? You know, the Star Trek cyborgs who would encounter a ship, tell its occupants “resistance is futile,” then turn them all into Borg? Of course the Enterprise always resisted, and always survived. But what if Captain Picard had instead ordered, “Surrender. Then they’ll leave us alone.”
The crew response to that would certainly have been, “ol’ Jean‐Luc is losing it!” At least, it would have been for the few seconds before everyone was converted into mindless drones. Yet that is just the sort of order a group calling itself the “Higher State Standards Partnership” is trying to issue to conservatives and libertarians when it comes to the Common Core. Yesterday, the Partnership – a front for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable – wrote in the Daily Caller that opponents of the Core should stop resisting if they want to keep schools from being assimilated by the federal government.
You read that right: After blaming the Obama administration for using the Race to the Top to meddle “in a clearly state‐led, locally controlled education initiative,” the Partnership counseled Core opponents to end their resistance. Defeating the Core, they wrote, “would only bolster the hand of the Administration and invite federal control into our schools.”
How do you know the Common Core is in trouble? You could religiously follow the news in New York, Indiana, Florida, and many other states. Or you could read just two new op-eds by leading Core supporters who fear their side is getting bludgeoned. Not bludgeoned in the way they describe -- an education hero assaulted by kooks and charlatans -- but clobbered nonetheless. As Delaware governor Jack Markell (D) and former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue (R) put it:
This is a pivotal moment for the Common Core State Standards.
Although 45 states quickly adopted the higher standards created by governors and state education officials, the effort has begun to lose momentum. Some are now wavering in the face of misinformation campaigns from people who misrepresent the initiative as a federal program and from those who support the status quo. Legislation has been introduced in at least 12 states to prohibit implementation and states have dropped out of the two major Common Core assessment consortia.
Sadly, Markell and Perdue's piece, and one from major Core bankroller Bill Gates, illustrate why the Core may well be losing: Defenders offer cheap characterizations of their opponents while ignoring basic, crucial facts. Meanwhile, the public is learning the truth.
Both pieces employ the most hulking pro-Core deception, completely ignoring the massive hand of Washington behind state Core adoption. For all intents and purposes, adoption was compulsory to compete in the $4.35-billion Race to the Top program, a part of the "stimulus" at the nadir of the Great Recession. While some states may have eventually adopted the Core on their own, Race to the Top was precisely why so many "quickly adopted the higher standards." Indeed, many governors and state school chiefs promised to adopt the Core before it was even finished. Why? They had to for Race to the Top! And let's not pretend federal coercion wasn't intended all along: In 2008 the Core-creating Council of Chief State School Officers and National Governors Association published a report calling for just such federal pressure.
According to Ben Jacobs at the Daily Beast, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D‑MA) will soon be introducing legislation to allow holders of federal student loans to refinance at lower interest rates. There’s no indication that the new rates would be in exchange for longer terms, or anything like that. Just lower rates because someone might have borrowed at 7 percent, rates for new loans are now at 3 percent, and, well, paying 7 percent is tougher.
According to Jacobs, the proposal “seems to encapsulate…free-market principles” because recent changes to the student‐loan program connect rates on new loans to broader interest rates. Apparently, pegging interest rates to 10‐year Treasuries is very free market‑y.
Perhaps more concerning than the questionable use of the term “free‐market principles,” however, is the article’s handling of my reponse to the author’s request for comment. Apparently, I was fine with Warren’s rough idea, except for one little thing. Writes Jacobs:
In fact, Neal McCluskey, a higher education expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, had difficulty finding objections to the concept of Warren’s bill though he cautioned that was without any legislation for him to read. Instead, he was agog at the issues involved with reducing government revenue through lowering interest rates because the lender has to pay for it and, in this case, the lender is the American taxpayer.
How much bigger an objection could there be to “the concept of Warren’s bill” than that such a move would leave taxpayers holding the bag? As I often try to emphasize, taxpayers are people, too. There are lots of other concerns — most centrally, easy aid fuels tuition inflation – but to gently paraphrase Vice President Biden, reducing revenue that’s already been budgeted is a big deal!
Let me rephrase that: It should be a big deal. But as proposals like this indicate, it’s not nearly as big as it ought to be.
Maybe because it’s now hitting schools, or because it’s gotten high on the radars of Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck, or because national science standards have raised a ruckus, but for whatever reason the Common Core is finally starting to get the national — and critical — attention it has desperately needed. Indeed, just yesterday Sen. Chuck Grassley (R‑IA) sent a letter to the Senate appropriations subcomittee that deals with education urging members to employ legislative language prohibiting federal funding or coercion regarding curricula. That follows the Republican National Committee last week passing a resolution opposing the Common Core.
It’s terrific to see serious attention paid to the Common Core, even if it is probably too late for many states to un‐adopt the program in the near term. At the very least, this gives new hope that the public will be alert if there are efforts to connect annual federal funding to national standards and tests through a reauthorized No Child Left Behind Act. And there are certainly some states where nationalization could be halted in the next few months. Perhaps most important, the Grassley letter gives Common Core supporters who’ve said they oppose federal coercion a huge opening to act on their words — to loudly support an effort to keep Washington out. They can either do that, or substantiate the powerful suspicion that they are happy to use federal force to impose standards, they just don’t want to admit it.
Details are still emerging about the Obama Administration’s 2014 education budget proposal, but from the overview there seems to be a lot of bad stuff. Here are the hi — or low — lights, and links to some important context:
- Increase Department of Education spending to $71.2 billion, up 4.6 percent from 2012 enacted level: This is neither constitutional nor effective.
- “Invests” in preschool: Head Start, Early Head Start, and state programs either are shown to fail, or have little to no good evidence supporting them.
- $12.5 billion in mandatory funds to “prevent additional teacher layoffs and hire teachers”: We’ve been getting fat on staff — including teachers — for decades, and it hasn’t helped.
- $1.3 billion for 21st Century Community Learning Centers: Federal studies have found these have negative effects.
- Race to the Top for higher education: So far, RTTT has been big on promises, small on outcomes, and huge on coercion to adopt national curriculum standards.
- $260 million to scale up higher education innovation: MOOCS and other innovations have been developing pretty well without federal “help.”
- Maintain “strong” Pell Grant program: Pell is part of the tuition hyperinflation problem, not the solution.
There will no doubt be more‐detailed analyses of specific education proposals to come. Stay tuned!
In what is either a case of blinders-wearing or just poor timing, today the Fordham Institute's Kathleen Porter-Magee has an article on NRO, co-written with the Manhattan Institute's Sol Stern, in which she and Stern take to task national curriculum standards critics who assert, among other things, that the Common Core is being pushed by President Obama. Yes, that's the same Kathleen Porter-Magee whom it was announced a couple of days ago would be on a federal "technical review" panel to evaluate federally funded tests that go with the Common Core.
The ironic timing of the article alone is probably sufficient to rebut arguments suggesting that the Common Core isn't very much a federal child. Still, let's take apart a few of the specifics Porter-Magee and Stern offer on the federal aspect. (Other Core critics, I believe, will be addressing contentions about Common Core content).
Some argue that states were coerced into adopting Common Core by the Obama administration as a requirement for applying for its Race to the Top grant competition (and No Child Left Behind waiver program). But the administration has stated that adoption of “college and career readiness standards” doesn’t necessarily mean adoption of Common Core. At least a handful of states had K–12 content standards that were equally good, and the administration would have been hard-pressed to argue otherwise.
Ah, the power of parsing. While it is technically correct that in the Race to the Top regulations the administration did not write that states must specifically adopt the Common Core, it required that states adopt a "common set of K-12 standards," and defined that as "a set of content standards that define what students must know and be able to do and that are substantially identical across all States in a consortium." How many consortia met that definition at the time of RTTT? Aside, perhaps, from the New England Common Assessment Program, only one: the Common Core.