What is Common Core (CC) and why should you care?
Its proponents say CC is merely a set of standards for K-12 education developed by disinterested and public-spirited experts at the request of the nation’s governors and state school superintendents. Further, 45 states voluntarily adopted them after extensive public vetting and tailoring them to their individual needs. And they’ll do nothing to erode the primacy of states and local districts in education policy, practice and innovation. Instead, they’ll improve US education, workforce development and economic competitiveness.
All of that is, however, highly misleading nonsense.
In fact, CC is the effort of the Obama administration, working quietly with the Gates Foundation and educrats (professors, consultants, bureaucrats, vendors, but no classroom teachers) who expect CC and its spin-offs to be a gravy train for them for a long time. They want to federalize education, just as they are screwing up health care and other parts of our society.
Education is the prime example of a government role not assigned at all to the feds by our Constitution, but reserved instead to the states and the people – and for very good reasons. The powers of the federal government are limited to those expressly provided by the Constitution, plus minor matters ancillary to the prescribed powers, and that absolutely does not include education.
The great liberal Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis coined the phrase “laboratories of democracy” in a 1932 opinion to describe the role and benefits of a system of state primacy and freedom and limited federal power. By promoting innovation, competition and local control, this system has yielded huge and enduring benefits and has served our nation well. Most of what has undermined K-12 education the last 50 years is its takeover by teacher and administrator unions, plus earlier federal mandates – all of which has accelerated the decay to which bureaucracies are naturally heir anyway.
The Obama administration and its educrat and do-gooder foundation allies knew that the American people would reject naked efforts to further federalize education. So, the Gates foundation and educrats sold the idea to the governors and superintendents. They did so mainly via bribes (promises of money from Washington) and coercion (mainly threats to withhold waivers from the consequences to states from the last major K-12 federalization, No Child left Behind, sponsored by the Bush 43 administration and Ted Kennedy).
Further, CC was advertised as limited only to standards (what students need to know and be able to do at certain grade levels) in math and English – the basics. And it was promoted as leading to improved quality in those areas for poorly performing states and making it easier for students to transfer from schools in one state to those in another (a real non-problem).
What this fairy tale covered up is that once the camel’s nose of standards was in the tent, the monstrous humps of federally directed testing, curriculum, texts, syllabuses, teaching methods and content would soon inevitably follow. Further, after math and English, the CC effort will migrate also to science and social studies, where the control of content – fealty to the environmentalist religions and political correctness – will really matter.
By hiding the fact that CC standards would be only the thin edge of the wedge of total federalization, state educrats were able to adopt them in a big hurry with only cursory hearings. Because parents, taxpayers, voters, the press and public were not aware of what was at stake, the hearings on standards adoption were lightly attended and mostly ignored as being technical matters of no general interest or consequence.
This whole project will degrade school performance and responsiveness to parents and the public, but it will also be hugely costly. It will require new training for teachers and administrators in costly proprietary methods, materials and practices. And it will require state and local reorganization and adding layers of bureaucrats who do nothing to help what happens in the classroom. It may even require new expensive facilities.
It is welcomed by the unions, in part because it plays to their prejudices in favor of increasing federalization and the green and PC religions, but also in part because it lets them consolidate and extend their power. Instead of dealing with the people and the states that may resist their agendas, they’ll be able to get the federal government to adopt and mandate them. Many state and local bureaucrats share the ideological appetites for this stuff; but where they don’t, more Washington money and coercion will carry the day.
In the end, CC will not improve anything but will instead cause our K-12 systems, workforce development and economic competitiveness to sink further. And when states fail to meet the CC-related mandates, they will seek waivers and more taxpayer dollars, just as they did under previous federalizations. Similar to what ObamaCare is doing to health care and insurance. And federal bureaucrats, educrats and foundations will be there in a decade to fix it all with yet another round of nonsense.
So, I oppose CC and voted no when the Regents were asked last July to endorse it.
(Ron Knecht is an economist, law school graduate and Nevada higher education regent.)