Model legislation opposing Common Core standards recently presented at the American Legislative Exchange Council will likely pass later this summer rather than in May following a media and political firestorm.
While approved by ALEC’s education task force in November, the legislation has not passed its board of directors, who say they want to clarify its language before they take a final vote. ALEC is a conservative nonprofit that offers forums for legislators to share policy ideas and model bills.
ALEC and its donors have been subject to intense negative media attention from liberal activists who connected its support for Stand Your Ground legislation with the Florida Trayvon Martin shooting of an unarmed teen by a community watchman. The activists, including People for the American Way and Van Jones outfit ColorofChange.org, have successfully pushed large companies such as Amazon.com, Kraft, Coca-Cola, and Pepsico to stop donating to ALEC.
Forty-five states adopted one set of math and language arts standards following 2009 federal grant and No Child Left Behind waiver requirements that they do so, but states including South Carolina, Alabama, Minnesota, and Utah have recently considered backtracking from the Common Core given concerns over federal interference with local curriculum and state sovereignty.
Education standards list what students should know in each grade.
A Tool for Legislators
ALEC’s board did not consider retracting the model legislation’s stand against the Core, said ALEC Education Director Adam Peshek, but “wanted to make sure that the language was tightened up.”
The legislation argues that a de facto single set of education standards impedes local innovation and moves the country toward a nationalized curriculum, neither of which benefits U.S. education. The American Principles Project, Goldwater Institute, and Washington Policy Center authored the model bill.
“[Adopting the Core] almost universally occurred through state education board votes and without legislators’ knowledge of what the national standards and tests entailed,” said Jim Stergios, executive director at the Pioneer Institute. “Only in the past year have state legislators started becoming familiar with the $16 billion unfunded mandate on states and localities, the federal legal prohibitions [against] Common Core, and the mediocre quality of the standards. And now you are seeing a number of states advancing resolutions and legislation to pull back out of the effort.”
Illegal, Expensive, Flimsy
The open debate preceding the legislation pit Core proponents led by Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett against think tanks and scholars who had studied the cost, legality, and quality of the standards, Stergios said.
The Core was initially funded by private foundations and state associations but became centralized when the Obama administration began funding tests correlated to them and required states to adopt them in exchange for federal money or loosened regulations.
Common Core standards are not just intrusive, their combination of standards and assessments “bookends” the curriculum schools use, McGroarty said.
“The federal government made it very clear that they really wanted a national curriculum,” he said. “They didn’t want multiple consortia of states [working on the standards]—they wanted one consortia of states.”
The standards have two main problems, he said. The first is that expert evaluations of the standards have deemed them “mediocre, at best, and problematic” to instruction. The second is the “philosophical underpinnings” for the standards, which he said undermine efforts to educate children about their Constitutional liberties and civic responsibilities.
“This is really at the heart at what has made America great and different than Europe and totalitarian governments and governments where democracy has not worked,” he said. “The people as elected representatives have been cut out of the process of Common Core. We have these corporate elitists deciding what’s best for us.”
Delaying the Vote
The earliest a vote on the legislation would now occur would be in late July, Peshek said.
“The task force will have to look at the language, change it up and then it will have to go back to the board,” Peshek said. “If our members want to submit another model bill, they could vote on it as early as [July 25-28], and then it would go straight back to the board.”
McGroarty said the bill authors are puzzled about what language may need to change.
“It’s hard to remember the last time ALEC did not allow model legislation approved by its own committees to move forward,” Stergios said. “I’m quite sure that pushback by the ALEC Board will raise a lot of questions about why they took this anomalous step.”
Backtracking Too Difficult?
Disentangling from the Core would have been easier for states before they threw themselves into curriculum, test development, and teacher re-training, said Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. He said he doubts states will change course on the Core until Congress finally rewrites No Child Left Behind, the largest federal education law now four years overdue for reauthorization and in shambles since the Obama administration is in the process of waiving its provisions in different ways for each state that applies.
McGroarty was confident state legislatures could and must provide direction for their education systems.
“The best way to reverse this is to put it back in the hands of the legislature,” he said. “This is wholly consistent with ALEC’s principles and the principles of federalism.”
Image by the Iowa Democratic Party.