Common Core’s Band of Mothers

Published February 5, 2014

Sometimes Kristin George has to leave her small sons to protect them. In the past year, the Kansas mother has become a grassroots activist against national curriculum and testing mandates called Common Core.

“I look at my kids and I can’t imagine not fighting back for what I see as their whole future in education,” she says over the phone as her toddler pesters her in the background. “It’s so much more to me than just standards. My son will tell me, ‘Mom, I think you’ve had enough computer time today.’ I feel like I’m fighting something because of them, and then taking time from them to do it.”

Since January 1, lawmakers in 18 states have proposed to amend or repeal Common Core. This spring’s state legislative sessions mark the last real chance to ditch it.

This fall, Common Core tests are slated to roll out and essentially cement it (until the next big thing). These tests and their corresponding curriculum mandates will influence almost everything about most American schools: teacher evaluations, textbooks, learning software, school funding, even student grades. In 2013, most parents and teachers first met Common Core. Some began to complain about federal overreach, lack of public debate, pilot test questions and format, open-ended data collection, academic quality, technology costs for the all-online tests, and lack of training for teachers.

U.S Education Secretary Arne Duncan was right about one thing when he attacked anti-Common Core activists again in November: Like George, they are mostly mothers.

George plans to do this spring what she did last spring: Pack ‘n Play in tow, she made the five-hour drive to Topeka to lobby for legislation to defund Common Core, which morphed into a failed bid to reconsider the initiative and analyze its cost. She stayed with her in-laws, leaving her five- and two-year-old sons there while she and other mothers trotted to legislators’ offices for hours before crucial hearings and votes.

“The grassroots has only gotten stronger across the country and in Kansas,” she says. The mom-laden grassroots will need strength to compete. Common Core’s supporters include the world’s largest nonprofit organization (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent more than $172 million to underwrite Common Core), President Barack Obama, and big businesses such as Exxon Mobil and GE. The federal government will, through the Common Core testing organizations it exclusively funds, spend at least $9.9 million to promote Common Core. A pile of foundations recently completed another communications push worth more than $2.35 million. Advocates and states plan more such spending in the next several months as Common Core comes down to the wire.

George has talked to moms in her library’s toddler reading group and held potlucks to tell others about her Common Core concerns. A Kansas Tea Party group passed around a blue bucket last year to pick up donations from a room of retirees and parents to cover an out-of-town speaker who criticized Common Core. Grassroots folks in New York tried a crowd-funding site to cover travel expenses for their two February Common Core speakers. They’ve raised $635 toward their $1,500 goal. All George’s lobbying expenses come from the family pocketbook, just like those of her Oklahoma counterpart Jenni White, their Idaho counterpart Stephanie Zimmerman, their Arkansas counterpart Grace Lewis, and others nationwide.

Common Core opponents typically don’t have much money or prestige. They do have a common motivator: their kids. George’s biggest concern is her ability to have a say in the policies that affect her family.

“I grew up with parents who said, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to,’ and that was the beauty of the country we live in,” George said. “I don’t want to see that changed for my children.”