Common Core’s Benefits to Students Remain Elusive, Study Finds

Published November 12, 2016

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has primarily, and perhaps exclusively, benefitted those who designed the standards and provided materials for its adoption, a new scholarly study has found.

CCSS is a set of national standards introduced in 2009 to dictate what students should know at each grade level. Forty-six states adopted the standards in 2010. Implementing CCSS has cost the nation more than $80 billion so far.

“Smart Money? Philanthropic and Federal Funding for the Common Core,” authored by Pennsylvania State University researchers and released in September, “examined federal and philanthropic funding for the [CCSS] reform through a conceptual lens of resource dependence theory” and concludes “by discussing benefits derived from this funding for different types of entities that grant and receive it,” the report states.

The study’s authors use an analogy to the Gold Rush to conclude, “The claim stakers are the federal government and philanthropies that have staked out the Common Core for public policy. To work that stake, they incentivize states and school districts to mine the Common Core and get higher measured achievement. To do so, the miners need equipment. The vendors who sell the equipment profit in the short term, even if their tools rarely enable the miners to get the sought-after results. In essence, those who set directions for the Common Core and those who provided resources for its implementation have benefitted, even as potential benefits to schools, educators, and students are elusive, and the entire claim may ultimately be empty.” 

Analyzing Philanthropic Influence

Ze’ev Wurman, a senior fellow with the American Principles Project and former U.S. Department of Education official, says philanthropies using the power of government to force their agendas on the public undermine the political process.

“It is definitely not wonderful when private money assumes that the ideas it reflects are necessarily correct and is being used to leverage the channeling of public funds to promote philanthropists’ bright ideas across the board,” Wurman said. “Bill Gates and others single-handedly swamped every other foundation. He used his money to leverage public policy. The goal is to channel their ideas and make the [education] system follow them.”

‘Incredibly Expensive’

Michael McShane, director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute, says CCSS’s high price tag is an expected byproduct of such sweeping regulation.  

“Seeing these price tag numbers that are starting to come in doesn’t really surprise me,” McShane said. “With these types of reforms, trying to change an entire state, or in this case an entire nation, all at once can be incredibly expensive. A lot of things having to do with education reform take refining, so I tend to think that it is a much more fruitful strategy to start small and build things up.”

Michael McGrady ([email protected]) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado. 


Mindy L. Kornhaber, et al., “Smart Money? Philanthropic and Federal Funding for the Common Core,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, September 12, 2016: