Common Core’s Big Mistake: Messing with Moms

Published June 11, 2013

Fighting national education standards has given the Tea Party a new battlefront, as the Washington Post and others have noted. But the Post‘s recent front-page story ignored what several of the people they interviewed stated unequivocally: The currents swelling the Common Core tsunami are mothers.

Particularly concerned about Common Core are the middle-income, female, suburban swing voters politicians want on their side. The more they learn about Common Core, the less they like it and the more vocal they get with their neighbors and school boards.

“We’re approaching a tipping point where if you’re a conservative and not against the Common Core that’s a dangerous place to be politically—and midterms are coming in 2014,” writes education consultant and Time columnist Andrew Rotherham. “Meanwhile, you can see the clear outlines of the same problem on the educational left.”

On the left, right, and in between, national standards proponents are running into the same attitude that has thwarted other statist designs: NIMBY.

Take Alisa Ellis. The mother of seven says she was not politically active until friends started chatting with her about what was changing in their kids’ schools. Then she started reading contracts between state and federal governments about interlocking student databases and about new legally suspect national tests that will replace state tests. She got mad, and she got moving.

So did Jenni White. The mother of five now runs Restore Oklahoma Public Education, a grassroots organization that sends representatives to every public meeting the state department of education holds, just to monitor what’s happening. That’s how they discovered the state tracks homeschool students in its database and pieced together Common Core’s networks of corporate collusion—education is big business, especially after you create a national market. Her research papers match those put out by national nonprofit organizations, and she does them between shuffling kids to activities and keeping her network informed of quickly shifting state law- and rule-making.

These are only two faces among thousands of mad moms—and dads—across the country. Common Core opposition has been undergirded by Tea Party political networks and conservative think tank research, but clued-in parents are leading the charge.

This is the inverse of what Common Core proponents hoped would happen. They thought setting national goals for K-12 education in math and English and failing far more students on accompanying national tests would provoke long-slumbering suburban parents to action. Common Core will “finally shine a harsh light on the quality of suburban schools, shocking those families and voters into action,” proponents have been telling the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess. This manufactured crisis will herd parents into demanding unspecified school reforms, Common Core proponents say. It will also herd schools into remedial offerings, prepackaged lesson plans, and extra testing cycles, consultants are telling venture capitalists. Oh, joy.

U.S. education certainly needs improvement, even in the suburbs. Parents have ignored for too long the mediocrity of our top public schools when compared with their international peers.

It’s not just stupid politics to tick off suburban moms. It is unjust and elitist to manufacture crises to herd families and voters into prepackaged options. It is especially appalling to do this to serve the political and business preferences of select cronies at the expense of everybody else’s rights and freedoms.

Common Core reflects a profound distrust in the ability of parents and communities to solve their problems, and a blind trust in forced, centralized solutions. The parents have noticed.

Joy Pullmann ([email protected]) is an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute and a 2013 Robert Novak journalism fellow.