Mississippi Officials, Grassroots Fight Common Core

Published December 31, 2014

Both Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have recently stated their disapproval of the Common Core K-12 math and language standards. Some Common Core supporters have questioned the sincerity of their change of heart, but many Mississippians are happy about the push to repeal the standards.

“I’m encouraged by the actions and the words of the governor and lieutenant governor,” state Senator Angela Hill (R-District 40, Marion, Pearl River, Walthall) told School Reform News. “I’m ready to work with the lieutenant governor to establish higher standards than Common Core and higher standards than Mississippi has ever had.”  

Hill, who has held many meetings across the state to discuss removing Common Core, said she is in the process of examining Massachusetts and California math standards and Massachusetts and Texas language standards in search of a good replacement.

“Hopefully, we can take these exemplary standards that are already tried and proven and make the best standards Mississippi has ever had,” said Hill. ‘

Heritage Foundation Fellow Lindsey Burke says she was not surprised by Bryant and Reeves coming out against Common Core.

“As schools are implementing Common Core, teachers and parents increasingly dislike what they’re seeing,” said Burke. “Teacher support for Common Core has declined from 76 percent to just 46 percent in just the past year, and many parents feel that they’ve lost their voice in helping shape the content taught in their children’s schools.”

‘Sold Snake Oil’

“Common Core is being sold as the salvation of education,” said Hill. “Common Core standards in no way can save public education or any education system anywhere. This whole argument is sold as if education happens in a vacuum.” 

Hill said Common Core proponents are misleading the public in order to achieve goals that have nothing to do with academic achievement.

“They use the standards argument as a smokescreen to get the data collection, the federal testing, to force a larger educational package,” said Hill, adding the academic quality of Common Core is not high enough. “The standards are not very good, but there are bigger problems than the standards themselves. It’s much more than a set of standards. Basically, we’ve been sold snake oil.”

‘Gutting FERPA’ and Bribing States

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law enacted in 1974, which aims to protect the privacy of student education records. According to the U.S. Department of Education, FERPA grants parents certain right regarding data privacy and use of their children’s educations records. These rights can be transferred to the student at the age of 18 and the law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable Department of Education program. Under FERPA schools must, in most cases, have written permission from the parent or eligible student to release any information from a student’s education record.

Hill said that one of the less obvious motives of Common Core proponents is an attempt “at gutting the FERPA policy.” Hill believes that weakening student privacy laws and increasing data collection is a motivating factor for the federal government.

Hill said that state legislators were essentially bribed to adopt Common Core standards in hopes of winning Race to the Top federal funding and in hopes of retaining No Child Left Behind Waivers. The very beginning of the standards is suspicious, according to Hill.

“The U.S. Department of Education clearly wanted to avoid the checks and balances, transparency, validity, and most of all controversy of putting a plan such as the Common Core on display in front of a public body accountable to their voters. What a deal breaker that would have been,” said Hill. “So they chose the path of least resistance… State Boards of Education whom they knew couldn’t resist a chance at the money even if it meant signing away the constitutional duties of a sovereign state. The actions of the USDOE and the State Boards of Education’s actions concerning Common Core/ RTT/NCLB Waivers are both illegal and unconstitutional.”

Hope for the Future

Burke said there is hope for repeal in Mississippi.

“Four states have now demonstrated that it is possible to withdraw from Common Core: Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina,” said Burke. “So the water is warm. There are great examples of quality content in states like Massachusetts, California, and Indiana. States should take this opportunity to reclaim control of education content, and at the same time, work to improve their prior state standards.”   

Hill said that the loss of state and local control through the adoption of Common Core needs to stop.

“The states and localities must act in these educational matters as the US Constitution indicates these decisions belong closer to home than Washington, DC,” she said. “The concentration of assumed power in the federal role is indeed dangerous.

“It is indeed encouraging that the grass roots fight against Common Core continues to gain traction in state legislatures even without big money backing while the Gates Foundation, the US Chamber of Commerce, and big industry distribute millions to try to right a sinking ship. We the People have become a significant adversary.  It is a sign of hope.”

Hill said the grassroots efforts of parents and a few senators have been very successful in Mississippi, and that Democrats and Republicans alike have been working hard to remove Common Core from the state. The media portrayal of Common Core opposition as only a sentiment of the Tea Party is untrue, Hill said.

Even though Hill and other Common Core opponents have been working without any funding and strictly through word of mouth, Hill says she is confident the standards will be repealed.

“We’re going to do this in Mississippi,” said Hill. “We are determined.”

Heather Kays ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.

Image by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.