A study recently published by the Pioneer Institute says Common Core standards and associated tests are directing the country toward a nationally driven curriculum, in violation of federal law, and it says the Obama administration used stimulus money to coerce states into adopting the program.
Federal Overreach and Common Core, written by Bill Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, provides a social, historical, and legal look at the effect of the new standards on the nation’s educational landscape. Evers proposes a return to state-based testing and standards to create a legal and more academically promising educational environment.
“I thought a thorough paper would be helpful going forward and with this current debate,” Evers said. “States are still changing their testing, and state legislatures are still considering the Common Core itself.”
‘Money Was a Key Component’
Federal stimulus money allocated to states’ education departments in response to the recession in 2008 was the “pot of gold” used to convince states to adhere to Common Core, says Evers. He says the Obama administration deliberately chose a time when the states were very vulnerable.
“These budgets at the state level were under a lot of pressure, and this money was very, very attractive,” Evers said. “These states could have adhered to Common Core without applying to get the money or adhered to the testing without accepting the money, but they did not. They wanted the money. It certainly looks like the money was a key component here.
“Some of the proponents of Common Core have been rather fast and loose in saying content standards and testing have nothing to do with curriculum. That it’s a totally separate thing,” Evers said. “It seems to me they are really misleading the public. Not only the standards, … the message of teaching, the lesson plans, the instructional materials, they are all aligned these days. The federal government even requires this to be the case. It’s not really healthy for the country.
“For defenders of Common Core and the federally funded testing to say, ‘We have nothing to do with what goes on in the classroom,’ it’s ridiculous,” Evers said. “They’re either kidding themselves and deluded or they’re being deceptive.”
Toward a National Curriculum
Historically, American lawmakers have taken steps to prohibit federal control of national standards and curriculum. Among the most prominent instances are the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the General Education Provisions Act of 1970, and the Department of Education Organization Act in 1979, which established the U.S. Department of Education. Evers says in his study all these laws prohibit the federal government from interfering in curriculum decisions.
“The history is really important because it tells us what people have been worried about for decades: Federal intrusion, and a federal takeover and absorption of a lot of the details about what our teachers and students are doing,” Evers said. “I think it’s instructive to people to see what the concerns have been, going back to the time of President Eisenhower and forward to the present, and that this is not a new impulse.”
Kent Talbert, a former U.S. Department of Education (DOE) lawyer under President George W. Bush, says the combination of standards and assessments makes Common Core a move toward a de facto national curriculum.
“With Common Core standards and the two consortia that were set up to put together the assessments, if you follow that logical path, the net of that result is a national curriculum, which is prohibited,” said Talbert. “If this is the path that is followed, it will result effectively in a national curriculum.”
Helping Legislators Oppose Overreach
The paper is particularly informative for legislative bodies and attorneys in states such as Montana who may be looking to file a lawsuit, says Montana state Rep. Debra Lamm (R-Livingston).
Lamm sponsored a bill to repeal Common Core in Montana, but Lamm says it was not given a fair opportunity to succeed by the state’s legislature.
“I thought the report was brilliant,” Lamm said. “It laid out all the essential elements that states need to review and be aware of.
“It is a pivotal work for us as legislative bodies,” Lamm said. “We will continue to move forward with our effort in the state to oppose this type of overreach.”
Lamm says Montana would benefit from a return to state-developed standards and assessments.
“At some national conferences[, regarding Common Core], the discussion has been mostly around the testing and the need for testing and whether it’s even valid,” Lamm said. “That’s probably where we’d have the most common agreement between parties. It might be the easiest way to start whittling away at this.”
The study expands on earlier work, says Jamie Gass, director of the Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform.
“In 2012, the Pioneer Institute came up with the idea of looking at the legal issues around Common Core, [the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers], Race to the Top, and No Child Left Behind waivers,” Gass told School Reform News.
For the 2012 study, the Pioneer Institute enlisted Talbert, Evers, and Bob Eitel, also a DOE lawyer under Bush. Gass says that paper laid the groundwork for Evers’ recent report, a longer, 60-page history of the federal role in K–12 education.
Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.
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Williamson Evers, “Federal Overreach and Common Core,” Pioneer Institute, July 2015: https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/federal-overreach-and-common-core