Taking the Case Against Common Core to the People

Published February 26, 2016

Parents and classroom teachers have rarely, if ever, had a say in the imposition of centrally devised K–12 standards, and the standards now sweeping the country, deceptively dubbed the Common Core State Standards by its backroom architects, are especially harmful for our children.

Some states are now finally listening to parental objections, but many are ultimately continuing the great deception by merely tweaking the nationalized standards and providing revised standards with a localized name, rather than offering real reforms. The time may have come for the people to bring Common Core to a public vote.

Citizens may initiate ballot questions in 24 states, and if just a few of those efforts produce dump-the-Core results, pressure would mount for the formulation of legislator-sponsored ballot initiatives, which are possible in all 50 states.

Massachusetts, which had the most rigorous academic standards in the land before adopting the phony “rigor” of Common Core, may become the first major proving ground for these ballot initiatives.

Grassroots Effort

Common Core Forum (CCF), a grassroots citizens’ group in Massachusetts, has done the hard work of collecting more than 76,000 verified signatures in order to put a referendum on the November 8 ballot. A majority vote in favor of the proposition would rescind the state education board’s July 2010 decision to adopt Common Core and restore the highly rated pre-2010 English and math curricular frameworks.

Among other provisions, the initiative would require the state education commissioner “to publicly release all test items, including questions, constructed responses, and essays, for each grade and for every subject.” Clearly, the secrecy of the experimental Common Core testing has bothered many parents.


Ballot Access

It’s not surprising the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) is leading efforts to keep this issue off the November ballot, considering the affection many big businesses have for nationalized standards geared wholly to improve workforce preparation. MBAE is advising plaintiffs who are seeking a court order that would invalidate Attorney General Maura Healey’s certification of the ballot question and forbid Secretary of State William Galvin from placing the question before voters.

CCF founder Donna Colorio, a former school committee member and mother of three, alleges the same special interests that concocted Common Core behind closed doors are bankrolling this “frivolous lawsuit.” In an e-mail, Colorio wrote, “The business interests are not concerned with the overwhelming will of the people. They are concerned with big corporations [that] stand to make billions of dollars off our kids.”

Some business leaders, including members of the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, have touted Common Core as a uniform program that educators and parents must accept because it somehow serves business interests.

Fortune, in its New Year’s Day issue, quoted Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson asserting schools must view big business as their “customer.” The schools, Tillerson said, are “producing a product at the end of that high school graduation. … Now is that product in a form that we, the customer, can use it? Or is it defective, and we’re not interested?”

That doesn’t leave any room for the ideal kids should receive a well-rounded education so they can think for themselves and be discerning citizens. Nor does it pay any heed to whether parents want their children to be “products” or something with intellect, dreams, and a soul: human.

People Power

The hard-nosed, big-business attitude does suggest a lot of money could be rolling in to fight many citizens’ bid to terminate Common Core. However, the colorful populist history of the initiative and referendum process in Massachusetts suggests victory might not always go to those with the deepest pockets.

According to the California-based Initiative and Referendum Institute (IRI), initiatives in 1948 to legalize contraceptives and clamp down on organized labor provoked a heavy Democratic turnout that not only defeated the initiatives but kicked many Republicans out of office.

IRI says the state’s “most famous” initiative was “Proposition 2½,” which was passed in 1980. It was part of a tax revolt that limited property taxes and repealed school boards’ fiscal autonomy. The most popular initiative, which received support from 73 percent of voters in 1986, mandated the cleanup of toxic waste dumps.

It’s unlikely a Common Core referendum will receive much media attention in the midst of a heated presidential race, but a victory for everyday citizens over the Common Core’s corporatist proponents could become a landmark event in restoring local control of education in America.

Robert Holland ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.