The Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s Poor Record on Education

Published April 18, 2013

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce promotes itself as a steward for the people and businesses of Indiana. No doubt it has done a lot of good for the state. But its support of the Common Core, a new national set of K-12 academic standards and tests in math and English, isn’t doing Indiana any favors.

The Chamber has a poor track record on education issues. From A Nation at Risk in 1986, through Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind (NCLB), to today’s Common Core, it has consistently advocated for programs that increase federal control of education. Each time, it claimed these programs would create “higher standards” and better student assessments, which would increase graduation rates and improve “college and career readiness.” Unfortunately, its voyages in education always end with student achievement further behind, with the bar being lowered, decreasing graduation rates, and students less prepared for college and careers. 

Indiana legislators are debating a bill to revise the Common Core Standards and the new federally funded, mandatory student test called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). If this bill does not pass, the Common Core will require Indiana to continue down the same road as before, but this time we will have national standards and testing without local control or ownership of the process. The Common Core/PARCC scheme will increase testing, data collection, and spending, and all of this will be controlled by groups outside the state of Indiana.

Same Game, Different Name
Currently, the Chamber is following its normal pattern of support for expensive, national standards-based reform by lobbying against bills to reconsider Indiana’s Common Core participation. In a recent letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star, Margaret Spellings, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and architect of NCLB, implored Hoosiers to continue with Common Core. The Indiana Chamber argued likewise in a similar letter. It’s all sounding very familiar.

This lobbying effort is reminiscent of the Chamber’s previous stubborn support for NCLB in the face of its failure. In 2007, after several years of NCLB leading to disaster, the Chamber still claimed, “The No Child Left Behind Act is working. This legislation is strengthening America’s public schools by calling for higher standards and accountability to ensure that every single child receives a good education.” While educators advocated junking NCLB, the Indiana Chamber’s then-Director of Education Policy David Holt argued, “There is such fear out there right now (regarding NCLB). Let’s not jump overboard before the ship hits the iceberg.” He was wrong, and NCLB sank, taking student achievement down with it.

Time to Jump Ship
If someone always recommends bad books, I quit taking their advice. Shouldn’t Hoosiers be wary of taking advice on the Common Core from an organization with a track record of education policy failures? This advice becomes even more suspect in light of the Chamber’s grudging admissions about the problems with Common Core. Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar publicly admitted there was a “tradeoff in adopting our standards, which were a bit more rigorous,” but “we are hoping the Common Core would evolve and become better over time.” How long does he want us to wait for this miracle? The uncontested facts are that Indiana’s prior standards were superior to the Common Core, the Common Core is not internationally benchmarked, and it was not field tested. As a matter of quality, it is fatally flawed.

This all leads one to wonder why the Chamber is pushing the Common Core? Is it a heartfelt, but misguided, concern for Indiana students? Or is it the $4.5 million that the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (an initiative of the U.S. Chamber) has received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Common Core’s chief private funder?

Indiana legislators should not let the Chamber of Commerce be the captain of yet another doomed voyage in education on the USS Common Core. Indiana should put on its life vest and jump ship. 

Erin Tuttle ([email protected]) is co-founder of Hoosiers Against Common Core. 

Image by Josh Hawley.