Research & Commentary: National ‘Common Core’ Curriculum Standards

Published June 23, 2011

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, supported and created by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, sets grade-by-grade content requirements for K–12 in English language arts and math. The consortium is also developing science and history/social studies standards.

The Obama administration made adoption of the Common Core a criterion for winning part of $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top grants in 2010, and states receiving Title I appropriations in the future may be required to adopt the standards. The administration and Common Core supporters say the standards will harmonize wide-ranging tests, curriculum, and teaching approaches and set a high bar for student achievement.

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards in 2009 and 2010 in hopes of winning Race to the Top money. In 2011, the Minnesota and South Carolina legislatures, which had previously adopted some of the Common Core, decided the standards represented too much federal control over education and began dismantling them.

In May 2011, more than 150 policymakers, researchers, educators, and citizens signed and released an “anti-manifesto” against adoption of Common Core, saying it will lead to a national curriculum and warning the Department of Education is already developing such a curriculum against explicit prohibitions in the department’s authorizing legislation and all federal law thereafter. Common Core critics also say national curriculum, criteria, and tests will squelch innovation and limit options for the nation’s widely different families and students.

The following documents offer additional information on Common Core national standards.

Closing the Door on Innovation

More than 150 education leaders signed this “anti-manifesto” against the federal government’s Common Core initiative and the Albert Shanker Institute’s manifesto, “A Call for Common Content.” They decry the trend towards centralizing and federalizing education and remind the U.S. Department of Education that federal law prohibits it from creating or supervising curriculum in any way. A one-size-fits-all curriculum, they argue, will quash educational freedom, creativity, and innovation and undermine education in America.


Common Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum


This report from the journal of the American Educational Research Association says the Common Core standards represent a significant departure from states’ previous individual standards and international standards held by other countries. The alignment between states’ standards and the Common Core is generally a statistically low 0.2. The alignment is even lower when comparing states whose students do best on national standardized tests. In addition, the Common Core represents an “opportunity to create a national curriculum” because so many states have adopted them and the federal government has strongly and financially supported the standards and curriculum and test development based on them.


The Core Between the States


At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Wood examines the Common Core standards in detail: their antecedents, advocates, detractors, and the controversy over their adoption. He lists the players involved and discusses their influence, calling the standards a “sweeping” change to American schools.


Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates


This New York Times article goes behind the scenes to track millions of dollars in Gates Foundation money spent to generate support for Common Core standards and develop the standards and curriculum attached to them. This included millions spent to get presidential candidates to focus on specific education issues in 2008, funding the groups creating and advocating the Common Core, and influencing requirements for Race to the Top.


U.S. Dept. of Ed. Is Breaking the Law


Manhattan Institute fellow Jay Greene demonstrates that the Department of Education’s funding of curriculum development and use of federal money to incentivize states to do its bidding violates the 1979 law authorizing the department. That law specifically prohibits the department from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum … or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials.”


‘Incentives’ Should Not Be Used to Advance National Curriculum


When the federal government ties millions of dollars in school funding to adopting specific standards and curriculum, argues Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project, it essentially mandates them. Parents have no recourse to change the mandates when unelected officials at the Department of Education create them, she notes.


Testimony to the Massachusetts Joint Education Committee


The Pioneer Institute’s Jamie Gass reports that Massachusetts’ standards and related reforms propelled the state to the top of the nation in student achievement. With the state having discarded its standards in favor of the weaker Common Core, he says, it has retreated from self-government and become subject to special-interest groups while lowering its standards to those of low-performing states like Mississippi and Alabama.

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If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Research Fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].