Testimony on House Bill 597 to Repeal and Replace Common Core To the Ohio House Rules and Reference Committee

Published August 19, 2014

Testimony on House Bill 597 to Repeal and Replace Common Core
To the Ohio House Rules and Reference Committee
Ohio Statehouse, Room 313

August 19, 2014
Joy Pullmann

I thank you for the invitation to speak to day, especially to Chairman Huffman, for heeding years of calls from Ohioans to repeal and replace Common Core. My name is Joy Pullmann. I am mother of three children, the recipient of a national journalism fellowship to investigate Common Core, and an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute. Heartland is a non-profit, nationwide, Chicago-based think tank that seeks to research and promote ideas that empower individuals. Because we believe in academic freedom, I do not speak for the entire institute today.

It is still true today, as a congressman remarked in 1946, that “government by committees, boards, bureaus, and commissions will, if unchecked and uncontrolled, destroy the [small-R] republican conception of government.”[1] What we see in the creation and imposition of Common Core is precisely that—that government of the people, by the people, for the people is perilously close to perishing from earth, as Abraham Lincoln feared long ago. I will sketch the despotic constellation of unaccountable boards and bureaus that imposed Common Core on the nation’s schools with almost no notice to the people who pay for all this and whose children and fellow citizens must encounter its results, then discuss how people justify this kind of central planning.

There are essentially two ways for our society to interact with government, and these two have wrestled since America began. The first is one we know well, as it has become the dominant mode of governance, and thus education: It is the idea that people cannot govern themselves. As Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt argued in the last century, our world has become more complex than in the Founders’ era.[2] A normal person can’t keep up. He needs reams of supposedly impartial advisers and boards and commissions to arrange his world and life for him. This is the world of Common Core. The second idea is one we also know well, but is fading. It is of our unique experiment in self-government where the people are the sovereigns. Government is their servant, not their master. It therefore leaves them free to conduct most of their own affairs, and when government does intervene, it does so transparently and through representatives who are delegated the public trust for a short time. Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

That second kind of government was non-existent in the creation and imposition of Common Core. Ohio was one of 41 states to promise the federal government it would adopt Common Core’s curriculum and testing mandates five months before the final product was published.[3] It is another one of those initiatives that have to pass before anyone can find out what is in them. These curriculum and testing mandates aim to change almost everything about what and how children learn in Ohio, yet they went through no transparent and explicitly legal process to become de facto law. Three people—former Gov. Strickland, former state Board of Education President Deborah Cain, and former state Superintendent Deborah Delisle—promised the federal government a slew of policy changes they had no rightful power to unilaterally enact in exchange for $400 million,[4] or less than 2 percent of one year’s state education spending. Subsequent legislation and approval from the state board of education was a rubber stamp for these promises.[5]

Common Core itself was created and thrust upon states under a similar pattern. You’ve certainly heard it came from a “state-led” effort. This is utter hogwash. When states lead things, they do so properly through their legislatures or, if it’s a national thing, through Congress. There is no other legal way to make law. Three private organizations, according to an unknown arrangement, hired five people to write Common Core[6] with an initial $10 million grant from the world’s biggest nonprofit organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.[7] Common Core supporters keep insisting that states, including Ohio, sent “feedback” off into the Common Core ether, but we have never once seen what this feedback was, who sent it, and what changed as a result. It also arrived far before the first draft of Common Core was publicly available—or, in other words, people commented on a very early draft that looked nothing like the actual, published draft. We don’t know who made what decisions, how much they were paid, and why. This is not how the American system of self-government or representative government works. It is how the Progressive administrative state works. 

Further evidence of this lies in the plain facts of deep federal involvement with the entire initiative, at its owners’ request. Back in 2008, two years before President Obama came into office and before Common Core was published, the organizations that ultimately created these curriculum mandates asked the federal government to entice states into it and fund corresponding national tests.[8] Whaddya know. That’s exactly what happened. The federal government so far has paid every cent for the Common Core tests you’re currently slated to apply next spring, known as PARCC. It also oversees these tests right down to the very questions.[9] The Obama administration is also paying people in this very state to go into your school districts and advocate for these tests.[10] Yes, that’s right: It’s using tax dollars to lobby the people who own those dollars to support specific policies, just like unions do. Just for good measure, the Gates foundation is also paying for people, especially teachers, to lobby elected representatives for PARCC,[11] and so is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.[12]

People who act like this do so because they believe the importance of their actions transcends nitpicky concerns about “due process,” “the people’s voice,” and “laws.” They think some people should have more power over government just because they have more money than everyone else. Sorry, but that’s not how America works. And, as we’ve found out from President Obama’s team, little things like the rule of law and transparency in government aren’t so little. They’re crucial to a well-functioning society, to a just society, to a fair society. People have to know and abide by the rules so they can function. It is not just unfair but an affront to the American birthright of self-government to delegate the people’s authority to others over whom they have no control.

Central planning creates social tension by demanding that everyone follow not his or her own plans, but one plan decided through the political process. This is why you see such fury on Common Core—those who like it can’t do it if you make other standards mandatory, and those who don’t like it must live with it if you continue on the present path. Central planning also makes it more likely for special interests to control what happens, because they have the money, time, and resources to constantly devote, while parents and ordinary citizens do not.

Common Core supporters say, “Ignore these petty concerns about process. What’s important is that we need a solution to this real problem!” I partly agree. But running roughshod over citizens is not how to solve their problems. And Common Core will not solve Ohio’s education problems. As you are hearing from the other folks testifying, it’s of poor, untested academic quality. Far better to use, as this bill requires, proven, well-regarded, and objectively higher academic standards from Massachusetts.

Common Core is the administrative state’s answer to the real problem the administrative state has helped create: Ohio and America suffer from unacceptable levels of academic performance. You certainly know the statistics. Three in five of Ohio eighth graders are not proficient in math or reading on the respected National Assessment of Educational Progress.[13] One in five Buckeye kids drops out of high school.[14] Ohio’s unemployment rate may be down, but it’s largely because people are dropping out of the workforce.[15] Litanies of such discouraging statistics are easily available. So I understand the urgency, and why people would be so determined on both sides of this issue. It is utterly unjust for Ohio individuals and businesses to spend $11,000 per child per year and get results like this. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman says, “the growing role that government has played in financing and administering schooling has led not only to enormous waste of taxpayers’ money but also to a far poorer educational system than would have developed had voluntary cooperation continued to play a larger role.”[16]

So it’s no wonder that people see the consequences of growing government intervention and stampede, screaming, “Do something!” But panic doesn’t exactly engender good decisions. In 2009 and 2010, during the worst of the recession, Ohio panicked. And your business, government, and community leaders seized onto Common Core as the Great White Hope for education and the economy, just like other leaders did all across our country. In response to economic and education outcomes created by central planning, they turned to more central planning, through the education theories of well-paid courtiers with a track record of failure.

It would insult religion to call Common Core a matter of blind faith. There is no solid evidence demonstrating it will improve academic achievement. None. Any business leader who treated his work as the business lobby and state bureaucrats have Common Core would quickly find his rear end handed to him, either by the market or by his boss. For one, Common Core is a completely untested product. It was forced onto almost every school not even in beta form, but as an untried prototype. Literally nobody had ever tried Common Core before everybody had to.

If that doesn’t concern anyone, the research showing Common Core cannot be effective should. Perhaps the best evidence of this is a 2012 Brookings Institution study showing curriculum and testing mandates have no effect on student performance, no matter how high or low they set the bar.[17] International evidence shows the same. On the TIMMS tests in 2007, nine of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in math, and 8 of the lowest-scoring countries in science have centralized education standards. The same is true for 8 of the 10 highest-scoring countries.[18] Research from Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek shows that states with higher standards tend to have lower student performance, when compared on the same test.[19] Evidence such as this alone should have suggested to people interested in hard evidence that Common Core could not possibly solve your education woes.

Common Core proponents have spent a king’s ransom producing reams of advocacy research to justify their push for nationalizing U.S. education. Independent reviews of this “research” have concluded they do not constitute any genuine, scientific studies and are largely advocacy papers sponsored by the Gates Foundation,[20] which has so far spent $250 million to convince policymakers to support Common Core and create supporting materials such as curriculum. The Gates Foundation is even sponsoring a group that will determine whether curriculum fits Common Core. No local or individual judgment necessary. The elites can figure this out for us.

Despite the lack of evidence demonstrating Common Core can benefit anyone but federally sponsored paper pushers and crony capitalists, business interests and others keep telling us they support Common Core because they need kids to learn something so they can get a job. And nobody disagrees with that desire. So why do some business groups trust an air castle to bring this goal to fruition? Milton Friedman may have the answer. “Businessmen are always seeking to get government to intervene on their behalf,” he said a few years before he died. “In many ways, the real function of government ought to be to keep the power of anybody from becoming excessive, including the business community…”[21]

Many businesses want to use their political power to have schools crank out workers fit for the business they have today, so they don’t have to bear the pressure of shifting their business to fit tomorrow’s economy. If they can lock in tomorrow’s labor force to their current structure, they can ensure their survival through labor force capture rather than shifting continually and rapidly to serve consumers and their employees. As University of Arkansas professor Jay Greene said, “One of the perverse things of this narrow focus on work-related skills is that it will privilege existing employers over future employers… They don’t even know what skills they’re going to need from their workers yet. So rather than saying the real point of school is to prepare kids for jobs, the real point is to prepare them to be good human beings.”[22]

History shows us that conceiving of education as job prep, as we have increasingly begun to do, means the children thrust through such a system come out unreliable workers and ill-informed citizens. Just refer to the work of the late James Q. Wilson to find that social science teaches us the same: Educating a child’s intellect and character for citizenship, as if he is a human being and not a robot, also educates him to be a productive worker.[23] The young man or woman who has studied classic literature, can evaluate a scientific study, has the self-discipline to persevere through difficult math classes early, understands the rights and duties of a U.S. citizen, and so forth, is well-prepared for college and a career—but that’s not all. And this is why public education exists at all. If businesses want technical schools and job-seekers want specialized training that largely benefits just them, they should not demand that taxpayers fund it, as this does not serve a civic purpose.

Ohio has free schools for the same reason public education exists everywhere in our country: Because our country cannot survive unless run by a free people. Common Core’s proponents are very clear about their goals for public education, and they have nothing to do with self-government. The introduction to the Common Core standards includes the goal we hear most often: “College and career readiness.”[24] This, says PARCC, is their “one fundamental goal.”[25] Now, what parent, business leader, or lawmaker does not want children to graduate from high school ready to join the workforce? That is important. But it is not the only goal of a public education, and by making it so, Common Core transforms public education’s broader civic purpose into narrow, technical skills training.

Education is not about turning out well-formed widgets to peg into workforce slots. It deals with a human being’s very mind and habits. These are precious things. By narrowing education to mere training for life’s job treadmill, and doing even that job poorly, Common Core devalues education and the children it is supposed to serve. If Common Core’s creators really respected children, teachers, and families, they would not subject us to unproven education theories embedded in an Orwellian control system in which we have no voice. If they had ever “deeply read” our founding “authentic texts” (to use Common Core language), they would have learned that Americans believe all men are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are liberty, which is secured by limited, representative government. Limited government does not sign away education without public consent. It does not bury its designs in thousands of pages of labyrinthine contracts, appendices, and regulations no working citizen can monitor. And it does not force parents to put their children in cramped education factories whose design and aims they cannot choose, or otherwise pay twice for schools.

That is why America was conceived and secured as a nation of limited and representative self-government. America’s economy and education system worked well when both largely allowed individuals and communities to follow their own plans. Before states made every child attend school, and decided what children would learn, and how, and created teacher training monopolies, and became cartels that only sent public funds to schools that followed central mandates, and set pay and pension systems from the statehouse, and so forth, the people whose interests were only for their children ran education, and America had the highest literacy rate in the world, besides the most dynamic economy.[26]

To reverse the government interventions that demand ever more intrusive government interventions, lawmakers should focus less on centrally stipulated curriculum mandates and tests, and more on recreating an education ecosystem built on choice, freedom of association, and innovation (what American ideas!). Every high-quality study available finds school choice benefits children and society.[27] But school choice doesn’t mean much if it means applying the same tests to every school, public, private, and charter. Common Core supporter and Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli has made a good suggestion in this respect. He suggested that states create two types of accountability systems: One based on the traditional standards and testing regimen, and others who under certain conditions and assurances are allowed to ditch those tests, and the curriculum control they represent, and propose their own target outcomes.[28] This would relieve schools from all having to offer the same predetermined content in the same predetermined style.

The road to better education for Ohio kids must start with returning power to the people who know and love them most, rather than accepting an education system that perverts, blocks, and distorts the love-driven efforts of these moms and dads. That starts by rejecting Common Core. It continues by replacing Common Core with the truly high-quality curriculum and tests Ohio parents are here today pleading with you to support. They don’t want no standards. They want the best standards. Because they love their kids. They won’t settle. Don’t force them to settle. And if the government is so drunk with power that forces parents to accept second-best for their kids because the teachers union or the business lobby or higher education administrators, or whomever else, wants to compromise, it’s time to take that power away from those who cannot be trusted with it and return it to the people who will never, ever, settle for second best for their kids.


# # #


For more information about The Heartland Institute’s work, please visit our Web sites at www.heartland.org or http://news.heartland.org, or call John Nothdurft at 312/377-4000 or reach him by email at [email protected].

[2] http://thefederalist.com/2014/08/13/the-libertarian-moment-cant-just-be-a-moment/

[3] See Ohio’s application for federal Race to the Top funds from January 19, 2010: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/phase1-applications/ohio.pdf.

[4] http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/phase2-awards/ohio.pdf.

[5] See this presentation to the Ohio State Board of Education in May 2010, where adopting Common Core is noted as a requirement for receiving Race to the Top federal grants: http://education.ohio.gov/getattachment/Topics/Academic-Content-Standards/New-Learning-Standards/May-2010-SBOE-Final.pdf.aspx.

[6] http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2013/06/07/five-people-wrote-state-led-common-core

[10] http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2014/01/27/feds-spend-millions-promote-common-core

[11] http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2014/01/28/foundations-spend-millions-promoting-common-core.

[16] Ibid.

[18] http://nces.ed.gov/TIMSS/

[19] “Is the Common Core Just a Distraction?” Eric Hanushek, Education Next, May 9, 2012: http://educationnext.org/is-the-common-core-just-a-distraction/.

[20]http://jaypgreene.com/2011/09/21/my-testimony-on-national-standards-before-us-house/, and “Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision Making,” Christopher Tienken, AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, Winter 2011, Vol. 7. No. 4, p. 6: http://www.aasa.org/uploadedFiles/Publications/Newsletters/JSP_Winter2011.FINAL.pdf.

[22] Jay Greene presentation to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, July 12, 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iI9vthY4oE8.

[23] See his book, Moral Sense, or a brief overview of his thought here: “Moral Sense and Social Science,” John J. DiIulio, Jr., Claremont Review of Books, Vol. XII, No. 4, fall 2012, p. 65: http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.2021/article_detail.asp.

[24] “Introduction to the Common Core State Standards,” National Governors Association and Chief Council of State School Officers, June 2, 2010: http://www.corestandards.org/assets/ccssi-introduction.pdf.

[25] DATE, p. 34.

[26] “What Is Wrong with Our Schools?” Milton Friedman, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, 1979: http://www.edchoice.org/The-Friedmans/The-Friedmans-on-School-Choice/The-Role-of-Government-in-Education-(1995).aspx.

[27] One finds no effect. See “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice,” Greg Forster, Friedman Foundation, April 17, 2013: http://www.edchoice.org/Research/Reports/A-Win-Win-Solution–The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.aspx.

[28] “Bad to Good and Good to Great,” Michael Petrilli, Education Week, May 21, 2013: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2013/05/Petrilli_bad_to_good_to_great.html