The End of the Beginning for Common Core

The folks at Pioneer have landed another blow against Common Core in the mainstream Conservative press.  This time Jim Stergios and Jamie Gass have a lengthy piece in the Weekly Standard detailing the start of troubles for Common Core, both substantively and politically.  This follows on a piece by Gass and Charles Chieppo in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week.  A central part of the strategy for Common Core was to create the impression that it was inevitable, so everybody might as well get on board.  That aura of inevitability has been shattered.

My reasons for opposing Common Core are slightly different from those articulated by the folks at Pioneer, but we agree on the political analysis of its fate.  To become something meaningful Common Core requires more centralization of power than is possible under our current political system.  Pushing it forward requires frightening reductions in parental control over education and expansions of federal power.  These are not the unnecessary by-products of a misguided Obama Administration over-reach.  Constraining parental choice and increasing federal power were entirely necessary to advance Common Core.  And they were perfectly foreseeable (we certainly foresaw these dangers here at JPGB).

There is something either disingenuous or shockingly naive about the Fordham Institute’s horror at discovering federal involvement in the push for Common Core.  And it is equally disingenuous or naive for conservative curriculum backers of Common Core to suddenly discover that the new regime may be more progressive nonsense rather than their fantasy of the triumph of E.D. Hirsch.  We warned folks that federal coercion was central to the success of Common Core.  And we warned folks that national standards would ultimately advance the preferences of entrenched education special interests rather than those of reformers.

Rather than heeding these warnings or hedging their bets, these “conservative” backers of Common Core have doubled down in their support.  Checker in his customary high-handed style has tried to dismiss critics as crazy so that their legitimate objections need not be taken seriously.  The opponents just consist of “tea party activists, a couple of influential talk-radio hosts and bloggers, some disgruntled academics, several conservative think-tanks, and a couple of mysterious but deep-pocketed funders.”

Well, there’s no mystery about the deep-pocketed funder behind Common Core as the Gates Foundation continues to hand the Fordham Institute large bags of cash.  And to help solve the mystery of who is funding the opponents, I confess that I personally paid for the web site.  But because my pockets are not quite as deep as the Gates Foundation, I just let the registration for that web site run out.

Here’s a pro-tip for Checker and Common Core’s deep-pocketed backers… As opposition to Common Core grows in state legislatures and schools around the country, don’t dismiss those critics as crazies from your perch in DC.  The federal takeover of education has not yet been completed, so local and state politicians and educators still control the fate of Common Core.  Right now it appears they have no stomach to implement Common Core in any meaningful way.  Some may pause it.  Some may repeal it.  And some may leave it on the books but promptly ignore it just like a host of previous reform fads.  You can’t win these people over and successfully implement Common Core with a strategy that funds DC think-tanks to denounce the folks in the hinterland as a bunch of hicks and boobs who believe in crazy black helicopter conspiracies.

And here’s another pro-tip… If you don’t want people to believe in crazy black helicopter conspiracies, you shouldn’t fly around in black helicopters.  Local and state politicians and educators might have reason to suspect federal power grabs as the federal government grabs power to expand Common Core.  Saying that this was unnecessary and unfortunate and that states continue to control education does not change the reality of what is happening.

Reality exists outside of DC receptions and the words we use.  And the reality is that the backlash against national standards is real and gaining momentum.  It is inevitable that the Common Core bus will drive over a political cliff, just as previous failed efforts to nationalize education standards have.  Because true conservatives believe in personal responsibility, let’s hope we all remember who was driving the bus and cheering it forward.

43 Responses to The End of the Beginning for Common Core

  1. Mike says:

    Reblogged this on This Got My Attention and commented:
    It’s usually a good thing when one-size-fits-all plans designed by a committee of know-it-alls bites the dust.

  2. […] of Arkansas professor Jay Greene offers a fantastic analysis of the sparring between Common Core opponents and backers.  Here is a […]

  3. Bob Dean says:

    Yes…. it won’t be long before the Common Core won’t actually be common at all…. those who stick with it will incur huge costs and see no improvement from their present status…. In the end it will find it’s way to the scap pile of ed fads that were supposed to change everything…. a one size fits all approach is doomed to fail from the start but with all the power and money at stake there is a never ending quest to nationalize our education system by hook or by crook. The common core has mostly follwed the latter.

  4. Matthew Ladner says:


    Here is Arizona members of the legislature are being bombed with emails opposed to CC that include claims that every charter school in the state will close in two years and that public school students will be taught Islamic law. The technical term for this is “bat-shit crazy.” Trying to blame this on CC supporters rings of “that hussy had it coming. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to proper women who wear burkas.”

    • In your analogy, Matt, who exactly is the one being raped? Yes, some people are saying bat-shit crazy things, but those claims have no effect on anyone other than perhaps making policymakers and educators less interested in Common Core. At most it would return things to status quo ante. It’s disturbing that people say wrong things, but who exactly is harmed?

      The situation is not parallel for backers of Common Core. If they succeed by saying bat-shit crazy things, they change how other people’s schools will operate. Opponents, even if they say crazy things, want no more than to be left alone.

      And yes, Common Core started this fight. No one would be saying crazy things if some PLDDers didn’t dream about controlling the education of other people’s children. There is a clear attacker and defender in this situation, even if some of the defenders are using false means to defend.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Jay’s not blaming CC supporters for the fact that some people believe CC will do bad things that it won’t in fact do; he’s blaming (some) CC supporters for the fact that some people believe CC will do bad things that it will in fact do, because the current behavior of (those particular) CC supporters is one important piece of evidence regarding what those CC supporters will do if CC ever really gets implemented.

  5. Ayn Marie says:

    Implemented CC standards will be “long” on costs, control and one-sized education, while “short” on real benefits to students, taxpayers, and teachers. Yes, please do leave us alone, all you feds and crony corporations.

  6. Matthew Ladner says:

    At a minimum the truth is being raped. But perhaps personal responsibility is good for everyone except opponents of Common Core, who have been cast into a desperate situation forcing them to make up bat-shit crazy stories? The ends justify the means, that sort of thing…

    I’m not buying it.

    You’ve raised valid concerns about CC in the past, but the ability to stay focused on those arguments seems elusive. Facts which don’t square with invalid concerns- like a “federal takeover” go ignored. Facts like: states can leave CC whenever they want without financial penalty. Also like: a couple of states that did not participate in CC have already received NCLB waivers.

    Other facts like: there is a near zero prospect for having federal education dollars tied to CC adoption in the short to medium term, and thankfully an incredibly bleak one in the long term. These guys can’t renew federal programs as it is, and a block of 7 non-participant (and likely to grow) states that includes Texas and its 36 member House delegation pretty much puts the matter to rest on an ongoing basis.

    These are not tiny unexplainable errors in the orbit of Mercury that puzzle adherents of Newtonian mechanics. Rather they are glaring and obvious problems with the entire “federal takeover” narrative. These facts don’t make a positive case for CC, but they sure make the federal takeover story look absurd.

    • Obviously, everyone is responsible for the truth of what they say. But the bat-shit crazy claims of some opponents have little impact in the world because those people have little or no power over others. It is less troubling when people are wrong about something when they don’t control the fate of others. The same cannot be said for CC supporters.

      As to the “federal takeover” argument… You are debating a straw man. I make no claim that the feds have succeeded in taking over education. In fact, I clearly say that state and local folks still control things. But there is no doubt that Common Core has moved us in the direction of greater federal power over education. For example, the feds, for the first time, commissioned the development of tests for all students to use as well as curricular materials aligned with Common Core. Even if Common Core fails, as I fully expect, the ratcheting up in federal power over education continues. We don’t have to believe that CC constitutes a federal takeover or that a takeover is imminent to fear the growing federal control over education.

      • I would just add that the fact that there is currently no political support for tying more federal dollars (and additional coercion) to CC is precisely why the effort will sputter and fail. The entire enterprise depended on stealth, deception, and coercion. The fact that it will fail is not for lack of trying to use federal coercion for these purposes.

        And when I say it will fail, it doesn’t mean that states will abandon CC in droves tomorrow. There are political costs for state education bureaucracies changing course. So they will mostly just fail to implement CC in any meaningful way and in a few years we will have largely forgotten about this whole mess.

      • Matthew Ladner says:

        C’mon Jay- now you are making a “it’s okay if THEY do X, because THEY don’t have any power” argument. You know better than that.

        On the point about sputtering and failing, if this is the case it simply strengthens the need not to make apologies for anyone engaging in dishonorable tactics like whipping up a bunch of conspiracy minded people with boogey man stories.

      • I make no apologies. Anyone who says wrong and crazy stuff is at fault. I’m just trying to put degrees of wrong in perspective

    • Bob Dean says:

      You can define federal takeover however you want but there is no doubt that the DOE is in violation of their charter with their involvement with CC proponents.

      There is no evidence that the CC standards or any set of standards will change the problems in our education system and the claims to the contrary on the CCSSI website are as close to raping the truth as you can get.

      Anyone who has ever actually used standards when teaching in the classroom (that excludes all the writers of the CC with exception of one and vast majority of those who promote them), know that the CCSS are problematic. Any set of standards that take massive professional development to understand are bankrupt from the get go….. The seeds of failure are implanted all over the CC…. we are just starting to see them burst into the light.

  7. Jenni White says:

    Excellent analysis of the situation Jay.

    Matthew, as someone who works with an organization pushing the Common Core at every possible turn (and writing education policy in as many states as have supers signed on to Chiefs for Change – gotta love ‘state led’) your arguments have always rung hollow to this member/leader of the parent-led Common Core revolt. Sure you want your salary, sure FEE wants to shake their money-maker. Calling the thoughts and concerns of parents – who have to deal with the end result of this Common Core Crap emotionally, financially and psychologically – bat-shit-crazy on ANY level – shows you to be the kind of individual you are. You’re not at all concerned about the concerns of parents, you’re concerned about your position in the world as ‘talking head’ for ‘education reform’. Until education elitists such as yourself deign to come down to the ‘little people’ level with your ‘listening ears’ we have no use for you.

    • Matthew Ladner says:

      Ms. White-

      I have publicly stated on several occasions and will do so again now that I regard CC as a dubious project due to the rather obvious danger that it will be subverted at some point in the future. To their credit my employer has proven tolerant of my differing opinion on this subject, just as Jay has been regarding his blog.

      CC opposition however is increasingly moving in the direction of a faith based enterprise that ignores clear evidence which weighs against their favorite stories used to whip up opposition. Par for the course, I note that you reached straight for an ad hominem attack rather than to make any reply of substance.

      • I have 100% confidence in Matt’s sincerity. And I appreciate having his perspective on the blog, even when I don’t agree with it.

        Unfortunately, education policy debates are like war in that they tend to bring out the worst in people. If CC foks wanted to avoid atrocities, they shouldn’t have started this war to increase centralized control over education.

      • And I should repeat that people are responsible for the atrocity of crazy and wrong arguments. Nothing excuses it.

      • Bob Dean says:

        Much of the early opposition to CC was based on the standards and the whole process that brought them into being. All of that was largely ignored. It may be true that as opposition grows some of it borders on “a faith based enterprise that ignores clear evidence…” but the supposed benefits of the CC have been based on “faith….that ignores clear evidence…” from the beginning.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Matt has proven his integrity on numerous occasions and does not require Jay and I’s testimony to defend his honor. Nonetheless, I feel I would be doing less than my duty if I didn’t add my testimony to Jay’s – Matt is nobody’s shill.

  8. Matthew is saying that the education dollars are not tied. Matthew it is more than education dollars tied here. It also ties to federal revenue sharing generally. That’s why it is being called the Regional Race to the Shop. It has to do with restructuring urban areas generally around green energy and workforce development. And it is the feds that say it is tied.

    The feds and the states have made the accreditors like AdvancED or WASC the enforcers in this vision and they do in fact have the power of compulsion on local school boards. And they are using it. They are also driving who gets the opportunities for the big school district jobs that drive policy.

    The real problem with CCSSI is it is not what we lawyers would call self-executing. It reminds me of the socialite who gets a right to alimony but did not get a right to attorneys fees if the former spouse stops paying. She has a right but no legally effective remedy for noncompliance.

    CCSSI is much the same way. There are many drivers mandating what goes on in a K-12 classroom and virtually all of them are pushing away from a focus on content. In big part because the accreditors and federal DOE are arguing that academic content is not equitable in its outcomes. So instead we are actually seeing what is called a competencies and capacities focus. As long as the feds keep misportraying the federal civil rights laws to the states and district we will keep having the implementation problem.

    And don’t get me started on using federal disabilities laws to push PBIS on all students under Response to Intervention. is an audio interview of me explaining all the aspects of the Common Core implementation that impede the content standards from getting to the classroom.

    Finally I watched a video yesterday putting CCSSI’s intention into a much broader Gates education and cultural agenda involving digital learning. Since Microsoft sponsored the convention and it was a keynote speaker we really ought to look at the broader picture here.

    The one plenty of participants say are integral components. Some of which I just laid out.

    • Matthew Ladner says:

      So are these tools being employed by the states who have opted not to participate?

      • The states not participating like Virginia and Texas nevertheless have assessments tied to the higher order thinking skills crieria laid out in Lauren Resnick’s 1987 report.

        Both Texas and Virginia were early implementers of outcomes based education. Texas back in 1984. The assessments get tied to ever decreasing content and more of what is called generative knowledge. Among other things. The key point is to have assessments tied to Norman Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.

        Just like Florida also used.

        Alaska gets it through the heavy federal presence in its school systems anyway. And Anchorage adopted as a district.

        I have copies of all of Pearson’s internal documents on what their assessments and the ones being created for SBAC and PARCC measure. The internet is a fascinating place if you understand how things fit and go looking for the treasure trove before there’s a controversy.

        I knew there was a problem back in 2009 as soon as I read the legislation and regs. My insights on the accreditors come from openly contemptuous district supers. If they did not think they were accountable to the school board, AdvancED was the kingmaker with that kind of power. So that’s where I looked.

        I have their Quality Standards that tie to the CCSSI implementation and the Quality Assurance relationship created by UNESCO.

        I don’t believe in black helicopters unless:

        a) I see them myself;

        b) I have hard copy proof; and

        c) I have doublechecked to make sure the color is not navy before I describe it as black.

        At that point if I talk about it it is not a matter of theorizing.

      • Also if you look you will see that Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe have been doing a great deal of UbD training for teachers in Texas to get ready for STAAR.

        They readily scream to the ceiling that UbD is not about teaching content.

      • Matthew Ladner says:

        So do I understand you correctly to be saying that it doesn’t ultimately matter whether states adopt CC because Pearson is already orchestrating everything anyway (? )

  9. Jay, this is very good. Do you mind if I repost this on my blog “Betrayed”?

    Laurie Rogers

  10. George Mitchell says:

    The inevitability of CC has dominated media coverage in Wisconsin. To borrow from Jay, that was shattered this week when the legislature’s budget committee voted to push what one member called the “pause” button. My main complaint with the Wis media has been the absence of objective reporting on the issue. Now I expect reporters will pick up on Checker’s spin about CC opponents dragging their knuckles on the ground.

    Keep up the good work Jay.

  11. Peter Meyer says:

    Dear Jay,

    I hate to take you on, but I must. And I apologize to those commenters above who may have made substantive contributions to the discussion, but I am only commenting on Jay’s original post; towit:

    “There is something either disingenuous or shockingly naive about the Fordham Institute’s horror at discovering federal involvement in the push for Common Core. And it is equally disingenuous or naive for conservative curriculum backers of Common Core to suddenly discover that the new regime may be more progre ssive nonsense rather than their fantasy of the triumph of E.D. Hirsch. We warned folks that federal coercion was central to the success of Common Core. And we warned folks that national standards would ultimately advance the preferences of entrenched education special interests rather than those of reformers.”

    These are all intriguing assertions, but there is little evidence to give them any credence. Federal coercion? Carrots are no coercion? Tell that to the FBI. As I said in the last go-round here, are there any penalties for not signing on the RTTP? Does anyone go to jail? Sorry, Jay, but this coercion dog just don’t hunt. And the idea of “national standards” advancing of “entrenched education special interests.” Please name them. And please make plausible argument why these “special interests” are different than the legions of other special interests — those opposing the standards!

    Perhaps at some point we could get to the question of whether these standards actually help kids. Are you saying they are bad for kids?

    • Greg Forster says:

      DC takes our money through taxes and then requires states to do its bidding to get federal funding; that’s coercion. The Supreme Court struck down part of Obamacare on these grounds. Note this as one example:

      It’s not useful to get into fights over who is or is not a “special interest” but it is worth noting that an important part of the coalition for CC is companies who hope CC will give them a protected cartel on curricular products. For example:

      Meanwhile, if anyone who opposes CC is a special interest (I’d be interested to hear who you think falls into that category) I don’t feel threatened by that because they’re using their special interest power to get CC busybodies to leave my kid’s school the hell alone. Exactly how is it nefarious for special interests to fight against expansion of central power?

  12. Matthew-adopting CCSSI matters because it becomes the reason for all the changes even though the changes are not about content. The Hewlett Foundation has said CCSSI is to get the alternative assessments that have been sought since the late 80s plus to change the nature of the classroom to put the focus on the student, not knowledge.

    Pearson doesn’t run everything but they run quite a lot all over the world. And the Foundation funds changes that then benefit the for profit arm. Similarly to the tech companies on that. Or all the companies that sponsor CCSSO and then gain from its edicts. MIchael Barber does get the busy bee award for pushing bad ed ideas all over the world.

    I have fairly comprehensive files outlining precisely why Texas and Virginia illustrate it’s not about CCSSI. I also track the comparable ed reforms in other parts of the world. Plus I have the confessions from the 90s. The form has changed but not the function.

    And I have UNESCO’s overall blueprints explaining exactly how Common Core and 21st century skills fit in.

    Plus the originations of the term common core decades ago before it ran into controversy.

    There is so much more going on here under the CCSSI cover.

    On the Metropolitanism aspect I brought up that involves federal revenue sharing generally, that pertains to the Global Cities Initiative summits you had in Dallas and Houston about 2 weeks ago.

    Lots of moving interrelated parts. Seems to be why engrenage pictures of interlocking multisized gears keep coming up in visuals for what is going on.

  13. George Mitchell says:

    Here’s info on the Wisconsin situation.

  14. Sandra Stotsky says:

    I’m quite willing to say, over and over again, that Common Core’s ELA standards are very bad for kids. My best example to date is in the following link. Ridiculous standards and a bizarre educational philosophy lead to ridiculous assignments. I’m collecting more.

    • Peter Meyer says:

      Sandra, I appreciate the fact that you can make anything bad if you try hard enough; or not try at all. At the launch event for our CUNY Institute for Education Policy last week (video is here: David Coleman was asked (somewhere around 1:35:25 into it) if he could defend the Common Core when a 8th-grade teacher gave her class an assignment to read microwave directions, claiming it was because of Common Core. If you are going to criticize the Common Core, criticize the Common Core. But the example you site in your Ed Week letter is of an “assessment prompt” developed by an unnamed “common core `consultant,'” an example much like the microwave instruction example. It’s not in the CCSS. These are implementation concerns. And much like the curriculum which the CCSS says “must be” worked out by states and districts, they offer their own challenges….

      • Greg Forster says:

        But imposing CC does have the effect of creating an all-purpose BS excuse for nonsense. It’s just like cops and TSA wannabe-cops who falsely claim the right to do all kinds of things because “it’s in the Patriot Act.”

  15. […] critics as crazies from your perch in DC.” – Jay Greene, University of Arkansas, “The End of the Beginning for Common Core” (May 30, […]

  16. […] the initiative damages school choice by standardizing curriculum and tests. As Dr. Jay Greene wrote this spring, “To become something meaningful Common Core requires more centralization of power than is […]

  17. Peter Meyer says:

    What is wrong with “standarizing curriculum”? The texts of a good education are — well, they’re the texts of a good education. We all know what those texts are (even if we can’t admit it). E.D. Hirsch wrote a brilliant book (Cultural Literacy) that showed what successful people knew (and what they read). Why do we deny giving that list to our public schools? This is not like making everyone buy a Ford. We’re already buying everyone a Yugo; why not buy them a Mercedes? In education it doesn’t cost any more! It’s okay to let adults chose to fail — why do we do this to our kids?

  18. […] about a point-to-point rebuttal of an anti-Common Core op-ed. And from a different perspective, The End of the Beginning for the Common Core […]

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