1. What is the Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards (“Common Core”) are two sets of K–12 academic standards that outline what students are expected to learn in English language arts and mathematics each year from kindergarten through high school. The goal of this academic checklist is not the acquisition of child-oriented skills such as literacy, proficiency, or increased graduation rates, nor does it embrace the pursuit of truth, knowledge, and wisdom. Rather the Common Core seeks to achieve the utilitarian purpose of making students “college- and career- ready.”1 “College and career readiness” has never been defined by the authors of the standards, notes Dr. Sandra Stotsky, a member of the Common Core Validation Committee who refused to sign off on the standards.2 The motivating force behind the Common Core is not the standards themselves, but the belief that a nationalized, uniform system is the best method of education. The Common Core was written by the National Governors Association (NGA)—an organization of governors, their head staff members, and policy makers—and the Council of Chief State School Officials (CCSSO).

Within two months of their release on June 2, 2010, the Common Core State Standards had been adopted by 28 states that promised to implement the standards by fall 2013 and replace their current state assessments with tests aligned to the Common Core by the 2014–15 school year.3 The states also agreed to begin collecting student data from preschool through workforce, an element NGA considered essential.4 By the end of 2010, a total of 41 states and the District of Columbia had agreed to implement the Common Core. Five more states, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity adopted the Common Core in 2011.5

Proponents praised this rapid adoption, asserting that Common Core will bolster state standards that plummeted as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). However, some education experts were shocked. “Deciding so quickly, to me, is irresponsible,” Rutgers professor Joseph Rosenstein commented. “It was like it was a done deal, a foregone conclusion.”6

There is no academic evidence that would suggest the superiority of the Common Core to current state standards; thus, academic research did not drive its adoption. Moreover, independent evaluations of the standards have strongly questioned the academic stature of the package of goals.7 Rather, enticed by the millions of federal dollars promised to states that would quickly adopt all of its provisions, cash-strapped states rashly committed to the Common Core. Though the federal government is prohibited by law from mandating the content of curriculum or assessments, the Department of Education successfully used dollars taken from American taxpayers to drive the implementation of common standards and assessments across the United States.8

The Common Core should be understood as the culmination of a movement that has simmered in America for the past decade to adopt consistent national academic standards and assessments and build bigger student databases. Two trails can be traced to the origin of the Common Core: the trail left by private organizations and the trail left by the federal government.

Long known for an aggressive education reform agenda focused on collection of detailed student data, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation poured millions of dollars into the creation of the Common Core, beginning in 2007 when the foundation gave $27 million to NGA, CCSSO, and Achieve to help develop and advance common state standards and student data systems.9 (Achieve is an organization founded in 1996 by a group of governors and corporate leaders to work for standards-based education reform across the states.) The result of this funding was a study called Benchmarking for Success. The Gates Foundation continued its involvement in education policy by giving over $12 million to CCSSO in 2009 and $2.1 million to NGA from 2009 to 2011.10 NGA and CCSSO partnered in June 2009 to begin writing the Common Core, and Achieve evaluated and promoted the standards.11

These organizations also spurred the involvement of the federal government in pushing Common Core. In December 2008, as Barack Obama was preparing to take office as president, he received a copy of Benchmarking for Success, which emphasizes the federal government’s role in helping promote “a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grade K–12” and in streamlining state assessments.12 In March 2009, President Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, expressed the administration’s commitment to helping “states develop and implement rigorous, college-ready academic achievement standards along with improved assessments.”13 And the Obama administration would make good on this promise by funding and overseeing the development of the assessment tests that states have promised to implement by 2014–15.

Today, 37 states are committed to the Common Core: two sets of mediocre academic standards intended to stretch across the nation; two standardized assessments funded and reviewed by the federal government; and detailed data systems that will trace students from preschool to the workforce.

Document updated July 21, 2014

1 “Mission Statement,” Common Core Standards State Initiative, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.corestandards.org/ .

2 Sandra Stotsky, “Testimony for a Hearing on House Bill No. 2923” (Texas Legislature), accessed June 8, 2013,   http://coehp.uark.edu/colleague/9863.php .

3 See “In the States,” Common Core Standards State Initiative, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states .

4 Tabitha Grossman, Ryan Reyna, and Stephanie Shipton,   Realizing the Potential: How Governors Can Lead Effective Implementation of the Common Core State Standards   (National Governors Association, 2011), 10, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/1110CCSSIIMPLEMENTATIONGUIDE.PDF .

5 Ibid., 3.

6 Catherine Gewertz, “State Adoptions of Common Standards Steam Ahead,”   Education Week   (July 14, 2010).

7 Robert S. Eitel and Kent D. Talbert, “The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers,”   A Pioneer Institute White Paper   no. 81 (February 2012): 7.

8 Ibid., 1.

9 Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins, “Controlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core Is Bad for America,”   A Pioneer Institute White Paper   no. 87 (May 2012): 4.

10 See Council of Chief State School Officers,   Financial Statements: Years Ended June 30, 2010 and 2009   (McLean: Goodman and Company, 2010), 11, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2010/financials/CCSSO_financial_statements_FY2010.pdf ; “Awarded Grants,” Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database#q/k=national%20governors%20association .

11 “Achieve,” Achieve, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.achieve.org/files/About%20AchieveADP-Apr2012.pdf . The College Board and ACT were also key advisors in the development of the Common Core; see “Frequently Asked Questions,” Common Core Standards State Initiative, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.corestandards.org/resources/frequently-asked-questions and ACT, The Alignment of Common Core and ACT’s College and Career Readiness System (ACT, June 2010).

12 Craig D. Jerald, Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education (NGA, CCSSO, and Achieve, 2008), 24, 31, accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.achieve.org/files/BenchmarkingforSuccess.pdf .

13 Arne Duncan, “Secretary Arne Duncan Testifies before the House Budget Committee on the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Request,” accessed June 8, 2013, http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/secretary-arne-duncan-testifies-house-budget-committee-fiscal-year-2010-budget-request .