The Common Core has been a subject of national controversy ever since it was introduced in 2009. But how are these standards actually performing—and where are they going? To hear the answer, join HSLDA’s own Will Estrada on this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat.
Mike Farris: My guest this week is Will Estrada. He’s the Director of Federal Relations for HSLDA. Will, it’s great to have you back on the program.
Will Estrada: Mike, thank you for having me.
What is the Common Core? [0:27]
Mike: Will, we’ve seen the federal government overreach into education for a long time. One of the more recent efforts has been the Common Core curriculum. Can you describe briefly what the Common Core is?
Will: Mike, in the early 2000s, several organizations—the National Governor’s Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and a few others—began quietly to draft math and English language arts standards. Their goal was [that] it would be something that all 50 states would adopt, and that we would have a national set of education standards. They came out in 2009 with this draft.
But Mike, there’s more than that. There are two related pillars to the Common Core, both of which are promoted by many of the same advocates for big government and centralized education planning. One of these related pillars is nationally standardized assessments. There are two assessment consortias, PARCC and SBAC. And then the other pillar is centralized data collection—collecting all the information on kids in public schools. Some of them are over 100 points of data on every single child.
Mike: So why do they do this? What’s the prevailing philosophy behind the Common Core?
Will: Mike, at its heart, it’s a philosophy of centralized control over education. It’s about moving education decisions away from parents, teachers, and local school boards, and moving these decisions into the hands of Washington D.C., educational experts, and “elites” who think they know best for children. Mike, in our nation’s history, education has always been a local affair—all the way back to the Massachusetts Bay colony’s Old Deluder Satan Act in 1647, when each township set up their own school. [Up] to the 1900s, educational decisions were always decided by the folks who saw the kids: parents, teachers, and local school boards. But then in the 1900s we began to switch to more centralized control over education. And today, in the 2000s, Common Core represents the culmination of Washington, D.C., big businesses, and educational elites dictating education decisions to everyone else.
No match for the moms [2:29]
Mike: In 2013, you and I talked about Common Core on this program. Back then, it was still unclear which states would adopt the standards. How has that played out in the last three years?
Will: Well Mike, by the end of 2011, 45 states were part of the Common Core. Only Texas, Virginia, Nebraska, Alaska, and Minnesota held out—and even some of those states adopted some of the Common Core. But then in 2014, Indiana became the first state to officially withdraw from the Common Core, followed in short order by Oklahoma, South Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, and North Carolina. Then last year, Arizona dropped out. In 2016, West Virginia tried to drop out but the governor vetoed that legislation. Tennessee just passed legislation announcing plans to withdraw from the Common Core in 2017. And actually, Massachusetts has a ballot initiative this year to withdraw from the Common Core.
Mike: Where does that leave us in vote count?
Will: Well, there are still around 40 states in the Common Core, Mike, unfortunately. And it should be noted that some of these states that have said that they’ve withdrawn have more accurately just redone the Common Core.
But the fact remains that states are holding legislative hearings. Parents are speaking up. In 2014, POLITICO ran a story entitled “The Millions Have Proved No Match for the Moms.” And parents are fighting back to regain control over what their children are being taught, and what their children are learning.
Mike: Will, it is great to see so many parents and activists in so many states stand up against these flawed standards.
Who loves the Common Core? [3:56]
Mike: Will, in the states where Common Core is actively being implemented, what are parents and teachers in those states saying about their experience with those standards?
Will: Mike, parents and teachers hate the Common Core. In 2014, Home School Legal Defense [Association] released a documentary entitled “Building the Machine.” We interviewed experts, teachers, students, parents. I’ve always been most struck by watching the parent interviews. There are some horrible stories: kids who feel stupid because they can’t understand the new Common Core approach to math, parents and teachers who are frustrated because they can’t help with homework or understand how to teach the new Common Core. Other parents and teachers are upset about the loss of great works of English literature, which has been replaced by dry, boring “technical reading examples,” in the words of the Common Core.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a teacher or parent who loves the Common Core. But I’ll tell you one group of people who do love the Common Core: big textbook publishers. An undercover video recording recently caught some executives laughing at parents and teachers and talking about how much money they’ve made.
Mike: Will, this is the common promise and failure of centralized bureaucrats. The Soviet Union promised great consumer goods—they’d have great refrigerators, they’d have the best products—if we centralized everything. And the educational centralization is no different. It’s failing to deliver the promise, and the centralized philosophy simply doesn’t work, whether we’re talking about education or anything else. I’m not surprised the Common Core has turned out badly.
The national Common Core debate [5:27]
Mike: Common Core is still very controversial, and in the national political election season, we are seeing many, many debates about the Common Core and among presidential candidates and otherwise. Will, what have the current presidential candidates said or done in their viewpoint of opposing or supporting the Common Core?
Will: Mike, on the Republican side: Donald Trump didn’t have much of a record on this subject until last year, when he announced that he was running for president, but since then he’s talked at length about how he opposes the Common Core.
On the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders strongly support the Common Core. Bernie Sanders voted for the stimulus in 2009 which gave us Race to the Top, Hillary Clinton was a supporter of Goals 2000—an outcome-based education in the 90s which was the precursor to the Common Core—and both of them are still for it.
Mike: Trump was asked the three top priorities for the federal government and he said that federal education programs were one of the top three priorities. And then he was asked how does this stand with his opposition to federal standards. What do you make of that confusion?
Will: It’s hard to know, Mike. I wonder that myself.
Mike: Will, this is a very important and difficult subject, and I’m appreciative of your analysis. And we’ll just have to wait and see whether we have a friend of the Common Core or an opponent of the Common Core in the White House next time.
Common Core: Where’s it going? [6:42]
Mike: Where do you see the Common Core going next? What does the future look like in this area of education?
Will: Mike, the Common Core was only the latest attempt to centralize education, to take decisions away from parents and teachers. And like past attempts, I’m optimistic that it will eventually lose. You know, the success of homeschooling shows that when parents try and fight to preserve their freedom to direct the upbringing and education of their children, they win. And now we’re seeing public school parents and private school parents join along with homeschool parents and fight for the freedom to direct the education of their children. It’s a hard fight; they’ve lost some battles, but they’ve won some battles. And I think the future is optimistic.
Mike: What can our listeners do to help support those who want to stop the Common Core?
Will: The biggest thing you can do is continue to educate your friends, family, policymakers, teachers—folks who you know—about the dangers of centralizing education. That when we lose the ability to direct what’s going on in our schools or our classrooms, we cede it over to elites and people who may not have our children’s best interests at heart. Go to HSLDA’s web page and find our resources about the Common Core. And continue to fight for the right of parents and teachers—the folks who see the kids—to make decisions for how their children are going to be educated.
Mike: Will, thanks so much for those ideas. Please, listeners, share the information—especially the movie “Building the Machine” that’s available on our website. It’s been a pleasure, Will, to have you with us this week. I’m Mike Farris.