Common Core and the anti-public school agenda

They say that if you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas. If that’s so, progressive critics of the Common Core State Standards may find themselves doing some scratching.

Stephanie Simon reports for Politico that the Koch brothers and other right-wing power brokers have jumped on the anti-Common Core cause as part of an effort to undermine public education:

What started as a ragtag opposition led by a handful of angry moms is now a sophisticated national movement supported by top donors and strategists on the right. Conservative groups say their involvement already has paid dividends in the form of new members and troves of email addresses.

But that’s just the start.

draft action plan by the advocacy group FreedomWorks lays out the effort as a series of stepping stones: First, mobilize to strike down the Common Core. Then push to expand school choice by offering parents tax credits or vouchers to help pay tuition at private and religious schools. Next, rally the troops to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Then it’s on to eliminating teacher tenure.

Opposition to Common Core has been catnip to tea-party types because … well, apparently because President Obama supports the standards. Maybe that’s not entirely fair, but it’s certainly true that Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk have been rallying the troops by claiming Common Core is a take-over by the big, bad federal government.

But a lot of CCSS opposition on the left seems also to lack subtlety: Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee and Jeb Bush support the standards, so they must be bad. Also, progressives worry the standards will lead to more standardized testing and high-stakes accountability.

Simon’s story produced a dust-up on social media, with some folks apparently suggesting CCSS opponents on the left were being “played” and opponents defending themselves, maybe a bit defensively.

The problem is that most of us don’t have time to get familiar with the standards – and even if we did, we’d have trouble evaluating whether they are good or bad, or better or worse than the alternatives. It’s hard to know what to think, so we pick sides.

For instance, some critics argue the standards lack rigor and will “dumb down” education; others say they’re impossibly stringent and designed to make schools and students fail. Both can’t be right. People who take opposite positions are joining to fight Common Core.

Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa identifies Indiana as a potential hot spot for anti-Common Core activity and notes that some legislators’ “zeal for repeal will likely burn hot.” Hoosier lawmakers are sure to get an earful from anti-CCSS zealots on the right.

Indiana’s chief Common Core supporter is the state Chamber of Commerce. Usually it gets what it wants from the Republican-controlled legislature. But probably not this time.


26 thoughts on “Common Core and the anti-public school agenda

  1. I sum it up this way: states-rights conservatives versus interstate commerce conservatives and highly structured government liberals versus the state organized but locally controlled classroom liberals Common Core are viewed as vague but inflexible standards (due to them being agreed on a national level and only able to change 15%; thus the seeming rigor vs. too stringent views). It is interesting to see that the first and the last have group mentioned have more in common than might be thought. It goes parental control to government control (accountability with different autonomy levels) to people’s control. I think in Indiana the tea-party Republicans will just keep fighting this without a solution to the point that we are in violation of federal law at some point.

  2. I wish I could deduce what exactly this “article” is attempting to say or to whom….but I can tell you this: Common Core is a DISASTER!!!! (at least in the elementary school grades) I have no direct knowledge of it beyond elementary education. I am as progressive and liberal as you can get. Common Core is requiring our small children to tackle concepts that they have absolutely NO foundational basis for. They are starting at the BACK of the math book and attempting to learn cross multiplying fractions BEFORE learning their multiplication tables. In fact, the tables were NEVER actually taught in any way, shape, or manner at school…we are doing all of that at home…and attempting to do complicated math requiring prior memorization of the tables at the same time. It is BEYOND confusing for parents attempting to help with homework and the teacher admits it is considerably confusing for him as well…having to teach the concepts completely out of order. The teachers have NOT been trained properly to use the new standards and the implementation of CCSS is a nunbelievable God-awful mess. The testing is beyond outrageous. My 3rd grader completed 9 weeks of standardized testing last year. Do any of you realize that 9 weeks is one full quarter of the school year? They were tested in many concepts that had NEVER even been touched on in class and many questions were far above grade level. The school pumps these kids up to do well on these tests. They even have to bring a letter to school from mom and dad to wish them well and to help “calm” them before the test. Then, it turns out that much of the test is above grade level and they have not been prepared for it. My 3rd grader was an emotional wreck. I love progressive education policies and I am entirely pro-education and for holding our schools (and our kids) to higher standards…..but to ask third and fourth graders to perform stellar on tests they have been ill-prepared for is ludicrous. If you do not have a child in school or are not an educator…you cannot possibly be aware of the many CCSS issues. I take issue with someone telling me that I am simply to uneducated on the subject “to get it”. Please stop…it belittles us all.

      • Heather, thanks for commenting. The point of the post was to note something that seems ironic to me: that progressive folks are making common cause with some of the most regressive, anti-public education forces in the country when it comes to Common Core. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong – just that it’s surprising and we might want to give it some thought.

        You’re right that I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the implementation of Common Core in schools. I’m a little confused about what you’re describing, however. I thought the legislature had “paused” the implementation of CCSS and that, while kindergarten and first grade may have made the switch, higher grades were still using the former Indiana standards. Maybe that varies from school to school? As for testing for school accountability, I’m fairly certain Indiana still uses ISTEP, which is not aligned with CCSS.

        Maybe other readers can help clarify this or point out where I’m mistaken. You’re talking about a public school in Indiana? Are other parents in the school having the same experience?

  3. I heard Superintendent Ritz speak at Saint Mary’s College last fall and, unless I completely misunderstood, I thought she endorsed the Common Core — perhaps with some reservations. In concept it is not a bad thing. In practice it seems to have been concocted to deliver another big fat contract to Pearson and others in the edu-industrial complex.

    • Laurie, I think that’s right, that Superintendent Ritz is at least moderately in favor. Certainly true there’s money that will be made, but I’m not sure the testing companies won’t come out as well or even better if we continue with every state having its own standards and tests.

  4. It was implemented in my daughter’s public elementary school last year….her 3rd grade year. Maybe it was just for kicks. I don’t know. But, every time I approached her teacher about why the curriculum was so disorganized….ALL I was given was: “This is Common Core” from a frazzled, befuddled teacher who was having to teach backwards math to her students everyday. This year it is: “Paused”….which is worse to some degree. There is no approved curriculum. We are getting partially the Common Core Pearson materials and the rest is “made up” by individual teachers to supplement. We get lots of “pulled from the net education website” stuff. A mish mash, really. The school board is in the throws of confusion, yelling, arguing and begging teachers to ‘stay over break’ to formulate teaching materials. My daughter’s 4th grade teacher informed me he wishes he could, and I quote: “close his door and just teach without regard to the messed up curriculum” but feels his superiors would not take to that kindly. The schools who “tried out Common Core curriculum” last year were tested on it and the computers wouldn’t load the tests and the kids waited 1…then 2…then 3 days to test (each time…the computers going down in the middle). It took over a week to test when it should have taken 3 days total. I was told, I believe, (I could have this wrong) that the scores were “thrown out” and would not be used to evaluate schools due to the fouled up nature of the testing. This happened in New York, as well.

    • Not to mention: Who really thinks that handing over curriculum to a testing behemoth is a smart idea? THIS folks, is progressive??? If that is progressive then I must have joined the Tea Party in my sleep and moved to Texas.

      • I live in Texas! Of course, in a backward place such as Texas, there is no Common Core, but it’s on the horizon with various forces lined up for the battle. I should point out that my son is a teacher in an elementary school here.

        Gov. Perry and the GOP lege have cut billions from the school budget. I encourage all Hoosiers, which I still am at heart, to make sure that your schools are adequately funded.

        It seems that you are conflating Common Core with testing. Common Core is a curriculum and testing is, well, testing, regardless of the curriculum. I recently had some nice ladies here in Texas tell me “There was no slavery in Texas.” They are products of the Texas educational system.

        Work with your children’s teachers, principals, and school board.

    • This certainly sounds nightmarish and I hope it gets straightened out one way or another. I’d like to hear from others, especially teachers, about whether this experience is common or whether you’re describing problems with instruction and leadership and a decision to blame it on Common Core.

      • @Indiana Pearl. Not true. All the homework, classroom worksheets, and most all other materials are Pearson. The Common Core curriculum is Pearson. I know this because I saw Pearson typed at the bottom of each and every page for a solid school year. When New York was complaining about the worksheets on the internet and how nuts the math was….I could verify by looking through my daughter’s school work on my kitchen counter and find the exact sheet that was used as the example. I used to chuckle a bit because it made me feel so good that someone in New York could relate to what my child and I were going through. The achievement tests are most certainly Pearson. They accompany the curriculum. (An aside here: Isn’t teaching to the test exactly what progressives stood against 7-8 years ago? Well folks, now we are REALLY teaching to the test…it is all designed by the same company..Yay!). Pearson got the entire kit and kaboodle. Our website (Power School) to organize our child’s grades and look up teachers comments? You guessed it….Pearson.

        @Stevehinnefeld: I am beginning to understand why there are so many progressive proponents of Common Core. Apparently, there are lots of people who see this as a “Pie in the Sky” ideological educational love story. What they do NOT seem to know is how it is implemented in the schools, when it was implemented, what schools it was implemented in and for how long, what tests were used, and what parents and educators thought of it. Seems to me there is some work to be done before calling out those who are skeptical and saying we are aligning with regressive conservatives. Believe me, there is nothing conservative about me. I just don’t happen to jump on political “band wagons”. This is my kid’s education. It isn’t about winning and it isn’t about a side…it’s about her.

  5. Heather Scholl
    on January 9, 2014 at 12:19 am said:
    Not to mention: Who really thinks that handing over curriculum to a testing behemoth is a smart idea? THIS folks, is progressive??? If that is progressive then I must have joined the Tea Party in my sleep and moved to Texas.

  6. Hi Steve. As you know, I value your reporting highly, but I don’t follow this argument–though I appreciate that it implicitly asks us to define our values more clearly. I have two children in public elementary school. I am not averse to the idea of national standards as long as they are developed in a transparent process by experienced educators and as long as teachers have the space to meet the standards in their own ways, responding to the unique groups of children they teach. You are probably familiar with the fact that that is not how Common Core was developed. I am averse to the idea of a commercial curriculum, and I see much evidence that “Common Core” in practice is just that. What matters is what is tested; because of the high stakes for schools, testing will drive instruction. As Heather points out, testing is taking up an obscene amount of time. Last year it was only after ISTEP had been given that my daughter’s teacher read a long book to the children. One teacher told me that she used to ask students to write her letters exploring their thoughts about the books they were reading, but no longer had the time due to all the assessment activities. My eight-year-old daughter would bring home “literacy” work which was multiple choice and short answer and looked a lot like test preparation. NCLB and RTTT involve massive commercial standardized testing. Common Core will involve more testing than we currently have. Which of us parents have asked for a curriculum developed by Pearson (Pearson is writing the textbooks) and tested by Pearson? I have been reading many news stories from New York, where teachers are being forced to use scripted curricula written by Pearson. This next is a sidebar about Pearson, not Common Core directly, but last night I looked at Susan Ohanian’s post about Pearson’s AIMSweb behavior data-gathering application ( This stuff is truly scary. Please take a look at it and see what you think. Our MCCSC schools use AIMSweb (the literacy version). I encourage you to look at Pearson’s sales page for AIMSweb; would you want it in your child’s classroom? Or what about this vision from Pearson’s “research and information network” ( (I especially recommend the Victoria’s story video.) I don’t have any reason to trust this company, or any profit-driven entity, with an overall plan for education. I’m sure individual textbooks they produce may be fine and valuable.

    • Jenny, thanks for commenting. These are good and important points. My general suspicion about Common Core is that it’s nowhere near as great as its proponents claim or as bad as its opponents fear. I’m sympathetic to the idea of national standards with state and local independence for curriculum and implementation. Getting there is likely to be difficult and messy. Transparency is important, but I’m not sure if the writing of the standards was secretive or if we weren’t paying attention – I know I wasn’t.

      You know, I’ve tried reading the Common Core standards, starting with one grade level. I never seem to get very far. But I’ve also tried reading Indiana’s old standards, and they’re as bad or worse!

      As for testing and the role/influence/profits of test publishers, that’s certainly mushroomed without Common Core. I’m not sure adopting the standards means giving up our collective democratic judgment about when and how to test and how to use the results – to the extent that we’ve ever had it.

      It also confuses me that there doesn’t seem to be more organized opposition from teachers, if CCSS is really that bad. Anthony Cody’s claim that the unions, ASCD, PTA, etc., have been bought off by Gates money just seems kind of insulting.

      I will try to do some more reading on the topic and keep an open mind. But it may not be my top priority. I think there are more important issues. And I honestly think Common Core is dead in Indiana. The opposition on the right is just too emotional, and how do legislators ignore that?

      • Meant to add, my grandson will start school in a couple of years, so maybe I’ll have a different perspective then.

  7. heres the problem I see:

    The education system is Compulsory for 13 years or so of a childs life. Now take into consideration these kids are not taught trade skills, economic skills, political skills, social skills.. the list goes on. We teach them the same thing every first semester which is a refresher of a previous year due to the fact we give the students far too long of vacations to forget what they have learned previously. This is a failed system.

    Add to this problem that the “standardized tests for highschool graduation is around a 8th grade requirement level and its a sham. Maybe when the Standardized testing came about it had grand schemes, but as with any education system it met the same pitfalls as most political ideas..

    It didnt take into account the people involved. From Students to the Teachers and even families. not even economical issues. It just stated this is what you have to do get over it. That mentality will never work and the number of schools that have failed and the number of times the standardized testing standards have been lowered should prove that.

    Attack the core? why not? the core is rotten anyway.

    The entire education system needs an overhaul. We need to have the students learning the maths and languages.. at least two languages to remain competative in the world… We need the sciences and the economic and political classes.. and for the sake of all thats good in the world trade skill classes.. engineering, electrical, hell even bring back the good ol woodshops and such.

    I know alot of the lacking in proper education is the funding, however in my opinion the Federal government made the education system compulsory, shouldnt they fund the thing? handing the funding off to the property owners is a sham. property costs are never stable, it was a bad idea to begin with and when economies get trashed as this one in the US has been for over a decade property taxes fade into history.

    The law makers have lost touch with what is needed in education. and why should they care? they already graduated. Like most adults we think…”thank god its over” then we walk away until we have children that go through it then we think our opinions hold merit.

    I have to admit after going throuigh the k-12 system in several countries and finishing it here in the US only to go to college 20 years later and see what the School system pump out I can happily say I graduated 20 years ago and that im not as unintelligent as the graduates now.

  8. This is so strange, because it seemed to be the reformers who drove the Common Core movement at the beginning, and there’s certainly a lot of their money paying for the pro-Common Core campaign. Are they playing it from both sides? Did they underestimate the opposition from Tea Party supporters who are also their base, and now they have to backtrack? I’m always suspicious of the motives.

    As with many issues, I’m not against a common set of standards. I’m just not convinced THIS set of standards is the right one. It happened too fast and left too many questions unanswered before Indiana (and others) rushed to adopt them. The rush to adopt eventually led to the “pause.” So wouldn’t it have been more efficient to take the time to study the issue and get all the answers first?

    Ultimately, here are my two questions one should ask about any proposed education reform: 1) What role did educators play in developing it? (Or was it developed by corporations, reform advocates, lawyers and others with no classroom experience?) and 2) Has it been piloted and proved to be effective?

    OK, if it passes those tests, I’d add questions 3 and 4: 3) What is your plan for communicating this effectively with teachers, parents and citizens? and 4) Do we know the costs?

    Hoosiers have never had a good answer about what the cost of testing for Common Core will be in Indiana. How can we (and legislators) possibly evaluate if it’s worth the investment if we don’t know the financial costs and the time and human resources schools will devote to making it happen? If the additional testing costs are more than implementing preschool, funding remediation or restoring other school funding, then we could weigh which of those investments will really make the most difference for students.

    • Thanks, Marilyn. I think the politics are fascinating — and I don’t pretend to understand them. I do think the initial impetus came from the governors and chief school officers. They lined up a lot of establishment support, from the Obama administration to education organizations to the Chamber of Commerce. The FAQ on the CCSS web page ( addresses a lot of the usual question; but people don’t trust those answers, that doesn’t help much.

      The Indiana Legislative Services Agency report on the cost of implementation is here: It deals with costs for various testing options. Of course there’s the issue of who pays for professional development to do things right. We can count on Indiana to cut corners on that.

  9. In summary the problems with common core mentioned:
    *The lack of leadership (the unclear direction in this transitional phase) is worse than the Common Core
    *The inevitable narrowing of the curriculum to those most closely tied to the common core:
    “We need the sciences and the economic and political classes.. and for the sake of all thats good in the world trade skill classes.. engineering, electrical, hell even bring back the good ol woodshops and such.”
    *The support and input for-profit companies have had (which imply that the standards must have been influenced for maximum profit ability and commercial opportunity) though with any national standards, it is inevitable that for-profit companies will try to hijack them for their purposes (smaller markets are of less interest to for-profits due to economies of scale)
    *Testing is being conflated with the standards themselves in the arguments above, so maybe it is the idea that it makes it easier to create tests for it, thus leading to an increasing amount of testing, or that we use the for testing correctly, or that we cannot transition to them easily given are current accountability system, so we shouldn’t adopt them with this current structure.”
    *Not enough funding to implement it properly with an already underresourced system.
    *Not enough input from the real experts (including those on the front lines tasked with implementing it which include individual teachers and non-union teachers; the NEA as a whole has embraced the standards, though their website does indicate a desire for flexibility in their use and Nationally Board Certified Teachers, like Glenda who has moderately supported common core, were part of developing it). I would say teachers as a whole are not clear on the new standards due to the lack of support being provided, but those that do understand it generally support the standards themselves but the issue is with the details on how it is being implemented.

    • Also, I would like to add that teachers from what I have seen are clueless as to the “pause” and even those that have heard of it are confused as to how to proceed (which has resulted in messes like the one Heather Scholl described though CTB/McGraw Hill and overreliance on computerized testing is to blame there and not Common Core, though common core does all but require computerized testing for standardized assessment so it is related), so basically you have a problem of implementation. That may be why ECA English results went down 1.9% for the entire state for this past school year (English iStep remained pretty much flat). iStep and ECAs are using the old standards but originally was supposed to transition to the new standards this school year (but now shouldn’t unless they screw up or things change yet again).

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