The Federal Hand Behind Common Core

“Common Core is a state-led initiative.”

This sentence is among the most repeated pitch lines of those selling Common Core.  It is an effective sales pitch, but is it true?

The answer lies in the maze of money and regulation tying federal and state departments of education together.

Let’s start with the money.  The money is always the carrot that the federal government offers the states.

The money trail for Common Core begins in 2009, with the passage of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, commonly called the Stimulus Bill.  Among the bill’s many provisions was a $53.6 billion appropriation to the U.S. Department of Education, called the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.  Of that amount, $4.35 billion was set aside for the Race to the Top initiative.

States had to access the funds in a prescribed order.  First was the Stabilization fund program.

In order to receive these funds, states had to assure the federal government that they would adopt “rigorous college and career ready standards.”   The elements of the standards were dictated by the federal government in the America COMPETES Act, and as part of their application for Stabilization funds the states had to sign an assurance page that specifically required them to align their state programs to the language of that federal law.

The Stabilization funds were awarded in two phases, with states submitting an application outlining their plans to adopt the standards to receive the first phase, and then submitting a progress report showing that they were actually completing those plans in order to receive the second phase of their Stabilization grant.  The U.S. Department of Education had to approve each state’s plan before Phase Two funds were awarded, effectively giving the federal government control over each state’s education programs.

States who had successfully completed the Stabilization grant process could then compete for Race to the Top funds.  This requirement was explained in question A-4 of Race to the Top Guidance and Frequently Asked Questions, published by the U.S. Department of Education on May 27, 2010.

Race to the Top was a competition grant process. States were awarded points based on how closely they conformed to the desires of the federal Department of Education.  In the case of the Common Core State Standards, Section (B)(1)(ii) of the Race to the Top grant application clearly outlined the federal requirements.  States would be awarded up to 40 points depending on their commitment to adopting a common set of standards by the federal deadline of August 2, 2010.

Under Race to the Top, states could add to the common standards, provided that the additions were not more than 15 percent of the total, but they could not subtract or change any of the standards.

The Race to the Top grant applications had to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education BEFORE the standards were actually available to the states.  In January 2010 William McCallum, one of the authors of the Common Core Math Standards, spoke at a national mathematics conference in San Francisco.  In response to questions and concerns about the compressed schedule for developing the math standards, a schedule that did not allow for pilot testing or normal editing, Mr. McCallum told his audience that his “bosses,” the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, were being “pressed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who was using the possibility of getting Race to the Top money as leverage to force states to commit now to adopting uniform standards.”  He told his audience that states were committing to the adoption of the standards “sight unseen.”

In Pennsylvania’s Race to the Top Phase Two grant application, submitted in May 2010, the State Board of Education told the federal government that if they received the standards by June 2, 2010, they would adopt them by July 1, 2010.  They kept that promise, tying every public and charter school student in the Commonwealth to standards that they had not even seen when they made the commitment.

A visit to the web site for the Common Core State Standards, reveals that the standards are the copyrighted property of the NGA Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and may only be used if a public license is obtained.  The same web site states that every user of the standards must acknowledge this ownership, except states.  States are exempted from sharing this information with their citizens.

So the money in the federal State Fiscal Stabilization Fund and Race to the Top were the carrots.

What was the stick?  The stick was federal regulation. And it was a big one.

Federal regulations implementing No Child Left Behind required every state to prove that 100 percent of its students were proficient in reading and math by the end of the 2013-2014 school year, with substantial penalties for failure to demonstrate that it had attained this impossible goal.

The U.S. Department of Education has allowed states to apply for flexibility from these requirements.  Section C of ESEA Flexibility Frequently Asked Questions, dated August 3, 2012, tells the states that to receive this flexibility, the state must prove to the federal government that it has formally adopted college and career ready standards.  The federal Department of Education is the sole judge of whether or not the state has adopted adequate college and career ready standards.

An examination of ESEA flexibility requests from across the country reveals that even states that did not apply for Race to the Top money, such as Texas and Virginia, were required to show how their state’s educational programs were aligned with the Common Core State Standards in order to be granted flexibility.  So even the states that did not take the carrot found themselves confronting the federal stick.

“State-led initiative” may be a wonderful sales pitch for those promoting Common Core, but an examination of the facts reveals that the reality does not match the marketing.

Peg Luksik


Peg Luksik, a mother of six, is Founder and Chairman of Founded on Truth. Highlighting her many years of grassroots political activism was her run for governor in the 1990 Pennsylvania Republican primary winning 46 percent of the vote. She graduated magna cum laude from Clarion University in 1976 with a bachelor of science degree in special education and elementary education.

  • hombre111

    My red state stands near the bottom of every measure of a good education. Since it refuses to act responsibly toward its children, maybe the feds need to set up some guidelines.

    • Adam__Baum

      What state is that? Present your data.

      • Roddy Sunshine

        Hombre’s state would like to remain anonymous.

        Hombre is deliberately vague, as you already noticed. That is usually not the hallmark of the straight shooter.

        He also seems to not fully comprehend the meaning of subsidiarity.

        He also did not make clear why local democracy, if in its wisdom it decides to be content with its current education system, should be overruled. Aside from the question whether poor results can be fixed by a different curriculum, or more money, and have not met their ceiling due to demographic facts (non-Asian minorities perhaps abound in Hombria), we have yet to hear why Common Core would be superior to what there is now.

        So far all we know if that the books lack spirit and phantasy, that there is less literature but more informative texts in is.

        But of course, we must all accept it. Says the Governor of Hombristan.

        • Adam__Baum

          He also imputes animate will to an abstraction (a governmental entity).

          • Roddy Sunshine

            Yes. An abstraction that has created an abstract website by master abstractrix Sebelius.

            • Adam__Baum
              • Roddy Sunshine

                Yes. I know a bit about software development, professionally, and it looks there was no real (thorough) testing. That is absolutely catastrophic. New failures will erupt. It will take at least 6 months to fix (Europeans would take at least a year – i say it as a Dutchman, Americans are world class developers so 6 months)

                • Adam__Baum

                  Likewise, I did acceptance testing, albeit in the late COBOL era. I was also on a massive development project for an insurer that went as well because the senior executives could grasp that the needs of a defined benefit and defined contribution plan are massively different and as such can’t be combined

                  No matter what they do, this will be a mess, even if they produce a flawless website. It’s at war with reality.

          • hombre111

            Well, the Supreme Court declared a corporation a person.

            • Adam__Baum

              “Well, the Supreme Court declared a corporation a person.”
              What does this have to do with anything here?

              • hombre111

                A corporation is an abstraction. And it has no sense of moral responsibility to a larger world, only to its stockholders. Corporations have played a huge role in the moral destruction of our society, by turning America into a nation of materialist consumers, more and more of whose citizens are falling into poverty.

                • Adam__Baum

                  What does this have to do with anything here?

        • hombre111

          Subsidiarity goes in both directions. Something should not be done at the top if it can be done by a smaller entity. But, on the other hand, if the smaller entity is failing its responsibility, then the larger entity has to take over. Conservatives often appeal to subsidiarity as an excuse to do nothing.
          Conservatives who call themselves Catholic also have little appreciation of community and the larger whole, which is part of basic Catholic social teaching. If a local democracy chooses to endanger the health, welfare, and future of some of its citizens, someone has to step in. This happened, for example, in the South, with slavery and then segregation. The appeal to “states’ rights” was an excuse to maintain a brutal system. The same thing is happening today as the middle class gradually disappears, led by the states’ rights Red States.

          • Adam__Baum

            Liberals who call themselves Catholics have little appreciation for the community, because they think the state is the “community”.

            • hombre111

              You don’t know very many liberals.

              • Adam__Baum

                How do you know how many liberals I know?

                Of course most people aren’t caricatures like you.

                I’ll wager it’s more than all of the varieties of right-of-center people you know.

                • hombre111

                  Are you kidding? I live in one of the reddest states in the union. And I hear those reddies in a way you cannot: I respectfully hear their confessions and do not tell them to mend their ways.

          • thebigdog

            “Conservatives often appeal to subsidiarity as an excuse to do nothing.”

            Arrogant and judgmental much? Also, wrong as usual.

            Decades of research concludes that conservatives are far more charitable in their donations than liberal blowhards.

      • hombre111

        Just Google some education statistics and look at the states who spend as little as possible on education, and whose youth, by and large, do not finish college. There they are at the bottom, all Red States. Bad education, low wages, and mediocrity in every direction. My state is one of them.

        • Adam__Baum

          I asked you two specific questions,. You irrelevant response did not identify your state or present your data, which would support your assertion that your state “stands near the bottom of every measure of a good education”
          Since you have declined to answer the question, we’ll just have to assume you are “running your mouth to hear your head roar”. again to quote Foghorn Leghorn.

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  • Tony

    The questions nobody in the Department of Education seems to ask:

    What is a human being? In particular, what is a child?
    What should we know?
    What is the role of wonder in education?
    What is the relationship between the moral virtues and the intellectual virtues?
    What are the differences between “data,” “information,” “know-how,” “knowledge,” and “wisdom”?
    Why do we read good books?
    Why do we read great books?
    What are people for? Jobs? Or are not jobs for people?
    If jobs are for people, then is education merely instrumental, for jobs?
    If not, then why do we want to learn things?
    What is the role of the memory in the education of a child?
    What is the role of grammar?
    If teaching is a personal thing, how can it possibly be dictated for 300 million people, from far away?
    If writing is such a necessary skill, how come no one in the department of education has that skill?
    If public speaking is such a necessary skill, how come no politician in the last 30 years has had that skill?
    Isn’t the ability to write something greater than a marketable skill?
    Isn’t everything about true education something greater than marketable skills?

    • BMW Metro

      I got my marketable skills by working all summer every summer to pay for my tuition at a Catholic Prep School. I got a good education, became a track star, met my best friends for life, and learned how to run a customer service based business. I also learned to work my a$$ off.
      I wish I was still in high school!

  • John Albertson

    The Archdiocese of New York promotes Common Core in its struggling school system. The picture is not happy.

    • slainte

      In June 2013, the Archdiocese of New York closed forever my Catholic grammar school. When I attended in the 70s, there were approximately 680 children in attendance. The school consisted of a kindergarten class and two classes each of grades 1 through 8. Parents (especially moms) were a dynamic presence actively working with and assisting the religious sisters and priests in and out of the classrooms both during the school year and as voluntary counsellors at summer camp. Attendance was taken at 9 o’clock mass on Sundays and a note was reqired in the event of an absence. CYO’s were always well attended and a summer fair was the perennial highlight of the weeks preceding school commencement in September. Such happy times.

      When the school closed in June, there were 176 students total…one priest and one sister.

      Profoundly sad.

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  • Jacob Morgan

    A few observations on common core:
    1. The standards/curriculum, or whatever it is or is not depending on who is defending it at the moment, seems to discard the liberal arts for the servile arts. What free people ought to have an interest in is exchanged for what a servile underclass should know to better serve their masters. The irony is that technological innovation has come mainly from countries with a strong liberal arts tradition, because they are the ones with imagination, motivation for improving the human condition, curiosity, etc. I have a masters degree in engineering and passed the FE exam (but being from a “red” state, guess that does not count; funny–first job was in a “blue” state that went recruiting in the “red” state), but my favorite course in college was English Literature, second favorite was American History. Now we are to trade the Dead Poets’ Society for the Dead Insulation Installers’ Society. Common Core was all but predicted in Bradbury’s 451, to the extent that “informational texts” were still taught, but classic literature was phased out.
    2. Bill Gates a) bankrolled the standards and b) use to trot over to congress begging for more H1B visas so more Indian programmers could come over. Indian schools (esp. in math) are about as far from common core as one can get.
    3. Expenditures on education do not correlate to educational outcomes. Expenditures correlates to an army of administrators that did not exist a generation ago, that are not somehow indispensable. Mainly they apply for grants, use grant money, do paper work, and harass teachers and waste their time, so said my father who retired early in frustration a few years ago. Teachers who teach well should be well compensated, but why are governments exempt from efficiency? With technology, every other sort of organization has shed SG&A, cut overhead, de-layered supervision, whatever you want to call it–education has piled it on and snarls at the heartless brutes who question it.
    4. Speaking of my father, he had an interesting history. As a young teacher decades ago he was given an undesirable post: teaching math and science and social studies at the school that was in a ~ 90% Hispanic neighborhood, with no small number of first generation Americans. It was a very poor part of town. He used to say he was the only white person not afraid to drive through that part of town after dark. But by using common sense teaching methods, he turned out the highest math scores in town on the state standardized tests. That was infuriating to some of the “good schools” where the sons and daughters of a large number of Dept of Energy contractors (scientists, engineers) went. But there was no magic gimmick involved, so no interest in how he taught. Instead the army of administrators and facilitators wanted to tell him how to teach! This country made a lot of the scientists and engineers who completed the Manhattan project at break neck speed and who put people on the moon, who made the semi conductor, etc. and it was good old fashioned school marm style teaching that did it. In educational theory, if one changes course and has bad results…full speed ahead! Never occurs to them to go back, better yet, make everyone go forward off the cliff.

    • kmartin

      Thank you for your insightful comment.

    • Shannon Locklear

      That was wonderfully written, thank you.

  • WRBaker

    And, if you thought that Catholic education was to be overlooked, read: “EXCLUSIVE: National Catholic Education Association Gets Gates Foundation Grant to Promote ‘Common Core’ in Catholic Schools” – this headline is from the Cardinal Newman Society.

    • George Blumel

      I went to a Catholic grade school K-8 and then on to a government high school. It was two years before I had anything new. Catholic schools generally are still at a higher standard of learning (at a much lower cost). So now Gates and other libs want to dumb the RC schools down to government school levels –and they’re going to have takers among some of the liberal clergy and administrators. Too bad but that’s the trend here in the US these days. Common Core is the latest effort to accomplish FedGov control of education for further indoctrination of the children.

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