Photo credit: Red Maxwell (CC BY-NC 2.0)/Wilson Dias (CC BY 3.0 BR)

New Report: Winners and Losers of Common Core


Photo credit: Red Maxwell (CC BY-NC 2.0)/Wilson Dias (CC BY 3.0 BR)
Photo credit: Red Maxwell (CC BY-NC 2.0) / Wilson Dias (CC BY 3.0 BR)

Teresa Mull of the Heartland Institute writes about a new report analyzing the enormous funding of the Common Core national standards — where the money came from, what it was used for, and especially, who benefited from the entire endeavor. Hint: It wasn’t the students.

The report, “Smart Money? Philanthropic and Federal Funding for the Common Core,” was produced by scholars at Penn State University. Unlike many academic discussions of Common Core, it recognizes that the national standards are designed for technical, data-driven outcomes rather than genuine education. It also recognizes the dearth of evidence that the Common Core-type of “standards-based reform” actually elevates student achievement.

The report combines these insights with a wealth of information about the federal programs (such as Race to the Top) and private foundation grants (such as the millions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others) that poured into the Common Core scheme from development to implementation. From this data the report draws conclusions about Common Core winners and losers.


  • Philanthropic foundations, which “further rooted their preferences for . . . metrics, big data, measurable growth, and competition, in the education sector. . . . Venture philanthropists’ broad and strategic funding enabled them to purchase increased influence over public policy and public institutions without incurring any accountability for the policies they advanced” — policies that have no evidentiary basis for success. And crucially, the report notes that the foundations’ expenditures “empowered them to install public policies without democratic processes.” No one has ever voted for Bill Gates, but as even Common Core proponents have admitted, his “agenda has become the country’s agenda in education.”
  • The federal government, whose showering of money on states during a deep recession enabled the U.S. Department of Education (USED) “to exercise unprecedented influence over nearly every state’s standards.”
  • For-profit grantees that provide Common Core tests, curriculum, or other resources. The report notes that vendors of educational software and digital content reported a 57 percent increase in their market between 2010-11 and 2012-13 — “even though it is not evident that such products improve teaching and learning and improve achievement gaps.”
  • Non-profits such as Achieve, Inc., and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that received funding to promote Common Core. These organizations were able to add staff and expand their operations with help from the enormous flood they received from the Common Core spigot.


  • The integrity of certain non-profits which, in exchange for grant money, jettisoned their supposedly objective and neutral analysis of education issues to become propagandists for Common Core. Here the report specifically mentions the Aspen Institute and the National PTA (“The relationship of [PTA’s] mission to the Common Core is tenuous, since [standards-based reform] does not typically raise achievement but often distorts teaching and learning . . . .”).
  • School districts and schools, the great majority of which have received no direct funding to implement Common Core and will be expected to collectively lay out billions to implement the standards — with no assurance of positive results for students.

We could add our own losers:

  • Students, who are being subjected to a substandard “education” designed to train them to be worker bees for politically connected corporations rather than educated human beings and citizens of our republic.
  • Parents and other citizens, who have lost control over their local schools to unaccountable Washington bureaucrats and private foundations pushing their own agendas.
  • The Constitution and our federalist system, both of which were designed to protect state and local control over issues such as education.

The Penn State report ends by analogizing the Common Core scheme to the 19th-century Gold Rush, with profiteering by the vendors of mining equipment to work a claim that turns out to be empty. At least with the Gold Rush, the losses didn’t infect our children and our entire system of governance.

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.

Jane Robbins

Jane Robbins is an attorney and senior fellow with the American Principles Project.

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