The New York Times posed this question in a recent story about the effects of Common Core in the 10 years since it was introduced: Did it fail, or does it just need more time to succeed? The easy answer is that Common Core was, is, and will remain a cancer on the American education system. But it’s an answer that has a lot of moving parts — mostly money changing hands.
The Times article immediately gets it wrong in stating Common Core was rolled out by a bipartisan group of governors, education experts, and philanthropists. There may be a kernel of truth to that with respect to how many people and organizations stood to gain from the roll-out, but it doesn’t paint the entire picture.
“Governors” actually refers to the National Governors Association (NGA), a private entity made up of current and former governors, and current and former gubernatorial staff members. It is funded in part by membership dues ($4.2 million, FY ‘18), but the majority of funding comes from foundation and government grants ($15.6 million, FY ‘18). Corporate partners include Intel, Pearson Education and American Institute for Research (AIR), among many others.
The NGA, with millions of dollars in grants, partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a non-profit organization of state school leaders. The marrying of the organizations produced Achieve Inc., a non-profit education reform organization that, without going too far into the weeds, was instrumental in the development of the standards.
Intel, as noted above, gives generously to the NGA, and Intel’s then-CEO Craig Barrett was named co-Chairman of Achieve, Inc. Barrett currently serves on the Board of Directors.
Additionally, the Times article refers to “education experts,” or, in reality, Student Achievement Partners (SAP), founded by Jason Zimba, David Coleman, and Susan Pimental. Several years earlier, Coleman had joined forces with Gene Wilhoit, then director of CCSSO, and began kicking around the idea of national standards. SAP was born, and Coleman and Zimba went on to be two of the lead writers on the project. Neither had any experience writing standards, much less had ever taught or spent any significant time in a K-12 classroom.
In 2011, Coleman spoke at the Institute for Learning Senior Leadership Meeting. He said, regarding SAP, “…One is we’re composed of that collection of unqualified people who were involved in developing the common standards.” In 2010, Zimba admitted the math standards don’t provide an adequate mathematics education.
The list of philanthropists who were involved in the roll-out of the standards can be whittled down to one: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Coleman and Wilhoit needed money to move forward with their industrious plan, so they went to one of the richest men in the world. In short, Gates funded the Common Core with more than $400 million dollars. $34 million of that went directly to the NGA, $60 million to CCSSO and $46 million to Achieve, Inc. SAP also benefited from Gates’ money to the tune of about $21 million.
Bill Gates knew little to nothing about education policy. What he did understand was the manipulative power of money, and that people would do a lot of things to get their hands on it. The federal government understood that as well.
The Times article reported that the government “offered” states funding to accept the standards. Yes, there was money involved, but it was more akin to a hostage situation. In a nutshell, the federal government used money already earmarked for states under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to create a competition between the states for access to the money — a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” arrangement. The competition required adopting the Common Core Standards.
The federal government offered nothing. In return, it pulled off the largest educational upheaval in American history.
The government and Bill Gates weren’t the only ones leveraging cash to get what they wanted. NGA corporate partners, noted above, also had skin in the game. For example, at the time Pearson was the largest education company, and it remains the largest publishing company in the world.
Pearson has raked in untold billions of dollars publishing Common Core aligned textbooks and digital content. In 2014, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) awarded Pearson the extremely lucrative contract to create their standards-aligned assessment. At about the same time, a former CCSSO president joined the Board of Directors at PARCC.
American Institute for Research (AIR), noted above, has also made a small fortune writing Common Core aligned assessments. Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have profited handsomely by stocking schools with hardware, digital content and other online tools.
Yet, a decade later, state assessment results are stagnant, NAEP scores are declining, and PISA scores show no progress in math or reading. Joy Pullmann, executive editor of The Federalist, reported that the class of 2019, the first to experience all four high school years under Common Core, was the worst-prepared for college in 15 years.
Common Core was never about education. It was never about improving achievement. It was never about making children college-ready. It was and always will be about the money.
The Times article suggests that maybe this wildly unpopular and ineffective experiment just needs more time. The results are in. American students have fallen too far behind. Time’s up.