The Common Core Standards We’re Not Talking About

(These remarks were given at the Utah County Women’s Legislative Council November 19, 2013)

We’ve heard that with Common Core we’re just setting higher standards for learning right? Why would a mom who wants the very best for her children be against that?

We are a community with high standards for all kinds of things, not just education.

Standards can be examples, expectations, models, patterns, or precedents to follow or measure oneself against.

Keeping those synonyms in mind I’d like to talk about the standards we’ve set for our children in the course of adopting the Common Core. You may be surprised to learn that we have set new standards not only for math and English, but also for how public education is governed.

At the beginning of Obama’s first term our Congress passed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, also known as “the Stimulus” which included $100 Billion dollars for education. At the time major newspapers buzzed ( about the unprecedented power of assigning this much money to the discretion of the Education Secretary with virtually no congressional oversight. From the Stimulus came the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund and the Race to the Top grant programs that enabled the Department of Ed to set rules for education, in exchange for the money – rules that normally would be determined by the States themselves under the 10th Ammendment.

This 36 page document, “The Road to a National Curriculum” ( was written by two former top lawyers for the US Department of Education. In it they offer an analysis of how these reforms violate three Federal laws. They conclude, “The Department has simply paid others to do that which it is forbidden to do.”  (p.18)

Using taxpayer money from the stimulus to implement reforms that weaken the State’s autonomy over education is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

Proponents of these reforms like to point out that adopting these reforms was a legitimate exercise of state’s rights because the development of the standards was led by the Governors at the National Governors Association. The problem is Utah State Constitution does not grant authority over education to our Governor. Furthermore, there is no such thing in the U.S. Constitution as a council of governors. Comparing best practices is one thing, but Governors working together to jointly address issues and create rules that affect the whole nation is not a legitimate alternative to Congress, our national representative body. The organizations that introduced Common Core to our nation, state-by-state, had no constitutional commission to do what they did.

Allowing rules for education to be set by those with no authority to do so is not a high enough standard for me or my children.

The Governor didn’t decide on his own that Utah would adopt these reforms. The agreements were also signed by the State Superintendent acting in behalf of the State School Board. The Utah Constitution does give authority to the State School Board to set academic standards. It does not say that they can outsource a role we entrusted to them to a non-governmental trade organization who outsourced it to another group of hand-picked experts. This is called “delegation” and it has been established in legal precedent (three cases cited on this slide prepared by the USOE – slide 24 USBE rebuttal) to be unconstitutional.

Elected officials delegating a job we entrusted to them to a body outside the jurisdiction of state oversight is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

The official USOE pamphlet on the Common Core adoption says that the State School Board “monitored this process.” But Dane Linn who was the education director for the NGA at the time the standards were being written stated, “All of the standards writing and discussions were sealed by confidentiality agreements, and held in private.”

There were no meeting minutes, no public records, no obligation by the lead writers to even respond to the input of anyone who submitted it, including any input from our school board. As a parent and a taxpayer, this process cuts me out completely.

As citizens of a self-governing Republic, this non-representative process is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

While this process was different than the way standards have been vetted in the past, the State School Board insists their involvement and review was adequate and that there was time for public input. The USOE published this timeline for adoption of the standards. (USBE slide rebuttal page 22.) Here it says that the summer of 2010 was the public comment period. However, the final draft was not available until June 2, and the Board took their first of two votes to adopt them two days later on June 4. The second and final vote was made a month later, but the first formally announced public comment period I could find was in April of 2012 – 22 months after the Board officially adopted the standards.

No meaningful public input on changes that affect all of our community schools is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

When the Department of Education ran out of grant money to get states to implement their reforms, they offered the states waivers from unpopular requirements of No Child Left Behind that many Utah schools were not anticipated to meet. While the No Child Left Behind law did grant limited authority to the Department of Education to waive certain conditions, it did not grant them authority to require new conditions in exchange.

This increasingly common habit of the executive branch to waive laws and replace them with their own rules, as if they held the lawmaking authority assigned to Congress, is not an acceptable standard for me and my children.

This is not the only example of the Department of Education overstepping their authority. In order for States to collect the individual student data required by these reforms, the US Department of Ed altered the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act weakening the protection of parental control over sharing student data. Both the Electronic Privacy Information Center ( and Fordham University’s Center for Law and Information Policy have written briefs charging that the Education Department acted illegally. (

Unelected officials gutting laws that were established by Congress to protect my family’s privacy is not a high enough standard for me and my children.

Ever since we started down the road of adopting Common Core, in fact, I’ve noticed a much greater influence over education by unelected special interests. In an article published in the Washington Post in May (, for example, it was estimated that the Gates Foundation has spent at least $150 million dollars to fund and promote Common Core.

A July 2010 BusinessWeek Coverstory on Bill Gates quotes Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy saying, “As a private entity that doesn’t answer to voters, Gates can back initiatives that are politically dicey for the Obama Administration, such as uniform standards … In the past, states’ rights advocates have blocked federal efforts for a national curriculum. Gates ‘was able to do something the federal government couldn’t do.”

When one very rich man has a greater influence over the direction of public education than parents, teachers and local communities that sets an unacceptable standard for “we the people,” for me, and for my children.

What is the justification for pushing these reforms through, bypassing the checks and balances of our established legal framework? We have to do it we are told so that our children will be “career and college ready.”

The Govenor, on his webpage for education, says we need to implement these reforms to “align educational training to meet the workforce demands of the marketplace.”

To me, all of these workforce goals seem to imply that the highest aim of education is work. Historically, the purpose of American education was to nurture the development of self-governing citizens, with work being incidental to that development. This nation has uniquely thrived according to the principle that a free market with good people pursuing their own dreams works better than attempts at centrally regulated markets with efficiently trained workers.

Being an efficient employee in a job that matches a data profile collected by the state from cradle to career is not a high enough standard for education, not for my children.

Thomas Jefferson was an early proponent of publicly funded education. He saw literate citizens educated in history and principles of good government as a necessary condition of maintaining liberty. He said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

How tragically ironic if in the very name of public education we end up eroding those very safeguards of liberty that he championed.

My opposition to the way we’ve adopted Common Core (and the rest of the education reforms introduced in the Stimulus) is not just about the education of my children, it is about the type of government I hope my children will inherit when they have children of their own. I believe we can set high standards for math and english without circumventing, stretching, or ignoring the high standards for self government that have made our nation unique in all the history of the world. This is the Constitution of the United States of America. These standards ARE high enough for me, and my children.

6 thoughts on “The Common Core Standards We’re Not Talking About”

  1. I agree that there are things in common core that need improvement and that people felt left out of the decision making process.
    But in all these years, the Common Core is the first effort at recognizing the fact that many students are arriving at college without the skills needed to graduate from college.
    If we say no to Common Core now and go back to the status quo or involve every local community in the deciding the future direction of education, are we willing to live with the current abysmal college graduation rate of around 43% in Utah for next several years ?
    Nationally, it is not much better at around 50%.
    I know these numbers are from 2011 and would welcome links for more recent surveys at the state and national level.

    1. While Common Core may address the fact that “… many students are arriving at college without the skills needed to graduate from college,” it certainly does nothing to remedy the situation. Even the authors of CC, Jason Zimba in particular, recognize that CC only prepares students for a two-year, non-selective, community college. Is that what we’re aiming for?

      No one is suggesting we go back to our previous standards, although I understand Utah had excellent math standards pre-CC. Instead of using the unproven Common Core standards, why not use the ELA standards offered for free by Sandra Stotsky, author of Massachusetts top rated standards? Or how about California or Indiana’s math standards?

      I think letting local communities have complete control over their local school is a wonderful idea. That used to be the way things were done and it worked well. No one has more stake in how well a school does or doesn’t do that the parents who send their children.

      1. It would be wonderful to have the local communities have complete control over their local school if there is a high level of participation in the local community. Unfortunately, that is not the case as evidenced by the very low turnout at parent teacher conferences in many middle and high schools. It is highly likely that it will be the same type of turnout for the frequent parent meetings that are required to change the direction of education at the state level. That will lead to a situation where the whole process is likely to be influenced by a small group of active participants which might not be what the whole state is hoping for.

        1. So, are you saying that given the responsibility for themselves some people make poor choices and therefore they should be saved from themselves by “official” people? It’s true this liberty stuff is risky business. Perhaps that is why among all the civilizations in all the history of the world it has been such a rare experience. If education were controlled at the community level there wouldn’t be a “whole process” influenced by a small number of officials or activists. Parents shouldn’t have to worry about the hopes of a “whole state” to do what is in the best interest of their individual child.

    2. Saying no to Common Core is not saying no to improving education. It is not an either/or scenario. Neither are the problems universal. Some schools and students in Utah are doing exceptionally well, but viewing the problem in terms of performance averages lends itself to the messaging that a one-size-fits-all program is the solution. What of the ideas for targeted improvement that were never heard (or were underway and cut short) because we circumvented the meaningful exchange of ideas that good process allows? I’m stunned by the blind confidence so many have in Common Core with absolutely nothing but marketing claims to go on. I also don’t think it is accurate to say that Common Core is the first effort at recognizing that many students are not as academically prepared as we would like. We’ve been hearing doomsday predictions about the crisis in US education for decades. Check out the cover of the March 24, 1958 of Life magazine about the education crisis in which we were going to be overtaken by the Soviet Union, or recall the publishing of A Nation at Risk in the ’80s. Why is the U.S. still here while the USSR imploded and other nations with top test takers still copying US patented technology? Liberty (protected by adhering to good principles of self-government that were trampled in the adoption of CC) matters –– the opportunity, free market and entrepreneurship that liberty engenders matters. I’m not saying there isn’t room to improve academics, but our representative form of government is perhaps the greatest competitive advantage our country has had and I think it a huge mistake to overlook it as a critical ingredient of whatever solutions/improvements we pursue. Great education and good principles of self government are not mutually exclusive, on the contrary I believe competing “laboratories of democracy” are key to innovation and improvement that can be contrasted with other approaches and then emulated with confidence. I think there is strong evidence that increasingly centralized control and the conveyor-belt style of education that it promotes is exactly the opposite of what our children will need for success going forward. Some see the idea of involving every local community in education decisions, or leaving education up to local communities as inefficient. That is a factory mentality that implies students are not the client of our schools, but the product. I believe those who know, love and see the students every day are best qualified to determine what each individual needs. In other words, I prefer inefficient to inhuman.

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