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New Research on Common Core Damaging State/Local School Autonomy

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Study Calls on U.S. Dept. of Education to Stop Using Adoption of Common Core as Condition or Incentive for Receipt of Federal Funds and Waivers

In preface, Iowa’s U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley says education policy best made at level of government closest to students, parents

BOSTON – The United States Department of Education (USED) should be prohibited from making adoption of national English and math standards known as Common Core a condition or incentive for receipt of federal funding, and both USED and organizations like the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, whose dues are paid with taxpayer funds, should make public the amount of time and money they have invested in promoting Common Core according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

A Republic of Republics: How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education

“Common Core fundamentally alters the relationship between the federal government and the states,” says former Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott, the author of A Republic of Republics:  How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education.  “States are sacrificing their ability to inform what their students learn.”

Three federal laws explicitly prohibit the federal government from directing, supervising, funding, or controlling any nationalized standards, testing, or curriculum.  Yet Race to the Top (RttT), a competitive $4.35 billion federal grant program, gave preference to states that adopted or indicated their intention to adopt Common Core and participated in one of two federally funded consortia developing assessments linked to Common Core.

USED subsequently made adoption of Common Core one of the criteria for granting states conditional waivers from the accountability provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

In his preface for the paper, Iowa’s U.S. Senator Charles Grassley writes that when gov­ernment makes “decisions that affect a child’s education, these decisions should be made at a level of government close to the parents and students who are affected.”  He goes on to criticize how what began as a plan to develop standards that states could adopt voluntarily has become a subject of federal coercion.

Scott notes that the adoption of new standards normally takes years from the time they are initially written by panels of educators, made available for extended periods of public review, and revised until they are adopted.  But because of RttT’s deadlines, these periods were reduced to a few months or even weeks.

As a result of the rushed process, states adopted Common Core without knowing about assessments; the outcomes for which students, and in some cases teachers, will be held accountable.  Other unknowns include what the passing score will be, who will set it, and whether it will be the same from state to state.

The three most populous states – California, Texas and Florida – also have systematic processes for adopting textbooks.  These reviews happen on a regular cycle and would be disrupted and often expedited due to the need to adopt instructional materials aligned with the new standards in time for them to be implemented.

The expedited process by which Common Core was adopted in most states meant teachers had no opportunity to inform the standards’ content.  In some states, the new standards are substantially different than what had been taught.  In many cases, teachers will be teaching material in different grades than it had been before.

Scott describes all the “learning on the go” Common Core will require as a very expensive gamble.  The one-year cost of new technology, instructional materials and teacher professional development is estimated at $10.5 billion for the 45 states and the District of Columbia, which have adopted the standards.  With ongoing expenses, the cost is expected to rise to about $16 billion.

Scott also describes why Texas chose not to adopt Common Core while he served as commissioner of education.  Disruption of the textbook adoption cycle, the lengthy process of making the standards available to the public and seeking approval from the state Board of Education, and the cost of changing procedures and parts of the education code were among the reasons for the decision not to adopt.

Texas would have been in line for a $700 million RttT grant, but “it costs more than $300 million per day to run public schools in Texas,” Scott says.  “Giving up substantial autonomy to direct education policy in return for roughly enough money to run the schools for two days was not a trade-off we were willing to make.”

This report is co-sponsored by the American Principles Project, the Pacific Research Institute, and the Civitas Institute. Pioneer’s extensive research on Common Core national education standards includes:  Common Core Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade, The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers, and National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards. Recent national media coverage includes op-eds placed in The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard.


Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.