On July 24, 2009, President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the creation of “Race to the Top,” a $4 billion competitive education grant for states featuring a veritable Gordian knot of attached federal strings.
This brings us to the most recent federal push, the Common Core State Standards Initiative. While other federal incursions into individual state education programs since the 1960s have been fairly straightforward in their mission, CCSSI is different in that proponents of those standards came up with a rather clever way of masking federal involvement. Most important, no federal legislation was used.
Rather, using the trade associations National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) as fronts for the progressive initiative, national public and private statists attempted to hide behind the ruse that Common Core was a “state-led” initiative with no federal or national connection.
Yet closer inspection shows large amounts of federal grant dollars flowing into the NGA and CCSSO from the very beginning, and federal Race to the Top dollars were also part of the federal hook.
Financial statements reveal that between 2010 and 2012 both trade associations received more than $28.4 million in federal grant monies for their pet education initiatives, chief among them Common Core. xi xii In addition, these organizations also received substantial donations from corporate fellows such as Microsoft, Apple and General Electric, Inc., as well as donations from such for-profit education giants as Pearson Education, Inc., and nonprofit education giants ACT and Educational Testing Service (ETS).
The push to sell Common Core to the states did not stop with federal dollars, however. One of the leading national private organizations, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has also given the NGA and CCSSO more than $11.4 million over the past five years to “support the Common Core State Standards work” and “work with state policymakers on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.” xiii
In a recent article for The Foundation for Economic Education, Lenore Ealy points out that the Common Core is:
A relentless and coordinated push by philanthropic and bureaucratic experts to shift authority and responsibility from local citizens and independent school districts to the far-removed high cover of central authorities. The Obama administration quickly tied Race to the Top dollars to Common Core adoption by the states, not only tainting the appearance of the Common Core’s voluntary roots but compromising their reality, too. xiv
In a 2009 press release, Arne Duncan promised states a chance at $4 billion in federal money if they simply implemented four earmarked reforms – one of them included “raising standards.” xv At the time the grant was written, the Common Core State Standards Initiative was the only set of national standards that fulfilled the grant requirements, and was weighted for 50 points of the overall 500 points a state could receive. In an application where every point counted, placing the adoption of the Common Core standards on the same points level as raising scores in low-performing schools clearly showed the federal government’s priority to push the Common Core State Standards onto states using federal dollars.