In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published A Nation at Risk, which warned that the country’s economic, political, and cultural future was threatened by our weak education system. That report stated these now famous lines: “Our nation is at risk.... The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.... If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.... We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.” A Nation at Risk brought about a renewed focus on what Americans should know and be able to do once they had finished their formal education.
Fast forward to 2001. In that year, President George W. Bush pushed his education policy, which came to be known as “No Child Left Behind,” and which promised to increase student achievement by encouraging states to set high standards and to develop assessments based on those standards. Unlike the initiatives before it, No Child Left Behind required states to test all students in certain subjects and at particular grade levels in order to receive federal funding. Most education experts eventually concluded that No Child Left Behind had failed to deliver real and lasting success, and ultimately left the nation’s schools in a bureaucratic mess.
In 2007, two special interest lobbying groups — the National Governors Association (which helps state governments get federal grants) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (which claims to provide leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues) — started work on a common set of curriculum standards in English language arts and mathematics. By allowing those two groups to lead the effort, it gave the impression that the states initiated the action. In reality, the situation resembled something closer to a Potemkin village. In other words, it was just a façade. Funding for the project was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. To date, the Gates Foundation has provided roughly $250 million to those and other pro-Common Core organizations. One might be inclined to think, “So, what?” But what if that quarter of a billion dollars in funding had come from the Koch brothers? Would people (especially the liberally inclined education establishment) still be likely to think, “So, what?”
It’s worth keeping in mind what inside informant “Deep Throat” told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal investigation: “Follow the money!”
In December of 2008, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers produced a document on national education standards that would guide the Obama administration during its transition into office. Two months later, the secretary of education announced a federal education grant program known as “Race to the Top.” This program included billions of dollars from the 2009 Stimulus Bill, which was to be used by states to improve academic standards and assessments. In order to receive Race to the Top grants, states had to commit to “a set of content standards that define what students must know and be able to do and that are substantially identical across all states in a consortium.” In 2011, the Obama administration made the adoption of common standards even easier. Most states were still obligated to meet the onerous No Child Left Behind requirements, but the U.S. Department of Education promised No Child Left Behind waivers to states that adopted a common set of college-ready and career-ready standards and assessments. While the U.S. Department of Education did not require states to adopt the Common Core standards specifically, those standards are the only standards that meet the U.S. Department of Education’s criteria. As a result, all but a handful of states ultimately signed on to the Common Core program.
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