The second of two parts.
In a previous article, I highlighted questionable assumptions underlying national Common Core Standards (CCS) in English and mathematics, which in 2010 were adopted by the North Carolina State Board of Education. Let’s look at CCS’s three other major flaws.
Diminished Parental and State Influence
Imposing CCS on the nation’s schools clashes with express prohibitions on national curriculum or increasing the federal government’s power over education. (See the Department of Education Organization Act and Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.) Yet Common Core continues to be implemented in 46 states. By having states “voluntarily” adopt these national standards, Washington circumvents these prohibitions and facilitates one of history’s greatest transfers of power from states and localities to the federal government and other entities. The transfer was accelerated by tying adoption of CCS to eligibility for Race to the Top funds and waivers for No Child Left Behind. Even states that applied for but did not receive Race to the Top funds were still obligated to sign on to CCS. If that weren’t bad enough, because of the application process, many states were strong-armed to adopt CCS even before the standards had been finalized.
In addition to the CCS, assessment is another area where the influence of parents and local authorities is diminished. The endgame of standards and assessment is to influence the curriculum. By imposing these standards on states and funding “voluntarily” aligned assessments in the states, the federal government is — in essence — doing what is expressly prohibited by law: directing, supervising and controlling the curriculum, and dictating its direction.
Do parents or states have recourse? Under the existing agreements, states must adopt standards word for word and are limited in how much they can add to existing standards. (States are prohibited from adding more than 15 percent new content to existing standards.) As such, there is little opportunity for parents or local officials to reassert their rights. What influence parents and local government had on education has now been intentionally narrowed, nearly eliminated and transferred to unelected bureaucrats in Washington or elsewhere. CCS forced states and localities to give up their authority and influence over education in exchange for federal dollars. One wonders if those agreements would have been signed if participants knew the true cost.
CCS Adds to Financial Burdens
Developing and implementing a national curriculum involves significant cost, both known and unknown. Because most teachers are unfamiliar with the new philosophies and techniques, teachers will need to be trained. New textbooks and other materials must be purchased. In addition, assessment plans require significant investment in technology training, infrastructure and maintenance.
Exactly how much will CCS cost? According to the consulting firm AccountabilityWorks, the cost to implement Common Core nationally for seven years will be about $15.9 billion. The costs are divided up as follows: $1.2 billion for new assessments; $5.3 billion for professional development; $2.5 billion for textbooks and instructional materials; and $6.9 billion for technology infrastructure and support. Over two-thirds of the nearly $16 billion in costs are classified as “one-time” costs.
Those costs would be real costs for North Carolina as well. AccountabilityWorks estimated that over seven years, North Carolina will spend $200 million for professional development, $85 million for textbooks and materials, and $240 million for technology. That is a total of $525 million — an average of $75 million per year.
Are those costs North Carolina can afford? Considering that the state and the nation are slowly recovering from the Great Recession and budgets are tight, there are legitimate questions as to where this money will come from. No federal money was built into CCS to cover the costs of implementation. If it is not financed by the states or local districts, one wonders what additional conditions will come with money from the federal government or other private entities.
Security Concerns Loom
The CCS program also creates the national Student Data Longitudinal System (SDLS) to aid assessment efforts. SDLS is a national database of personal and academic student data. How did the database get built? Pressure from Washington played a big part. The 2009 stimulus bill created the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund as well as funding to build SDLS. Any state that accepted stimulus and Stabilization Funding signed on to SDLS. Race to the Top then awarded each state additional points based on the state’s commitment to building SDLS.
It’s not only the size of SDLS that causes concern, it is the type of data that is collected. According to the National Education Model, federal data should only be concerned with academics. Federal data collectors, however, want SDLS to collect data on deeply personal matters, including health care history, disciplinary records, family income range, family voting status and religious affiliation. SDLS will have about 400 data points in all.
Under normal circumstances parents and students would not have to worry that their personal information would be collected and sold without their permission. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects personal identifiable information from being released to other organizations. However, new regulations allow transmission of student information without parental consent to any governmental or private entity designated by the government as an “authorized representative” who wants the data to evaluate educational programs. As such, under CCS there are no limitations on who the data can be shared with and parents have no right to object.
Despite assertions from state agencies that student data will be protected and not personally identifiable, the truth is that assessment consortia received federal funding with the express purpose of developing a strategy to make student level data available.
A high percentage of the data collected for SDLS is of questionable academic value. It does little to improve educational outcomes and adds much to the belief that the drive to impose CCS is about controlling student behavior, not improving student achievement.
Conclusion: Beware of CCS
The philosophy behind CCS and the standards themselves are of questionable value. Implementing the standards is expensive and ignores prohibitions on sharing student data. Worst of all, imposing Common Core minimizes parental and local influence over education. Despite these facts, the government has disseminated CCS to 46 states.
Today the burden of CCS is falling on students, teachers, parents and taxpayers. This creates a complex problem with no easy answer. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves about the Common Core Standards and their impact on students, families, taxpayers and schools. As we learn the facts, we can only hope that decision-makers protect the rights of students, families and taxpayers and reaffirm the principles of diversity and freedom that helped to make American education the best in the world.
 National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards, A Pioneer Institute and American Principles White Paper by AccountabilityWorks, February 2012.
 The National Education Data Model, available online at http://nces.sifinfo.org/datamodel/eiebrowser/techview.aspx?instance=studentElementarySecondary, lists hundreds of data points considered indispensable to the nationalized student database.
 Much of the background for this section was provided by the excellent paper: Controlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core is Bad for America: A Pioneer Institute and American Principles Project White Paper by Emmet McGroaty and Jane Robbins, The Pioneer Institute, May 2012.