My View

Looking at federal involvement in Common Core

February 17, 2014 

In 2010, South Carolina, like 44 states, adopted the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts.

Tactics used in “Columbo“ seem appropriate to use to investigate claims that there was no federal government involvement in Common Core. In each episode, the suspect tried to deceive the investigation, but just as the suspect thought he or she had been successful, Columbo would say “Ah, one more thing ...(that) is a bit of a problem.” That one last problem was always the suspect’s downfall.

Common Core proponents say it was a state-led initiative. However, critics say federal government funding and influence played a major role in Common Core’s creation. According to the U.S. Department of Education website, the department has 4,400 employees and a $68 billion budget. The mission statement indicates it spends money for grants, contracts, etc., for education policies and focusing national attention on key educational issues. Columbo would have asked if it was an oversight that all those employees neglected their duty to direct national attention to the most comprehensive, national overhaul of education since the DOE came into existence in 1979. He would have pointed out it is “a bit of a problem” they may have forgotten the communication part of their mission, but remembered to generously give our tax dollars to Common Core-related people and organizations. Columbo would have been “all over” exposing how money was being used to exert influence on the development of Common Core.

Columbo’s first “case in point” evidence would have been the federal government’s “investment” in two state-related nonprofit trade organizations that were tasked to develop Common Core. The first group, the National Governor’s Association gets approximately half its revenue from federal tax dollars. (South Carolina’s Gov. Nikki Haley and five other governors have withdrawn from NGA.) As a nonprofit, NGA meetings and paperwork are not subject to public scrutiny. But its 2011-2012 financial records show it received $4.9 million from the federal government. In 2008, NGA put out a report calling for national standards in education and recommended a “strong state-federal partnership.” This group put out the call then volunteered to write the standards themselves.

The Council of Chief State School Officers is the other group that shared U.S. federal grants of $330 million in stimulus funds with the NGA in 2010. Like the NGA, this nonprofit’s status allowed it to hold Common Core-related meetings leaving it open to criticism about secrecy. With some of this money, these two organizations outsourced the development/writing of Common Core to a third party called Achieve Inc., whose stated goal is to “alter states” policies.

Another document that provides insight into Common Core’s creation is the document states signed when they applied for federal Race to the Top stimulus funding that encouraged adopting Common Core. In the first sentence of the “Federal Role” section of the memorandum of understanding is the “state-led” reference, but the specifics of the federal government’s role outline a number of financial incentives that will be available to states including: financial support to implement the standards and revising and aligning existing federal education laws as needed.

The full federal role can be found at

Another good resource is See also an article titled “Sen. Grassley: Stop Federal Funds, Coercion on Common Core,” where U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley identified examples of the government’s attempt to influence the states by making adoption of Common Core a prerequisite for a state to compete for federal Race to the Top grants; directly funding the two groups developing national tests aligned to Common Core using Race to the Top funds; making implementation of/or coordination with Common Core a funding priority for other, unrelated competitive grants administered by the Department of Education; and making participation in Common Core a prerequisite for being awarded a waiver from the DOE requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act. While adoption of the standards was said to be voluntary, states knew they could lose or have to repay those incentives if they did not adopt them, according to “Common Core,” John Stossel’s Jan. 2 article.

The money given to the two companies in Grassley’s list represents 350 million new “problems.” It doesn’t take a detective to question the direct federal government connection with the two companies preparing tests to assess Common Core because both the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced, which South Carolina will be using, have received $350 million from the federal government.

Common Core critics are confident the federal government influenced the initiation, development and implementation of Common Core, but Americans are being asked to believe otherwise.

Kay Bivens of Lake Wylie is a former science teacher with more than 12 years teaching experience. After retiring, she began leading a series of U.S. Army Family Support Group in the Carolinas, which led to her planning, developing curriculum and teaching classes at several FSG Leadership Training Academies in Florida, Texas and South Carolina.

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