Common Core Curriculum: National Standards or Corporate School Reform?

This year, Brattleboro’s schoolchildren and their teachers will be working within the new national curriculum, known by most as Common Core.  The Common Core Curriculum, or CCSS, has been adopted by 46 states, Vermont among them.  It will replace the regional and state curriculums now in place, and usher in a new era of standards-driven education aimed at creating graduates who are ready for “the global economy.”

What is this thing called Common Core, who created it, what are its goals, and why are so many people, including and especially teachers and parents,  against it?

The goal of the new curriculum, according the the Common Core Standards Initiative web site (sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and National Governor’s Association) declares as its mission:

“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”

It would appear that public education is now a job training program.  Leaving aside the obvious question, “What jobs?,” we turn instead to the architects of Common Core — the group of wealthy businessmen who made it their mission to create the educational foundation which all American public schoolchildren will now be taught. 

Who Created Common Core?

Funding for the development of the Common Core Curriculum was supplied in large part by private donors such as the Gates Foundation (Microsoft) and the Walton Foundation (Walmart).  These wealthy donors and their peers operate under the auspices of the National Center for Education and the Economy, or NCEE, a non-profit organization they founded.  Funding for the NCEE comes through its News Schools Venture group which supports charter school corporations Kipp and Edison.  The NCEE is itself a program under America’s Choice, which was also funded by Gates and Walton.  And to complete this circle of private education architects , America’s Choice has been acquired by Pearson, the country’s leading and dominant publisher of textbooks, curriculum materials, and tests.

In addition to this consortium, the testing company ACT has played a leading role in developing the Common Core standards, in conjunction with a second testing company, ACHIEVE.  Both ACT AND ACHIEVE receive funding from insurance company State Farm; ACHIEVE also receives funding from the Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation hasn’t confined it’s giving to private organizations.  They also supported the CCSSO (noted above as the organization of educators tasked with coming up with Common Core) to the tune of $70 million, and have reputedly spent over $300 million on Common Core through 2012.  

But there’s more.  The Gates Foundation has also funded the development of a database to collect student data supplied by schools , calling it the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC).  The SLC in turn developed a non-profit called InBloom to implement personalized learning programs in schools.  The data created by students is then provided to third party advertisers using the InBloom personalized learning product.  InBloom is being tested in single school districts of Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York City, and North Carolina, but faces hurdles in the larger market due to privacy concerns.

Finally, the Gates Foundation has shown strong support for charter schools, which are replacing public schools across the country, in part because of federal directives that “failed” schools be privatized.  Gates gave $3 million to an effort to convert public schools to charter schools in the state of Washington.  Gates was joined in the pro-charter school effort by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Paul Allen, and Walmart heiress Alice Walton as well as a Koch Brother-sponsored group, according to local accounts. Gates has also provided funding to charter school companies, and been an outspoken supporter in intereviews.

Corporate involvement in public education has been on the rise for the last several decades, but certain names come up often and they seem to have their fingers in every pie.  With Common Core and related ventures, Gates and his partners have amassed a great deal of power to determine what and how our children will be taught. 

What Is The Common Core Curriculum?

Common Core Curriculum is a set of standards for Math and English (with Social Studies, Science, and Technical Studies added for grades 6 and up) by grade level designed to specify the things that American public schoolchildren will be required to know.  Parents and students are expected to help students meet the standard level of education for their grade.  Tests provided by testing companies will determine how much each student has learned. Students who fail aspects of the tests will receive extra help in areas of low performance.  Teachers whose students do not rise in sufficient numbers will be identified and held accountable, perhaps by firing them, perhaps by personal attention and remedial activities, as specified under the two federal education programs, No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top.

As for the specifics of what is contained in the new curriculum, there are few who are familiar enough with the whole program to be able to provide an overall assessment.  Supporters say that it is, if nothing else, standard.  And it is concrete, which is to say, its focus is on quantifiable facts and skills, and less on more subjective areas such as interpretation or appreciation.  

A more nuanced argument for the Common Core starts with the assumptions that American students lag in academic achievement and that too many emerge from high school with insufficient skills to succeed in work or college.  Common Core, say proponents such as Florida Governor Jeb Bush,  will solve that problem by raising education standards nationwide and holding teachers and administrators accountable if students don’t succeed. 

Critics argue that the ultra-pragmatic, even industrial nature of the new curriculum, is itself a weakness, leaving those whose talents lie in the more subjective realm nowhere to go.  Moreover, they believe that the precise dovetailing of curriculum with tests as well as the number of new standardized tests students will be required to take will stifle creativity and reduce teachers to mere implementers of this latest government program.  Other concerns include the high cost of implementing the program and loss of local control.   

As supporters are quick to point out, Common Core is not a creation of the government but was funded and engineered by the aforementioned group of private businessmen.  However, the Obama White House makes adoption of the Common Core a requirement for receiving Race To The Top funding.  Hence almost all states have signed on, turning American public education another public-private partnership.

Samples of the Common Core Curriculum and information about the program as adopted in Vermont (with the 15% permitted regionalized content specific to our state) can be found on the State Department of Education website:

Common Core In Action

All but five U.S. states have adopted the Common Core Curriculum.  The holdouts are Minnesota, Nebraska, Virginia, Alaska, and notably, Texas, who will continue to use their current curriculums and forego competition for Race To The Top funding.

Vermont adopted Common Core in 2010, although the state had already opted out of Race To The Top, making the carrot of RTTT funding less of a motivator.  Vermont did not compete for RTTT funding because it requires school districts to tie student test scores to assessments of teacher performance, and to fire teachers whose students do not measure up to the federal standards. A spokesperson for the Vermont Department of Education said in 2012 of RTTT: “the U.S. Education Department is interested in simply replacing one punitive, prescriptive model of accountability with another.” 

That said, Vermont Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca has been a strong supporter of the Common Core curriculum program, for reasons of standardization, interstate comparability, and rigor.  

Here in Brattleboro, Paul Smth, local curriculum specialist for Windham Southeast Supervisory Union (WSESU) says Brattleboro has already begun to implement Common Core.  Last year, says Smith, area schools got their feet wet with the new curriculum, enabling students and teachers to become acquainted with it before becoming officially bound.  This year, all teachers and students will be working with the new curriculum.  Testing on the Common Core will not take place until 2015 when the new, interactive, adaptive, computer-administered SBAC test is ready. 

The new tests have proven controversial because the first two states to take Common Core-based tests failed resoundingly.  New York state saw the student pass rate drop by as much as 34% in their first year with the Common Core test, administered by the PARCC testing company.  Kentucky did about the same with the number of students achieving proficiency dropping by a third statewide, according to Education Week. Supporters of the new curriculum and its specialized tests say that students and teachers are just going through “a necessary adjustment period“ but parents and teachers in both states complained heartily when results were released. 

Paul Smith said that he thought that Vermont scores might actually “get a bump” with the new Common Core test, although he admitted that his views “might be optimistic.”  Meanwhile, students and teachers across the state are entering new territory, as their educators launch yet another drive toward the elusive goal of 100% academic profiency with a new set of standards.

Comments | 20

  • Pop Quiz

    Words of the day. Define, and use in a sentence:

  • Go without the Flow

    Many things about this are rather amazing, but the one that strikes me most is that Common Core seems to ignore and/or reject all of the progress made over the last 50 years in learning about how children learn. Decades of research and practice seem to be tossed aside. I see no evidence of multiple intelligences or flow being a part of the Common Core, for example.

    It’s also bothersome to think that teachers with similar lifelong experience are being placed into the role of “implementer” of standardized, corporate curriculum.

    In some ways, this seems like a clever plan by a few corporations to try to raid every school budget in the country, sell curriculum and testing to them, document teacher and school failure within their system, then provide replacement staff and charter schools to get rid of public education altogether. (Good thing people are smart and won’t let them do this.)

    Spinoza – Due to my hebetude, I had to look up a definition of Gyve. I shall inculcate the new information.

    • Grading on a Curve

      Lest standards get too lax, I cannot grant credit for your usage of Gyve.

      However, since we all know you are well acquainted with its homophone, and have demonstrated understanding how that word pertains to the subject at hand, extra credit will be issued.

  • Amazing

    What’s amazing to me (or perhaps not so amazing anymore) is that we let the rich decide our education.

    Some people think the decades of the 60s, 70s and 80s were simply an anomaly.

    Welcome to the real world as it has always been pre-1910. The rich decide and we must obey or face their wrath.

    • Pyramid Schemes

      Many of the mover and shakers noted in Lise’s article are atop the top ten in the recent Forbes 400 richest Americans list.

      Noteworthy in that list; the top 400 individuals had equal wealth to the bottom 150,000,000 people. Also for the first time, there were billionaires who didn’t make the cut.

  • Parent Arrested for Challenging Common Core

    In case you missed this, from the other day…At a school board meeting…A public forum…this occurred…

    Read more about it here:

    The story has appeared at various sites and news outlets on the web, search for further info.

  • Neoliberals

    This is just one piece of the Global Neoliberal puzzle.
    Their plan is to privatize all aspects of government that can make someone a profit.
    And eliminate everything else.
    Welcome to the jungle!

    • Book Larnin'

      I believe that if you look into the history of public schools in the US they actually were based on the idea of creating an educated work force. This is nothing new. From the age of industrialization on a prime focus for many who supported the idea of a public school system could easily be labeled as “job training.” Or at least that was the focus for some who supported the idea, and even then there were corporate and wealthy elite who pushed for better schools because they recognized that they needed well educated workers. Nothing changes.

      • An educated community, a civil society

        Public schools began in New England to promote literacy (we wanted everyone to be able to read the Bible) and community. Webster published an early, much-used textbook with a focus on civic duty and morality in the late 1700’s that was popular into the 1830’s or so.

        Mann was hoping to produce disciplined citizens from public education in the mid-1800’s.

        Most of the work-related training in the early days was by apprenticeship. In the 1800’s, colleges, not public schools, helped people advance their careers. Wealthier students could go to college and become a better manager, perhaps, but most workers didn’t go that far and most bosses didn’t need them to.

        In the early 1900’s people like Dewey were saying that schools taught you facts, and also how to live…. “to prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities.”

        It wasn’t really until the early to mid-1900’s that high schools (not all public schools) began moving slightly beyond college prep and into preparing students to be citizens and professionals , not laborers, in a workforce.

        Even in the 1980’s the focus was more on “cultural literacy,” not preparing anyone for a global workforce.

        Intense corporate interest in all aspects of educational budgets is a relatively new development.

        • The development of industry

          The development of industry in the United States correlates to the early to mid-1900s where on the east coast and areas of the west coast public schools began to focus on training students to have “full and ready use of all his capacities.” Note the “his”. If you read beyond Wikipedia you’ll find that for some the idea of a capable/literate school student was seen as benefitting the labor force. Then you had a huge disparity in huge areas inland and out West where teachers were still teaching without having graduated from high school themselves. The country was populated with huge swaths of remote farming communities where teachers were in short supply. Young women in the mid- to late teens (16 and up) were hired as teachers all over the country. Up into the 30s there were many areas of rural America where many did not graduate from high school.

          I think that reading further will show that while theoreticians may have seen education as a tool for “cultural literacy” for huge numbers in the growing lower to middle-class education was always seen as a way for their children to move upwards to a better life, by securing more stable and profitable employment. It’s always been the wealthy who as a class can afford to look at education as self improvement. As the industrialization of the country became more technical and farming less likely to provide a living, education in rural areas became more important and more attended school. But if you look into it you’ll see that it was always with the idea of becoming a more valued worker or even a “professional”, a quest for a better life or entry into a different world. Small family farms were disappearing and along with that the possibility for raising a family without an education.

          As far as education values my motto has always been “if Texas is against it, I”m for it”. If you read further into the Gates foundation’s support of charter schools, they do have some compelling reasons for their position, at least regarding their focus on the inability of certain public school systems to help or improve the education of students in poorer neighborhoods. This proves to be true even in Brattleboro, where a close look at the break-down of student performance will show that students in the higher income strata also do much better in testing and are more likely to move on to college. Whether Gates Foundation is on the right track or not is up for discussion but I think that this is a very complex topic. Personally I don’t support charter schools but I also recognize that public schools are falling short when it comes to children in poorer districts. I’d have to look further into what is going on with the Gates Foundation’s focus and work before just rejecting it out of hand.

          • Huh?

            It’s hard to follow, but you seem to be saying corporations are to be trusted with designing a new educational system for everyone in the country and trusted to manage or eliminate public schools because big business has always done it this way, because rich people have always wanted to help poor people get better skills to improve their lives so they’d have smarter employees. Because there aren’t as many farms. Or something.

            Schooling started long before industrialization. I don’t see how anyone can say that education has always been about developing a workforce or becoming a more valuable worker. It hasn’t. That’s a more recent development.

            It started from the idea of being a good, productive person – reading the Bible and being a well-behaved member of society. Church was school for most people before schools were created.

            Perhaps the confusion is from the assembly-line design of schools in the early 20th century. They were like Ford plants, but they were not developed for producing a workforce. It was for producing able, participatory citizens, quickly and efficiently in a mass production format.

            Solving inner city, or any, social problems isn’t what this new Common Core push is about, either. One might say that NCLB and RTTT are designed to force inner city schools to fail (if you are doing poorly, you get cuts, not assistance) in order to be “saved” by benevolent corporations.

            (As for the “reading further,” my background is pretty solid. I’ve taught students of all ages, formally and informally, of all socio-economic backgrounds, have extended personal experience with Montessori, Reggio, multiple intelligences, flow, informal and public school standards (DC and Vermont). I’ve read a lot about teaching and education over the last few decades, and we’ve spent the last six months or so researching the current issues. I’m not an expert, but I’m not as simple-minded as you imply.)

          • I'm not implying that you are

            I’m not implying that you are simple minded, if that is how you took my response. I am suggesting that the history is more complicated and the situation is also more complicated than some of these responses imply.

            I’m also certainly not taking the stance you imply in your first paragraph. I’ve worked on standards issues in large urban settings and have some criticisms of both standards attempts and also the attempts to avoid standards.. I’m not pro or con corporations. I do not see the Gates Foundation, which is what I referenced, as a corporate attempt to take over anything. I do not support corporate take over of the public school system but I believe, from first hand experience, that the public school system in both rural and urban American has certainly not been serving the lower economic strata students well at all.

            You say
            “It’s hard to follow, but you seem to be saying corporations are to be trusted with designing a new educational system for everyone in the country and trusted to manage or eliminate public schools because big business has always done it this way, because rich people have always wanted to help poor people get better skills to improve their lives so they’d have smarter employees. Because there aren’t as many farms. Or something.”

            I don’t see where in any of my response I indicated that I thought corporate takeover or design was a good thing, I certainly did not even mention that rich people have either always wanted to help poor people for any reason. What I did mention was that if you look further into the history of the public school system you’ll find that there has been a division in the attitude towards what education is about: is it enlightenment or is it a way to step up the economic ladder. While it isn’t necessarily broken down by rich vs. poor, certainly the wealthy can afford to look at it as “enlightenment” while those trying to move up into the middle or upper middle classes tend to see it as a way up the economic ladder for their kids.

            I mentioned the loss of farming as a viable way of life because at that time the majority of people in this country were farmers. While urban coastal areas were “designing” schools, the reality of education for most Americans was that of the one room country school house and not making it through high school for many.

            Those parents saw education as the way out for their kids. Even today there are parents in urban settings who want charter schools because they recognize that their local public schools are failing their kids on many levels. In order for the public schools to survive, they need to recognize this failure and find ways to correct the problems. Standards are an attempt to correct, whether effective or not. I don’t think the intention is to do harm but to improve. Whether effective or not is another question. And I don’t think the involvement of Foundation money which is not the same thing as corporate money, is necessarily bad. It’s certainly a good idea to keep a skeptical mind and watch closely but let’s remember that if it weren’t for the guilt donations of the wealthy we never would have had public libraries or a lot of other public resources.

            But please I don’t see where I suggested that corporation control of schools was a good thing. In fact that would be the Texas approach if they could get away with it. And I don’t think charter schools are going to be some sort of magic bullet cure either. In fact I believe at this point the data shows that most of them fail more miserably than the public schools

          • Although this hasn't been

            Although this hasn’t been mentioned here yet might I also add that I think the voucher system idea is a callous joke. The carrot is that it would give kids an opportunity to have the same educational experience as those who can afford private schools. Take a look at the actual tuition costs at the most private schools that have good reputations and you’ll see that this idea of giving out vouchers as a way to improve things is just nonsense. There is no way a voucher program could come near the tuition required at most of good private schools. It’s just a way to quietly dismantle the public school system. As I said, most charter schools, where vouchers would be used, are proving to be very ineffective. At least with public schools, like it or not, there is some accountability and there are ways to track whether the schools are actually educating.

  • A Few Comments on the Public Schools

    A question: why are large corporations getting involved in the public school system? Are they suddenly feeling the need to share their fortunes with the less fortunate? If they yearn to spend their money for the public good, perhaps they could donate some of their billions to the new Affordable Care Act which is under attack because it is, uh, not affordable. However with lots of corporate money to sustain it, it could become truly viable and would provide a way for large corporations to show the public that their hearts are truly in the right place. Just think what the Gates Foundation and all the Walmart billions could do for health care in America!

    Second question: Why was the parent who spoke in opposition to this new Common Core curriculum silenced and later arrested for speaking out? What is wrong with having a public forum where everyone gets to air his opinion rather than a state-sponsored propaganda session? And why is his point of view being labeled a conservative position? Many of us who are certainly not conservative find this new concept of education simply odious. It’s not conservative or liberal, it’s just bad; bad for students, bad for teachers and bad for parents.

    Finally, I have to admit that I find all of this unfortunate tinkering by the state with the public school system to be extremely unfortunate. (note, it is called a “public school system” not a national or state school system. This implies that the public, that is, parents, teachers and students, own this system and should be in charge as they have always been in the past – when America was the world leader in education.) Public schools have educated farmers, New England mill-workers, store owners and other small and large businessmen, bankers, artists, musicians, writers, doctors, lawyers, engineers and scientists without a common core curriculum or any other centrally orchestrated curriculum. The recipe that works has always been the same: a combination of dedicated teachers, supportive parents and students ready and willing to learn – that’s all it takes. Not corporate millions to set up complex programs that lead to uniformity, not fancy testing programs or expensive computer systems – just Socrates sitting under tree with a group of students willing to spend a few hours a day listening to him.

    But perhaps my view of education is just too simple for our complex, economically based world. We need to spend huge amounts of money to Race to the Top where we will find a Common Core that will perhaps allow us to make the Great Leap Forward into a Cultural Revolution that will lead to a Brave New World. Ah, but don’t forget, Communist China already tried that route and guess where they ended up – that’s it, right back at the beginning again!


      I think the actions of the board were inappropriate, they could as easily have just told him his time was up and that the rules of the meeting were set beforehand. However, I cannot find a total video clip that shows whether he just simply stood up, unrecognized from the floor and began speaking or not. So it’s possible the approach of asking him to sit down was tried and failed and they resorted to the attempted escort out.

      But the rules of the meeting were set up beforehand. People were to submit questions, on paper. It was made clear that there were to be no questions from the floor. I’ve attended zillions of these meetings over hot topic school issues and often there are parents on one side or the other who sort of bend the rules and essentially take over a meeting, turning what was supposed to be an informational session into a back and forth on the pros and cons. It is unfortunate for parents who want the information. This does not justify the arrest of this man. However, all charges have now been dropped.

      But I think you’re misrepresenting things when you make the comparison of public forum for airing opinions and state-sponsored propaganda. Your bias shows quite clearly. I think the more likely definition would have been a school board informational session. There are some legitimate concerns about Common Core and particularly about the involvement of corporation (not foundation) money but presenting it as some sort of conspiracy or using terms like state sponsored propaganda is not informational nor useful. It only demeans the seriousness of what are some legitimate questions.

    • The following is in reference

      The previous is in reference to the parent who was arrested at the Common Core meeting in Maryland

      • Questions are the Heart of Education

        Most disturbing to me is that the man in the video is clearly attempting to ask a pertinent question, on behalf of all the parents present, which at least one other parent is vocally supporting. There are no voices of opposition. And almost from the very start the security guard becomes needlessly aggressive, yanking the man around, escalating the situation without actual threat or provocation. And then, the rest of the parents stand by, submissive, and mute, as he is hauled off.

        I mean, if it’s an informational meeting, even with a pre-set question format, what was so subversive in the man’s question? And is this level of compliance with every ‘security issue’, however civil or rhetorical, the new normal?

        • It Really Wasn't A Question, Was It?

          Your post made me even more curious so I looked further into this. I started wondering just what Mr. Small had asked, what exactly was his pertinent question.”

          Now my question to you is this, is this really a question or a statement? The following is what Mr. Small said at the meeting. You called this a pertinent question, could you explain why you described what Mr. Small said at the meeting in this manner. I find it more of a statement and a somewhat damning one at that.

          This is what Mr. Small said at the meeting
          “My question is how does lowering educational standards prepare kids for … college, because that’s what it’s all about?” Small asked in a scene caught on videotape.

          And it wasn’t that Mr. Small just stood up to ask a question but he apparently would not sit down and kept repeating the “question”. According to the paper there was also this “Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson said he will review the incident, but in a statement, said that the police officer intervened only after Small refused repeated requests by to take his seat and follow the prescribed format.

          “While [the Baltimore County Police Department] strongly supports a citizen’s right to exercise his or her First Amendment rights, it also recognizes that meeting organizers have the right to establish rules of order,” the statement said.”

          According to the police the video does not show the entire encounter and there was an attempt by Mr. Small to push to officer away prior to what you saw.

          You ask “what was so subversive in the man’s question?” Was it a question. Should he have at least just asked it and then sat down which he apparently didn’t do. Was this more of an attempt to disrupt the meeting?

          I just think there’s more under the radar around this situation. The Tea Party is apparently in an uproar over Common Core making them strange bedfellows with those who oppose testing but are of a different political bent.

          You aren’t seeing the entire video, now that we know what Mr. Small said, repeatedly, at the meeting and that he apparently didn’t just say his piece and then sit down but kept repeating it after being asked to sit . . . how would you have handled the situation if you had been there? Seriously, all things considered.

          I suppose what could have been done is to address the statement that this was a lowering of standards. Well, Mr. Small, we don’t agree that this is a lowering of standards. We see it as an attempt to make standards consistent across the board.” At which point Mr. Small would have gone on about why he thought it was a lowering of standards, then the board would have had to point out what they thought were his errors in judgment, and on and on leading to a total misuse of time and a takeover of the meeting. That’s what I see as the scenario, what do you think they should have done?

          • A Slightly Different Report

            Now this is what Huffington Post says Mr. Small stated in addition to the other question.

            “I want to know how many parents here are aware that the goal of Common Core standards isn’t to prepare our children for full-fledged universities, it’s to prepare them for community college,”

            Should they have take a poll of the parents at that point to see how many knew or gone into a conversation about whether Common Core standards are meant to prepare students for community college. I suspect this was way off topic for the meeting and perhaps there was a time constraint leading them to ask for written questions.

            I do think that a response to the “prepare them for community college” might have been in order. I’m curious why he says that myself and think I’ll look into it.

            From my personal experience often these group attempts in any direction to make policy can lead to some really baffling decisions. There may be a real cause of concern about this new attempt. I also know that there is graft and double dipping and all sorts of misuse of grants and educational funds whether one is conservative or liberal in one’s approach towards educational reform. I’ve seen it firsthand and it’s not pretty no matter who is doing it. So I have no doubts that there are many waiting on the edges to jump in and make money on this new reform. With no concern probably about whether it works for the kids or not.

  • Nothing new here

    The wealthy dictating what’s taught in schools really isn’t something new, the entire public education itself was originally created by rich merchants & factory owners to train good obedient workers. The whole reason school’s to this day have bells signaling the end of class is an anachronism to teach people to hop at the sound of a bell/whistle. Hell our entire system was founded on the prussian education system itself, which was blatantly created to train an agricultural population into good obedient soldiers. I’d say they’ve sure succeeded. So the corporations dictating how the schools teach is really just a continuation of the status quo, not something new.

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