By Casey Given
Since our sister organization Americans for Prosperity Foundation first reported on Common Core in August 2012, there has been an explosion of grassroots activities about the new national education standards. Parents are rightly concerned about the federal government’s overreach into their children’s classroom and are speaking up for school choice and local control. AFP and AFP Foundation has been on the front lines supporting educational freedom, holding town halls across the country from Arizona to Pennsylvania informing activists about Common Core’s poor medicine for America’s educational ills.
Fortunately, our voices are starting to be heard. Numerous states have started to pause or partially withdraw from the standards. Below is a list of the three general strategies states have employed to combat Common Core:
Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Utah withdraw from Common Core’s testing consortia. Since Common Core is not technically a federal program, the Obama administration has asserted its influence on the standards through indirect means. First, it incentivized states to take up Common Core in 2009 by tying $4.35 billion worth of Race to the Top grants to its adoption. Unsurprisingly, 45 states saw green and almost immediately adopted the standards within weeks of their release. Common Core’s two testing consortia – the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) – also received $330 million worth of Race to the Top (RTT) grants from the feds. In their haste to take Uncle Sam’s cash, many states failed to fully read RTT’s fine print granting the federal government authority to oversee the design and implementation of the assessment tests that almost every American child in theory would be taking this fall.
As a result, Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Utah have each pulled out of one of the two consortia to maintain or redesign their own state-specific assessment test. Florida has made a similar move in withdrawing from some of its administrative responsibilities in PARCC, but it remains unclear whether students in the Sunshine State will still be subjected to the tests. Nonetheless, these developments are extremely encouraging. By withdrawing from the testing consortia, states can review the standards and keep whatever aspects they find valuable (if any) without being forced fill their students’ brains with a one-size-fits-all schooling straight from Washington. Considering five states have employed this approach to some extent, it also seems to be the most politically pragmatic. After all, withdrawing from one of the consortia reasserts state control over public education while not repealing Common Core completely. Advocates of educational freedom in politically divided states should especially take note.
Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania pause implementation for further review. One step further down the road to repeal than simply withdrawing from a consortium is completely pausing Common Core’s implementation. Indiana trailblazed this strategy last May by requiring its Office of Management and Budget to review the standards’ fiscal costs, Department of Education to review its educational merits, and three public meetings to be held before the State Board of Education decided whether to move forward with implementation or not. Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Corbett made a similar move in May via executive order, and Michigan’s state legislature followed suit in June with another like-minded plan.
This strategy is also encouraging because it gives states the time to comprehensively review Common Core. Since the standards were adopted so hastily years ago for revenue purposes during one of the greatest economic downturns in American history, it’s only sensible for states to stop and think more clearly. However, the game plan moving forward remains unclear for these states, as each of them have almost completed their Common Core transition. Indeed, the bigger question for these three states is not so much what’s being taught as what’s being tested. For this reason, the best option may be again to withdraw from the testing consortia. In this manner, they can cut the federal pipeline to their classrooms, tailor the Common Core to their students’ needs, and avoid millions of dollars in additional costs by adopting new standards.
Arizona changes Common Core’s name: Undoubtedly the most ineffective strategy to pushing back against Common Core (and most hilarious) is that taken by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Rather than comprehensively review Common Core’s content, Brewer issued an executive order last month changing the standards’ name to “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.” Considering Common Core’s effect on millions of schoolchildren in the Grand Canyon State, Gov. Brewer should follow other states’ lead by taking Common Core into more serious consideration.