The Common Core: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

There was an article in Scientific American entitled Science in a Republican Senate: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  It is well worth a read, and I’ll be commenting more on the article in the days ahead.

Photo by Kristian Niemi, Creative Commons
Photo by Kristian Niemi, Creative Commons

But for this blog post, I want to apply the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly to an analysis of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The Common Core State Standards initiative began in 2009 at a Chicago meeting held by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. These groups charged Achieve, Inc. to develop and write common standards in mathematics and English/language arts. The purpose of a common set of standards was to set up a consistent set of educational goals across the nation that would make sure that students graduate from high school and be ready for college and career. College and career readiness are underlying goals of the Common Core.

The Common Core official website is at Achieve, Inc., a corporation founded by the NGA. According to Achieve, the Common Core is designed to “Prepare America’s Students for Success.” According to Achieve, teachers played a “critical role” in the development of the standards. However, the critical role did not involve writing the standards. Based on Achieve’s documents, teachers either served on committees to check the standards, or provided feedback on the standards. Teachers were not involved in the actual construction of the performance standards, nor did they take part in any decision-making about the efficacy of the Common Core standards

The Common Core is essentially Bad and Ugly, but it does have some Good aspects.  Please read on.

The Good: The Emergence of Voices in Opposition to the Common Core

The only “good” in the Common Core State Standards movement is the increasing volume of voices of people and groups who oppose the Common Core.  Using scholarship and activism, a rising tide of opposition to the Common Core has brought to light what really is behind the Common Core and why it has arrived at the door steps of America’s public schools.  Lurking behind the Common Core are billionaires, conservative organizations, and corporations who see dollar signs in their dreams.

The “Good” of the  Common Core and related educational reforms has created several grass-root organizations of teachers, parents, activists, students, professors, and others.  The Network for Public Education and United Opt Out National are two examples of how groups of citizens have come together and used their intelligence, creativity, and voice to call the Common Core a sham that should be opposed and removed from America’s public schools.

In addition to organizations that emerged from opposition to the Common Core, there has been a surge in the number of bloggers–mostly teachers, former teachers, professors–who write critical blog posts providing educators and parents with information, knowledge and editorial opinions about the Common Core.

In the research and reading that I do to write this blog, I’ve come to know a vanguard of voices who have created a movement to oppose a cabal of corporate pirates whose goal is to privatize public education, and mutate the teaching profession into nonprofessionals who have little experience and even shorter life expectancy as teachers.  Most of the people who I’ve identified as part of a larger vanguard of voices of opposition are doing courageous work, and writing about the injustices of the standards-based reform movement.  For example, I wrote this about one of these educators, Dr. Mercedes Schneider.

Dr Mercedes Schneider’s book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (Public Library) arrived the other day and I was thrilled to see the names and chapters devoted to many of those who I have written about on my blog. But you won’t find the kind of writing in Mercedes’s book about these people and organization anywhere else. In my view, Mercedes Schneider is at the vanguard of voices who are uncovering the harm that the people featured in her book are inflicting on public education. In amazing detail and wonderfully written you’ll be taken on journeys into the minds of corporate and education thieves, many of whom have become wealthy on the backs of American school students and teachers.

From the literature and research, a compelling vanguard of voices has emerged, and is ground zero for the real reform of America’s public schools.  You can read about some of these people here.

As you read ahead, I will introduce other leaders among the vanguard of voices in opposition to the standards-based educational reform.

The Bad: The Influence Peddlers and Market-Based Designs

In a powerful synthesis  linking corporations and organizations to the Common Core, all of whom are affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Dr. Morna McDermott, Professor at Towson University and co-founder of United Opt Out National has used a systems approach to map these connections, and shows how this “neoliberal ecosystem” is reigning havoc on school districts around the nation.

You need to keep in mind that there is an enormous amount of money (billions and billions and billions of dollars) flowing in to this ecosystem, and working its way into the pockets of a few organizations, corporations and people.

In an article entitled Flow Chart Exposes Common Core’s Myriad Corporate Connections, the author (Candice Bernd) uses Dr. McDermott’s research to paint a nasty picture of the relationships among corporations and organizations and the Common Core.  Using the chart shown in Figure 1, which was created by Dr. McDermott, Bernd says this:

The chart illuminates a larger corporate agenda that seeks market-based education reforms and increased influence over public education in the United States. With defense and security expenditures slowing, corporations are looking to profit from new cloud-based software used to collect and mine information from student records to create individualized education programs designed by third-party companies (Bernd, C. (2013, September 6). Flow Chart Exposes Common Core’s Myriad Corporate Connections. Retrieved November 6, 2014, from

Figure 1. Map of the Common Core and its Connections to Corporate America.  Used with permission of the author, Dr. Mona McDermott, United
Figure 1. Map of the Common Core and its Connections to Corporate America. Used with permission of the author, Dr. Morna McDermott, United Opt Out National and Towson University 

The map created by Dr. McDermott exposes the influence peddling that shadows and casts a pall over public education in America.  The Common Core State Standards has created an ecosystem of influence peddling involving private organizations, corporations, not-for-profit groups, governments and many technology-based education companies.  In a separate research project, Dr. Mercedes Schneider has identified and investigated a who’s who of the influence peddlers shown in the McDermott map.  Taken together, the McDermott and Schneider studies expose the corruption and greed that underscore what’s wrong with American public education.

McDermott writes about the nature of standards-based education and provides us with a rich set of resources documenting how standards-based education took hold, and emerged as the major paradigm of education reform.  McDermott’s research includes a time-line of events which describe how the standards-based mentality emerged, and how technology and private corporations have teamed up to set up a cash-flow of lots of money into public education and out to private firms and investment portfolios.

McDermott documents this in a three-part article (UNESCO and the Education Technology Industry: A Recipe for Making Public Education a Profiteering Enterprise on her blog, Educationalchemy.   Here is how she begins her research paper.  She writes:

Without conjecture as to motive or intent, I parallel the last 30 years of reform which are intertwined with UNESCO and find some documented parallels and relationships. The conjecture is left to my reader. My findings here reflect what appear to be the three premises of the last few decades upon which global accountability driven reform are driven, posited by Heinz-Dieter Meyer, Daniel Tröhler, David F. Labaree & Ethan L. Hutt (Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 9, 2014):

  • homogenizing the heterogeneous reality of education through increasingly abstract and context-indifferent standards and outcome metrics;
  • shifting centers of policy making influence from “local” education professionals embedded in institutions and narratives of national history and culture to a global elite of experts, committed with increasing single-mindedness to the narrative of market efficiency;
  • and moving from decentralized governance and soft guidelines to centralized governance and hard mandates. McDermott, M. (2014, October 18). UNESCO and the Education Technology Industry: A Recipe for Making Public Education a Profiteering Enterprise PART I. Retrieved November 8, 2014, from

The Ugly: Betrayal of Civil Rights and the Right to a Quality Education

According to research by Nicholas Tampio and Yohuro Williams, the Common Core Betrays the Civil Rights Movement.  In a report published on Truthout, these researchers name several reasons why the Common Core is harming a generation of African-American students.  For several years we have published many articles on this blog that are supported by the claims of these researchers.

Firstly, they rightly state that the Common Core and its associated high-stakes testing has branded many students of color as failures.  If you look at high stakes testing data in any state, or focus on any city district, a very low percentage of black and hispanic students show skill on math tests.  Tampa and Williams report that only 19.3 percent of African-American students were proficient in math, and 17.6 percent were proficient in language arts.

A second concern that they find is the fact that public education has reduced curriculum to those areas that are tested; namely, math and language arts.  Students are unfairly punished if they don’t do well in either of these subjects.  And for students who don’t do well, the solution is to burden the students with worksheets in drill and practice regimes, and not providing opportunities for teachers to work with these students with out the fear of failing yet another test.  The result is, according to these researchers and many others, that students are turned into “little test taking machines.”

Thirdly, the resources that are available to schools are being used buy textbooks and high-stakes tests.  Billions of dollars will be needed to purchase and keep up a technology infrastructure to measure student performance on the Common Core.  As we have reported here, and as these researchers printout, The Race to the Top program used more than $330 million to fund two testing consortia (PARCC and SBAC) to develop computer-based tests.  Do schools have the funds to carry out a computer-based high-stakes testing program, and do they have the funds to keep up this system?  Could these resources be used in other ways that might help students learn, and not become robots who are taught to the test.

We have created an ugly situation when it comes to providing an education for youth that is interesting, creative, and innovative.  According to these researchers, and others that I’ve cited in this article, little is being done to offer an educational experience that sees students as unique people who bring to school a rich canopy of experiences that could be the basis for learning.  Williams and Tampio close their article by writing:

We share the National Urban League’s ambition to prepare black youth to succeed in the 21st century global economy but disagree that the Common Core is the way to make that happen. So far, the Common Core is draining educational budgets, narrowing the curriculum and turning students into little test-taking machines. This is no way to advance the civil rights legacy. Instead, we should recommit to the principle that all children, of whatever race or background, can attain the same kind of education only available, right now, to the children of privilege (Tampio, N., & Williams, Y. (2014, November 5). Common Core Betrays the Civil Rights Movement. Retrieved November 8, 2014, from

A quality education ought to be available to children from any family.  But it seems to me, and especially to scholars such as Ed Johnson, that we have done nothing but tinker with schooling under the disguise of the Common Core Standards reform.  The goal of schooling under the present reform conditions is to make the claim that students are proficient in math and reading by using a test-based metric.  Teaching to the test is the primary activity of school.

Using the current model of reform, schools can not be improved by trying to improve the parts separately.  It is a sure path to failure. For example, some advocates of educational reform believe that student achievement can be improved by weeding out the bad teachers. Millions of dollars have been invested in using student high-stakes test scores to check teacher performance using a technique called Value Added Measure (VAM). Teachers whose VAM scores are low can be identified, and according to these experts, teachers with low scores must be bad teachers. Getting rid of “defects” in any system will not improve the system or the part that was identified. Instead, a better investment would be to ask how can we improve the quality of teaching, and what can be done to improve the teaching of all educators.

The above example highlights the current approach to reform. Identify a part of the system, and fix it. Bad teachers, get rid of them. Low achievement scores? Write “rigorous” standards, raise the bar, and give high-stakes tests. It’s that simple. We’ve had rigorous and not so rigorous standards in place for more than a decade, and as you will see ahead, changing standards doesn’t have any effect on student performance.

Providing a quality education for all students means that all parts of a school system are interdependent and must be taken as a whole. For example, The Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is a system of connected and interdependent parts, and to improve the quality of the APS, it is critical to look at the APS as a whole. Closing schools (removing so-called underperforming schools), does not have an effect of improving the APS, or indeed saving money (as some would tell you). Fundamental questions about APS need to be asked, but in the context of the APS being a system, not a collection of schools, students, teachers, administrators, parents, curriculum, textbooks, technology.

But as Mr. Johnson has said in other letters and reports, if fundamental questions about the purpose of schooling are not addressed and if we can not agree on these purposes, very little will change in the system.

What do you think about the Common Core?






Common Core Protest Poster by Joyce Murdock Feilke

Joyce Murdock Feilke has created and published this poster, that came about from her experiences in Austin, Texas as a Texas School Counselor.  In several earlier posts, her experiences were featured on this blog, and you can read about them here.

The powerful message of this poster is clear in these words, but more evident in her deeds and courage in standing up to school officials in the Austin Independent School District.  In her position as school counselor started speaking out about the dangers of the “high stakes testing” environment for elementary age children after she observed the signs of traumatic stress in children in her Texas school. She considers the punitive, authoritarian environment this obsession with testing has created as institutional psychological abuse.

Joyce is a strong advocate for children, and continues to give her voice to the growing resistance of Common Core. With this message, which she wrote after giving her resignation in protest of the “bullying” environment to children, Joyce advocates against the CCSS and it’s “one modality fits all” pedagogy, as well as the Pearson designed state tests and Pearson materials that are being promoted in the public schools.

Joyce is a career educator who believes that to maintain a strong democracy, our country must provide a public school environment that models democratic behavior, and not totalitarianism. Joyce believes that our nation’s children are our most precious resource, and they are being endangered in this harmful environment of CCSS.

Figure 1. Common Core Protest Poster: We Should Have Listened to the Lorax. Used with Permission of Joyce Murdock Feilke
Figure 1. Common Core Protest Poster: We Should Have Listened to the Lorax. Used with Permission of Joyce Murdock Feilke


Terrill L. Nickerson: The Paradox of the Common Core

rockies2 Terrill Nickerson commented on the previous post on this blog, 6 Reasons Why the Common Core is Not Progressive Ideology.  I thought his comments were important to share as a separate post.  Terrill Nickerson has written an interesting article on how he approaches the Common Core and high-stakes testing in his context of teaching, which is in communities serving marginalized and underrepresented families.

He writes:

In my twenty-six years teaching in schools with large numbers of marginalized, and underrepresented families, I do not agree with the assertion that high-stakes testing and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) sprang out of progressive ideology.  Most of my colleagues that work with these populations tend to believe the exact opposite.  The common feeling is that the high-stakes testing tends to be biased against the children that come from culturally different, marginalized, or economically poor families. Likewise, my colleagues would accuse the CCSS of failing to take into account the realities of the worldview and paradigms experienced by the these groups.

Realistically, I know these biases and shortcomings exist.  I have seen them firsthand, especially with regard to the high-stakes testing.  However, my paradox arises with the arguments, pro and con about the Common Core Standards.  I began my professional career as a scientist, not a science teacher.  After a decade of working in the professional science ranks, I decided to become a teacher.  I also continued to learn and progress, as I completed my M.S. Ed. in Science Curriculum and Instruction, while teaching.  I was working in a Native American school system and community.  So my professional growth and learning was applied to this community.

However, the communities, in which I taught realized that getting a mainstream education was the only way that their communities could survive into the future.  I was encouraged to challenge my students and present them with the highest level of education that I could.  I was also challenged to learn, and use the cultural strengths to carry out this task.  I did not find a contradiction in these expectations.

As a scholar and scientist, I see the value in creating a more consistent set of academic expectations.  Knowing what I know about what the science professions and the universities expect, I do not see the Common Core as a threat to our children.   The problem does not lie with the Standards themselves, but rather with the interpretation of how they should be implemented. I always insisted that if you teach sound scientific procedures and problem solving skills, students will do well on the high-stakes tests.

Teaching solid practices, regardless of your choice of content material, still builds a solid foundation.  This foundation teaches students solid test-taking skills by teaching them to be critical thinkers and to recognize inconsistencies and errors in logic through elimination.  My students were successful, and still are, even though the present educational setting insists that I follow the Standards more closely than before.

The Common Core doesn’t tell us how to teach.  Instead, it provides teachers with a guideline for what type of knowledge and information is both topical and cutting edge in keeping up with advances in our discipline.   Despite the emphasis upon the Standards teaching, I still find time to diverge and create projects for my students that are hands-on, project-based, and steeped in engineering and science methodologies, and still do justice to the Standards.

As I’ve always said, “I teach my high school students at a college level, with an understanding that the outcomes will reflect a high school level of sophistication and development, and grade accordingly  Do not tell them you are doing this, just expect it of them, and work with them in tandem to achieve it. They will rise to the occasion and expectations, and begin to accept them as the normal level at which they should be working.’  I have very few failures.

About Terrill Nickerson

Terrill Nickerson is veteran high school science teacher with 26 years experience.  His first 15 years teaching science began in the Native American community, beginning on the Hopi Reservation in NE Arizona, and then on to teach at Santa Fe Indian School in Santa Fe, NM.  He is now teaching in various charter schools in New Mexico and Southern Colorado.  He holds bachelor degrees in Archaeology and Geology, a Masters of Science in Education, and is working on his Ph.D.  After several years as a professional archaeologist and paleontologist, and experiences writing curriculum for CDC, he pursued a career in science teaching.  Terrill says that because of the width and breath of his experiences, he is able to bring real-life experiences to the classroom, and use the practical science experiences he used in the field.  He brings project-based teaching to his students, involving them in designing data collection devices to be used in their own investigations.  His work in the Native American community led him to become a practitioner of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.  He now teaches in a small rural, agricultural community, with a large migrant work population.  

NAEP Math Scores Insignificantly Affected by the Common Standards


The Common Core State Standards (Common Standards) have been implemented for about four years. According to the developers (the folks over at Achieve) and it’s billionaire financiers, such as Bill Gates, the Common Standards are benchmarked against high performing international standards, and should result in higher achievement scores for American students.

According to Achieve, the Common Standards are guidelines for what every student should know and be able to do in math and English language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade.

According to proponents, the Common Standards should result in higher achievement scores and an increase in the nation’s ability to compete globally. Proponent-in-chief, billionaire Bill Gates, said in an interview with ABC News, “that in a decade, the scores and competence for U.S. students in math can be improved. This is going to be a big win for education.”

A recent report based on peer-reviewed studies in the Brookings 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education sheds light on these claims. The results will be a disappointment for some.

The 2014 Brookings report includes sections on the PISA international – Shanghai controversy, homework, and the Common Core. I’m focusing only on the Common Core section in this article.

CCSS Shows No Signs of Boosting Math Scores

There has been a lot of talk that the U.S. needs new standards to ratchet up our student’s abilities in mathematics (reading & science, too). The Brown Report provides empirical support to find out how the Common Standards are affecting American student’s 8th grade math scores.

According to an earlier Brown study (2012), it was predicted that the new Common Standards would not affect student learning. The 2014 study confirms this. Here is the concluding paragraph in the 2014 Brown Report.

The 2012 Brown Center Report predicted, based on an empirical analysis of the effects of state standards, that the CCSS will have little to no impact on student achievement.  Supporters of the Common Core argue that strong, effective implementation of the standards will sweep away such skepticism by producing lasting, significant gains in student learning. So far, at least— and it is admittedly the early innings of a long ballgame—there are no signs of such an impressive accomplishment.

Math Scores Lagged During the CCSS Rollout

The NAEP collects achievement scores every two years for 9, 13, and 17-year-old students. The graph in Figure 1 is the trend of 8th grade math achievement from 1990 – 2013. The average score in 1990 was , while average math score in 2013 is 285.

The trend line does not show a significant change in the slope of line during the time the Common Standards were implemented (the area on the line encircled in red.  One would have expected a bump during this period.  It isn’t there.

It turns out that a little math will tell the story. Between 1990 – 2013 there was a 22 point increase in 8th grade math. Over the 23 years this amounts to about a 1 point increase per year. However, the average score increase from 2009 – 2013, the years the Common Core has been used, has only increased 0.30 points per year, much less than before the roll out of the Common Core.

Figure 1. NAEP 8th Grade Math Scores, 1990-2013. Source. U.S. Department of Education


Digging Deeper

The Brown Report on the Common Core begins with an examination of research at Michigan State University by William H. Schmidt and Richard T. Houang.  These researchers published a study in 2012 that included an analysis of the math standards in place in all 50 states in the 2008 – 2009 about how they stacked up to the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics.  The question was how well do the state standards align with the CCSSM in terms of congruence, focus and rigor.  (Schmidt, W. H. & Houang, R.T. Curricular Coherence and the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Educational Researcher November 2012 41: 294-308). 

Table 1 shows the results of the analysis of state math standards and their consistency with the CCSSM in 2008.  The table shows five categories based on the degree of concurrence with the Common Standards in math.  Those rated high (5) include states such Alabama, Georgia, Michigan.  Those rated low (1) include Arizona, Kansas, New Jersey.   Schmidt and Houang did an analysis to find if there was a relationship between achievement scores on the NAEP math test and the degree of congruence of the state standards with the CCSS in math.  There was no relationship to achievement.  However, their analyses did show two groups of states (Group A and Group B) that did show significant coefficients for congruence.

Table 1. Existing State Standards' Consistency with the Common Core Math Standards. Loveless, T. How Well Are American Students Learning. The Brown Center Report on American Education, March 2014, Volume 3, Number 3, p. 28.
Table 1. Existing State Standards’ Consistency with the Common Core Math Standards. Source: Schmidt, W.H. (2012), Presentation at the National Press Club, Extracted from Loveless, T. How Well Are American Students Learning. The Brown Center Report on American Education, March 2014, Volume 3, Number 3, p. 28.

Brown Analysis

According to the Michigan State study, states

adopting the Common Core in math should expect to see an increase on NAEP 8th grade math scores. The Brown research extended the Michigan study by looking specifically at gain scores at the state level since 2009. By using NAEP math scores for 2011 and 2013, the Brown researchers had a way to test the predictive ability of the earlier Michigan study.

We should realize that this is only four years into the adoption of the Common Core. However, the findings ought to provide some feedback on the current status of the Common Core, and help us predict future effects of the standards on math achievement,

Table 2 presents state NAEP changes organized by the Michigan rating system of congruence with Common Core math standards. Recall, the a rating of “5” meant that those states were most like the CCSS math standards, those with a “1” were most divergent from the Common Core math standards. Accordingly, we would expect that there would be a trend in the gain scores favoring the higher rated states vs the lower rated states.

Table 2 shows there is no trend or systematic relationship between the Michigan ratings and changes in NAEP math scores. Note that states that had very divergent standards from the Common Core actually gained more than states that were rated most like the Common Standards.  As Loveless says, the data are lumpy.  When one expects high scores, the results are low scores, and visa versa.  There is no pattern in these findings.

Table 5. State NAEP Changes, by Michigan Ratings of Congruence with CCSS, (in scale score points, 2009 - 2013).
Table 2. State NAEP Changes, by Michigan Ratings of Congruence with CCSS, (in scale score points, 2009 – 2013).

How did the Common Core Math Implementation Fare?

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education survey the states to find out how the Common Standards reform was doing and being implemented.  The survey asked states if they had: (1) adopted the CCSS; (2) provided, guided, or funded professional development on the CCSS; (3) provided curriculum/instructional materials for the CCSS; and (4) worked with a consortium to develop assessments aligned with the CCSS (Brown Study, p. 31).

In the 2014 Brown study, they researchers used the survey results to categorized the state’s implementation rating as strong, medium, or non-adopters, as shown in Table 3.   Note that the strong implementors of the Common Core made the largest gains, while non-adopters showed the smallest gains.

Table 3. Changes in NAEP Scores (in scale score points) by Implementation of CCSS. Extracted from Loveless, T. How Well Are American Students Learning. The Brown Center Report on American Education, March 2014, Volume 3, Number 3, p.32.

However, if we compare the gains shown during the four years of CCSS adoption of math standards to the entire history of NAEP scores, we find that during the transition period, scores have only gained 0.33 points, where the gain score per year over the entire history of NAEP math testing is more than “1” point per year.


Some will use these results to claim the Common Core is a failure. Others will say that more time is needed to “test” the new standards. Others might claim that the standards do not have much affect on how students do on NAEP tests.

In an earlier post, I reported that Brown (2012) researchers concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core.  In an interesting discussion of the implications of their findings, Tom Loveless, the author of the report, cautions us to be careful about not being drawn into thinking that standards represent a kind of system of “weights and measures.”  Loveless tells us that standards’ reformers use the word—benchmarks—as a synonym for standards.  And he says that they are used too often.  In science education, for example, we’ve had a long history of using the word benchmarks, and Loveless reminds us that there are not real, or measured benchmarks in any content area.  Yet, when you read the standards—common core or science—there is the implication we really know–almost in a measured way–what standards should be met at a particular grade level.

Loveless also makes a strong point when he says the entire system of education is “teeming with variation.”  To think that creating a set of common core standards will reduce this variation between states or within a state simply will not succeed. As he puts it, the common core (a kind of intended curriculum) sits on top of the implemented and achieved curriculum.  The implemented curriculum is what teachers do with their students day-to-day.  It is full of variation within a school.  Two biology teachers in the same school will get very different results for a lot of different factors.  But as far as the state is concerned, the achieved curriculum is all that matters.  The state uses high-stakes tests to determine whether schools met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

As the Brown report suggests, we should not depend on the common core or the Next Generation Science Standards having any effect on students’ achievement.  The report ends with this statement:

The nation will have to look elsewhere for ways to improve its schools.

What do think of the research reported here about the Common Core?

Why Bill Gates Defends the Common Core

Photo by Kristian Niemi, Creative Commons
At the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington, Bill Gates came to the rescue of the Common Core State Standards.  In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, Gates said he was concerned with people who oppose the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, an initiative begun in 2009 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and people from the states, and Achieve, Inc.  

Although the Common Core was adopted by 45 states three years ago, there is a ground swell of anti-Common Core sentiment today. Some of the sentiment comes from groups that have questioned and been opposed to any intrusion into local schools on the basis of their own values.  In most of these cases, conservative fundamentalist religious groups oppose the teaching of scientific ideas that show that evolution is the best explanation science has for the development of life on the planet.

These groups also are furious that schools who adopt national standards, especially the Next Generation Science Standards, teach climate science as fact.  Wyoming added a footnote to a bill that passed which prevents any school district in the state from using the NGSS in its present form.  We can clump many groups into this category who will oppose any set of standards or assessments that were developed nationally.  The idea here is that they oppose the Common Standards and future standards that may come along especially in science and social studies.

But there are also people who oppose the Common Standards for other reasons.  There is a growing body of evidence that the Common Standards are not the solution to make America more competitive, to make kids smarter in math, reading and science, and any of the other ills that have been cast upon the education system.  I’ve reported on this blog that independent research questions the efficacy of a standard-based approach to education as it is now conceived.  The standards-based system is a top-down authoritarian system that disregards the professional decision-making ability of classroom teachers.  I’ve reported research by Wallace that shows that this authoritarian accountability system is a barrier to teaching and learning.

Perhaps the most powerful force in opposition to the Common Standards, and corporate led reform of education is the Network for Public Education, which is a new organization that held its first annual meeting recently in Austin, TX.  At that meeting, “educators” from around America met and exchanged ideas about reform, and spoke out against the corporate led effort to standardize American education.   The existence of this group is a powerful step forward for American teachers who are well represented in the NPE, and include some of America’s most activist bloggers and educators.  It’s time for teachers to push back and over the past year we’ve seen examples of this happening in Seattle, and Chicago.

Why is Bill Gates so concerned about those that have taken on Achieve’s Common Core State Standards?

The answer is that the Gates Foundation has invested about $2.3 billion into the Common Standards and related efforts.  Please read ahead.

In public speeches, Gates has called out those who try to interfere with the implementation of the Common Standards.   When Gates first used his billions to reach out to eduction, there was some glimmer of hope.  The Gates Foundation idea of funding smaller high schools appeared to be a plausible conception.  But things changed, and as we’ve seen, someone with a lot of money can influence organizations in ways that ordinary classroom educators can not.

Soon the Gates Foundation began to fund efforts that, in my view, undermined the work of professional teachers.  Gates own simple conception of “measuring” student learning, has been accepted by many politicians and state education bureaucrats.  Test the students when they come into your class.  Test them when they go out to summer play.  Subtract the scores, and there you have it.  A measure of what student learned.

Figure 1. Awarded Grants at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for College-Ready Grants 2009 - 2014
Figure 1. Awarded Grants at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for College-Ready Grants 2009 – 2014

Common Core Awards

The Gates Foundation has poured millions of dollars into supporting efforts to develop and carry out the Common Standards.  To find out just how much has been poured into the Common Standards by Gates, I searched the Gates Foundation Grantmaking section of their website.  There you can search and find out about programs that were awarded grants by Gates.

As you can see in Figure 1, there were 1817 awards in the group of College-Ready.  College-Ready programs are those that designed to improve teacher effectiveness (Hillsborough County, FL–$100 million), improve data-driven decision-making (Council of Chief State School Officers–$25 million), support work with charter management organizations New Schools Fund–$27.6 million), implementation of Common Standards, (Kentucky Department of Education–$9.8 million), and 1,813 more.

I did a search of the College-Ready grants for 2009 – 2013 using the terms Common Core, and the search returned 161 results.  The largest grant was awarded to the Kentucky Department of Education for $9,800,877, and the smallest grant was awarded to Benchmark Education Company for $25,000.  Using an Excel spreadsheet of the 161 programs that focused on the Common Core, I found out that the Gates Foundation has awarded grants totaling $204,350,462.  That’s $269 million for 161 programs.  The average grant was for $1,269,258.

Within this grouping of 161 grants, some organization received awards in multiple years.  For example, Achieve, the developer of the Common Standards, received grants totaling more than $16 million.

Figure 2. Screen Shot of Excel file of Gates Awards for Common Core implementation.
Figure 2. Screen Shot of Excel file of Gates Awards for Common Core implementation.

College-Ready Grants: $2.3 Billion

But the truth is that the Gates Foundation has provided much more money than the $204,350,462.  This figure is based on only 161 of the grants from the College-Ready category of grants.  The Gates Foundation awarded more than 1800 projects in the group of College-Ready grants, which is one of the main goals of the Common Core.  I’ve not downloaded the data from the 1800 grants into Excel. You might want to go to the Gates website and take a look at the data for these grants. But we can do a rough estimate based on the 161 grants that were analyzed.

If we use the average grant of $1,269,258., then the estimated amount funded to support Common Standards and related education programs by Gates is $2,306,241,786 (that $2.3 billion).

Is Gates and his Foundation’s influence what will improve education in the American democracy?  Or has the influence of power and money brokers been accepted, with little criticism, by the general public?  Is the unrest about the Common Standards in the interests of the future of education, or is it just a few people complaining?  What are your ideas?

Photo by Kristian Niemi, Creative Commons