Is the Chamber of Commerce Jumping the Shark On Common Core?
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Is the Chamber of Commerce Jumping the Shark On Common Core?

The Chamber either needs to mind its own business or get educated on what Common Core really is.

Several local Chamber of Commerce members in different states have told me the organization is turning into its industry’s equivalent of the PTA: A shill for the establishment rather than a unique voice actively protecting the changing interests of its constituents.

That’s clearly the case in Oklahoma, where Gov. Mary Fallin must feel like the prom queen this week because everyone’s trying to influence whether she signs a bill to repeal Common Core. You know, the national curriculum and testing mandates the Obama administration pushed states to sign before they could see what was in them? Yeah, those.

Oklahoman Common Core Ad

The Oklahoma Chamber, some local Chambers, and a few similar groups including the PTA, took out massive ads in The Oklahoman yesterday (June 4). The headline: “We oppose HB3399 because it jeopardizes our students’ futures.” At the bottom, the ad says it was paid for by the Collaborative for Student Success, which appears to be the latest project from Common Core’s primary bankroller, Bill Gates (with the help of a few oligarch friends).

The Chamber has also been robocalling people in an attempt to match the grassroots fury that delivered 8,000 signatures to Fallin this week, asking her to sign the bill. The bill is far better than the Common Core rebrand Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed in April. Among other things, it would require comparing the state’s new curriculum and testing guidelines to Common Core to ensure the two are actually different, not largely the same with a different name, like Indiana’s.

That puts Fallin in a pincer. She can’t fake it like Pence did. She either has to actually reject Common Core or actually support it. Either way, she goes against a key supporter: The business lobby that helped get her elected, or the grassroots who are all too ready to vote for her Democratic opponent this fall if she doesn’t. (Gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman has opposed Common Core from the beginning, rare for a Democrat despite a recent flurry of union statements against the initiative.) Her decision will determine whether she stands with business interests or her constituents at large. Fallin told a parent she would sign the bill if it reached her desk, but she’s had ample opportunity to follow through on that promise and continues to stall.  Her deadline is Saturday.

Governors across the country are now making similar decisions. South Carolina’s Nikki Haley just signed a bill to replace Common Core. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory will likely see a similar bill soon. In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal has gotten strident about opposing Common Core, but has yet to back his words with action. Business interests are also a key Jindal ally, standing by his side to get statewide school vouchers and weather federal attacks afterwards. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce even included footage of Jindal in a promotional video for Common Core.

Locking In the Old Economy

The question presents itself: Why would business organizations present an initiative with no track record as the Great White Hope? The answer reveals that business as an institution, like so many of our great American institutions, has rot at its core.

Any business leader who treated his work as the business lobby has Common Core would quickly find his rear end handed to him, either by the market or by his boss. For one, Common Core is a completely untested product. It was forced onto almost every school not even in beta form, but as an untried prototype. Literally nobody had ever tried Common Core before everybody had to.

If that doesn’t concern anyone, the research showing Common Core cannot be effective should. Perhaps the best evidence of this is a 2012 Brookings Institution study showing that the curriculum mandates people call “standards” have no effect on student performance, no matter how high or low they set the bar. If not that, perhaps someone looked at international experiences? Because on the TIMMS international tests in 2007, nine of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in math, and 8 of the lowest-scoring countries in science have centralized education standards. The same is true for 8 of the 10 highest-scoring countries. That alone should pause the “standards movement,” if the last 30 years of pursuing it with little improvement don’t themselves.

Common Core proponents have spent a king’s ransom ($147  million so far from Gates alone for Common Core advocacy, by my count) producing reams of advocacy research to justify their push for nationalizing U.S. education. Independent reviews of this “research” have concluded those dollars would probably help kids more if handed out as toilet paper.

Business interests keep telling us they support Common Core because they need kids to learn something so they can get a job. And nobody disagrees with that desire. So why does the Chamber trust an air castle to bring it to fruition? Milton Friedman may have the answer.

This relates in two ways. First, it indicates businesses are all too comfy acting like the protected class, of which government education is a prime example. So they have a natural sympathy for bureaucratic non-solutions to social and political problems. But, second, it shows that the businesses of today want workers fit for the business they have today, so they don’t have to bear the pressure of shifting their business to fit tomorrow’s economy. If they can lock in tomorrow’s labor force to their current structure, they can ensure their survival through labor force capture rather than shifting continually and rapidly to serve consumers and their employees.

The danger to the Chamber of reflexively following this pattern, though, is finding itself in ten years a has-been that serves old companies, but not that moment’s new economic constellation. That makes it likely new companies will spurn the Chamber because it doesn’t protect their interests, ensuring the Chamber’s current actions equal slow suicide.

In the end, then, perhaps the business establishment’s support for Common Core proves families and politicians like Fallin should reject it.

Joy Pullmann is managing editor of The Federalist, an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute, and author of the forthcoming "Coretastrophe: What Common Core Means for America's Future," from Encounter Books.
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