The headlines pretty much sum it up: “Ted Cruz Makes Impassioned Plea For Repeal Of Federal Legislation That Does Not Exist” and “Every Claim In This Ted Cruz Statement Is Completely False.” The second critiques this statement from Cruz’s spokeswoman: “Common Core is a federally created curriculum that the state’s ‘Race to the Top’ grants are tied to. So if the state does not adopt the standards, it gives up the grant money. But since the federal government created this mess, there should be a way to undo it.”
ThinkProgress Editor in Chief Judd Legum responds:
Literally every claim in that statement is false.
First, Common Core is not ‘federally created.’ It was created by the states, on a voluntary basis. As NPR reported, ‘the federal government played no role in creating the standards, nor did it require that states adopt them.’
Second, Common Core is not a ‘curriculum.’ Federal law actually prohibits the federal government to ‘to endorse, approve, or sanction any curriculum designed to be used in an elementary school or secondary school. Common Core is a set of math and English guidelines that outline a set of skills one should have at the end of each grade. The curriculum used to obtain those skills is left to school districts, schools and teachers.
Third, ‘Race To The Top’ grants were never tied to the adoption of Common Core.
Legum might want to spend some time googling up the pertinent federal and other publicly available source documents, because he’s flat-out wrong.
Fed Involvement in Common Core
Federal law does indeed prohibit any federal entity from having anything to do with curriculum. Legum may not have noticed, but the Obama administration doesn’t give a damn what any law says. So, in flat contradiction to the law, the Obama administration has indeed funded and coerced Common Core.
Common Core is not, as its apologists insist because there’s no other way to cover their butts on this, merely “curriculum benchmarks.” The document governors signed to signal their consent to the creation of Common Core defines the initiative in two “phases”: The first is standards, the second linked assessments. And the federal government provided $360 million in tax dollars explicitly to create the pair of linked national testing systems that share test questions and student data, both with each other and the federal government. Federal employees oversaw the creation of these tests right down to the test questions. Without federal money, there would be no second half of Common Core.
Furthermore, these two federal shadow agencies (PARCC and SBAC) explicitly told the Obama administration they would use tax dollars to create Common Core curriculum. SBAC’s grant agreement with the feds promised it would provide teachers “exemplary instructional materials linked to CCSS,” “model curriculum and instructional modules that are aligned with the CCSS,” and teacher training. It will send teachers “recommended readings, focused group discussions, use of online tools, and sharing of annotated examples of best practices and exercises.” The organization budgeted $5.125 million in federal funds to contract with yet another organization to develop such “instructional and curriculum resources for educators.” PARCC’s says it is writing “model curriculum frameworks” and “exemplar lesson plans.”
It’s also utterly blind to pretend the Obama administration’s Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waivers did not push states into Common Core. State board of education minutes from Race to the Top winners show that these boards believed “The verbatim adoption of these standards is required for Race to the Top approval” (that’s Tennessee’s). As the Washington Post reported, the term “Common Core” was written directly into Race to the Top mandates until substituted for a definition that matched only them so people wouldn’t get “suspicious.”
Lastly, the federal government provides at least half the operating funds of the two organizations that created Common Core, which are private nonprofits with no authority to create any binding national initiatives or laws. So either way, the feds were there at the beginning, at the request of Common Core’s creators, no less.
Ted Cruz Is Basically Right
There’s a lot more nitpicking to be done, but I think a fair reader sees my point. Almost everything about Legum’s posts is wrong, with the technical exception that Common Core itself is indeed not a full curriculum (“it depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is”). Cruz is more accurate than Legum.
Cruz also gets the core of the issue right. The federal government has been breaking its own laws to fund curriculum essentially ever since the feds started stickyfingering education. So while the Obama administration is particularly brazen in its lawbreaking, this history of federal involvement in education essentially demonstrates its refusal to keep itself within bounds. (It also has not helped children of any income level or nationality, but that’s a story for another day.) As Cruz says, “The federal government has no business sticking its nose in education.”