Common Core: Following the Money

By James Ford

(PIX11) — It’s a program that affects about 2 million families in the tri-state area alone, and has an impact on children and their parents nationwide. But as the New York State legislature prepares to vote on a budget that includes funding for Common Core, the controversial statewide educational standards are in the spotlight.

Of particular note regarding this program that affects so many people is an aspect of it to which everyone can relate: the money connected to its origin and its development.

Reviewing basic facts: Common Core is the name given to a set of standards designed to improve overall quality of public education across many state lines.

Some educators feel about it the way South Side High School assistant principal John Murphy does.

“It makes no sense,” the administrator at the Rockville Centre, Long Island, school said.

By contrast, Brooklyn high school social studies teacher Arthur Everett describes Common Core optimistically.

“We’re going to be able to start changing the curriculum,” he told PIX11 News, “to reflect the skills we want the kids to have.”Gates

No matter how a person feels about the Common Core standards, one significant point about them can’t be denied. It’s a point that a parent who has opted her two children out of Common Core exams summed up clearly.

“Big companies are creating these exams for profit,” said Desiree Hardison, of Staten Island.

While her statement is true, there’s much more to the situation in which funding is needed to develop and promote the standards. Even more funding is needed to test students — educators call it assessment — to measure how well they’re understanding Common Core concepts.

Those concepts were developed at least eight years ago, with most of the early funding for writing them formally provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization, founded by the world’s wealthiest man and his wife, has to date spent $170 million to help create the Common Core standards and implement them.

However, much more funding has been involved in getting individual states to adopt Common Core. That money has come from the same place that prints it: Washington, D.C.

The White House created and Congress approved the education grant program called Race to the Top. In the most recent congressional budget, the program has not been funded. But since 2009, Race to the Top has offered $3.4 billion for individual states’ education programs.

The states that adopted Common Core received preference for federal funds, which in turn has resulted in all but seven states — Alaska, Indiana, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma — adopting Common Core.

New York state has secured $700 million in Race to the Top funds, mostly to develop Common Core-based curricula.

“They’re not a curriculum telling people what to teach,” said Stephen Sigmund, executive director of High Achievement New York, a pro-Common Core education nonprofit. “They’re a series of benchmarks of that kids should know.”

But to determine whether students know the benchmarks and are therefore on the road to college and successful careers requires testing. It’s not cheap.

So far, at least $300 million has been spent to develop tests, or assessments, of Common Core standards. Most of that money has come from Race to the Top funds, and Common Core advocates say the funding is necessary “to assess where New York State’s multibillion dollar taxpayer investment in education, whether it’s working or not,” according to Sigmund.

But some critics, like 2013 New York Principal of the Year Carol Burris, argue that the standards are not working. Burris, who is the principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, Long Island, said that she can see Common Core’s dysfunction without spending millions to pay for testing.

She told PIX11 News that the assessments “continue to measure, measure, measure, and not deal with the real issues — issues of poverty, of segregation, that nobody wants to tackle.”

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