BOSTON – In the wake of the U.S. House and Senate’s passage of bills that would reauthorize the federal No Child Left Behind law, a new Pioneer Institute research paper finds that national English and mathematics standards, known as Common Core, violate three federal laws that prohibit the federal government from exercising any direction, supervision or control over curricula or the program of instruction in the states.
Dr. Williamson M. Evers, author of “Federal Overreach and Common Core,” proposes a better approach.
“Competitive federalism, under which states learn from and seek to improve on each others’ standards and tests, is both legal and would produce better results than monolithic national standards and tests,” says Dr. Evers. “Monopolies are hardly the best way to produce either academic quality or value for taxpayers.”
Prohibitions on federal control over curriculum and instruction can be found in the Education and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the General Education Provisions Act of 1970, and the 1979 Department of Education Organization Act, which established the U.S. Department of Education. But the Obama administration has, nonetheless, pursued a national policy on curriculum standards and directly funded two national testing consortia.
Common Core was developed by a group of Washington, D.C. education trade organizations and pushed out to the states by the federal government through the Obama administration’s Race to the Top (RttT) initiative, which gave out more than $4 billion in federal grants.
Adherence to Common Core was one of the criteria on which state funding applications were judged. Massachusetts’ application for the first round of RttT grants was ranked 13th out of 16 states. In the second round, the commonwealth made clear it would adhere to Common Core in an otherwise largely identical application and finished first.
The federal government is forbidden by federal law from favoring a particular set of curriculum-content standards over others.
RttT also drove the schedule for state adherence to Common Core. Applicants for the first round of grants had to agree to adhere to the standards before they were even published. During the second round, states had just two months to review the standards. States generally take about two years to develop and adopt academic standards. RttT was the way in which nearly every state adhered to Common Core.
The federal government has also spent more than $360 million to fund two consortia that have developed national Common Core-based assessments.
In addition to tying it to RttT grants, the U.S. Department of Education made adherence to Common Core a condition for states seeking waivers from the accountability provisions of No Child Left Behind, even though the secretary of education has no statutory authority to place conditions on such waivers. Secretary Duncan’s additional NCLB waiver conditions were never authorized by Congress.
Dr. Evers also describes the unusual way in which a majority of states adhered to Common Core. It was in almost every case adhered to via processes that bypassed state legislatures and other elected bodies. There were no bills, hearings or public debates in Congress relating to the U.S. Department of Education directing, incentivizi