The Common Core Fight, Part II: Small Victories and the Way Forward

“You’re lined up against business interests, the entire public school bureaucracy, Bill Gates and his billions, public broadcasting, the rest of the media, the Chamber of Commerce, and every elected official who is indebted to the Chamber of Commerce, which means virtually every elected official,” Says Tina Trent, who has been leading Common Core workshops on political organizing in Georgia and Florida.


By Mary Grabar | July 28, 2014

In spite of hundreds of millions of dollars from Bill Gates and affiliated business and non-profit groups, and promotion by the Department of Education, support for Common Core among parents of school-age children is plummeting.

A united front stands against Common Core, as even Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss acknowledged.  She wrote recently, “even more sober-minded people felt the Obama administration had coerced states into adopting the standards with federal money and No Child Left Behind waivers.”  Opposed to the “more sober-minded people” in Strauss’s estimation, were “far-right-wingers who saw the Core as a federal conspiracy to turn students gay, or communist.”  Those Strauss smears as “far-right-wingers,” however, were the first to recognize Common Core for the federally coercive radical effort that it is.

Potential Republican presidential candidates are also suddenly recognizing the wisdom of the grassroots and making some about-faces.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Common Core champion, recently signed an executive order to replace Common Core tests with new tests, for which he has been threatened with a lawsuit. Then, seventeen lawmakers filed a lawsuit seeking an end to the Common Core standards in the state.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie announced at the recent National Governors Association meeting that he is considering an executive order against Common Core.  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said he had proposed a state measure to replace Common Core.  The National Governors Association, a major player in ushering in the standards in 2009, did not even put Common Core on their agenda this year.

In state legislatures there were some victories, and some partial victories.  Indiana officially dropped Common Core, but activists are calling out Governor Pence for keeping the standards under a new name.

In Missouri, the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core publicly thanked Governor Jay Nixon for signing HB 1490 into law.  According to the website, the bill’s main purpose is “to define a system wherein state education experts will evaluate and recommend state K-12 education standards.”   The bill means relying on the professional integrity of those in the work groups.

Still it is a “step forward,” for the coalition, described by co-founder Dr. Mary Byrne, Ed.D., as “a group of people throughout the state who respect each other’s strengths and honor independent thought and action.”  Various volunteers keep track of multiple bills, when necessary.  The core members are registered lobbyists, although they deliberately speak without charge and pay for the materials they distribute in order to be free from “top-down control.”

Two states did pass Common Core withdrawal bills, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Pushback came, though.  The Oklahoma Board of Education sued the lawmakers, alleging that they did not have the Constitutional authority to repeal Common Core standards.  The Oklahoma Supreme Court, however, ruled against them.

According to Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project, Oklahoma succeeded because of a solidly conservative legislature, a longer legislative session that allowed more time for planning and lobbying, and a governor attuned to the grassroots.

But for South Carolina, Robbins is not yet ready to declare victory.  The State Superintendent seems determined to develop genuinely new standards and not just re-brand Common Core, Robbins says.  However, he faces challenges: the standards will have to be approved by the State Board and the Education Oversight Committee.  She advises the grassroots to keep up the pressure on these groups and the incoming State Superintendent (after November elections) to make sure the ball isn’t dropped.

One of the strategies of Common Core promoters is to implement new tests before standards, and then to argue that it would be a waste of money to change the standards after so much had been spent on tests. The South Carolina bill requires the new test be implemented the year before the new standards are.  (The “funds already spent” was a frequent argument in Georgia.)  Activists need to be aware of such pitfalls in testing contracts.

Georgia, as I reported in Part I, experienced a major defeat on Common Core withdrawal legislation this last session.  Although corporate interests “won this round,” Robbins states, “Georgia parents won’t go away. Their children are too important.”

That is why they stay in the David-and-Goliath fight.  Tina Trent, who has been leading workshops on political organizing in Georgia and Florida, tells activists to be realistic: Many just learned the ropes of state lobbying this year.

It will be a multi-year fight, Trent warns.  She advises patience, long-term planning, and coalition-building.  Activists are up against an array of well-organized political and corporate interests, “an army of paid, professional lobbyists,” and teachers and school administrators whose paychecks depend on implementing Common Core.

“You’re lined up against business interests, the entire public school bureaucracy, Bill Gates and his billions, public broadcasting, the rest of the media, the Chamber of Commerce, and every elected official who is indebted to the Chamber of Commerce, which means virtually every elected official,” Trent says.

The July 22 Georgia primary run-off suggests that the public is turning against candidates they associate with such interests.  Pundits on both sides attribute Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jack Kingston’s loss to his association with the Chamber of Commerce.  At the state school superintendent level, Common Core opponent Richard Woods won with a 700-vote lead over Common Core proponent Mike Buck. At Buck’s request, a recount is expected to take place this week.

The grassroots anti-Common Core activists are learning from experience, and seeing the big picture.  This means keeping education decisions at the local level.  Christina Leventis, an activist in Nevada, warns about bills like her state’s SB197, which was passed in 2011.  The law replaced the 10-member elected board of education with a seven-member panel: four elected from each of the state’s congressional districts and three appointed by the governor.  Parents and citizens lose influence when power is ceded to the executive in this way.

“Top-down” control is just not good—as the founding fathers determined.  Common Core, of course, is top-down all the way, and that is the bottom-line reason why it needs to be defeated.


Mary Grabar, Ph.D., has taught college English for over twenty years. She is the founder of the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., an education reform initiative that offers information and resources for students, parents, and citizens. The motto, “Resisting the Re-Education of America,” arose in part from her perspective as a very young immigrant from the former Communist Yugoslavia (Slovenia specifically). She writes extensively and is the editor of EXILED. Ms. Grabar is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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