A key argument for national curriculum and testing mandates is the promise that, in the words of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Common Core is “voluntary” and “state-led.” Odd, then, that the feds are spending at least $9.9 million for Common Core public relations.
Federal tax dollars for this purpose have been channeled, like federal control of education, through the two organizations creating national Common Core tests to replace most state tests in 2014–15.
The federal government has provided four years of operating funds—$330 million total—for national testing groups called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced (SBAC). Their preliminary budgets allotted almost $5.5 million in taxpayer dollars to convince taxpayers their money has been well spent and should continue once the federal funds dry up in September 2014. Later documents show PARCC and SBAC have upped that amount to at least $9.9 million.
PARCC is spending much of its promo money training pro-Common Core teachers to spread support. Its Educator Leader Cadre “members are in a great position to push out messages and materials and to ensure benefit from the widest possible circulation,” a PARCC document says. “They all have e-mail lists of colleagues and ideally are part of broader professional networks.”
Common Core and its tests “have become objects of well-organized and effective political opposition,” a December request for proposals from SBAC says. It aims to remedy that with a $5.2 million full-court communications press this year. Among other things, it wants materials targeted to key lawmakers before votes and even canned op-eds and webpages that bureaucrats can publish and distribute under their own names.
The testing organizations have accelerated their federally sponsored public relations push just as parents and teachers across the country have begun objecting to Common Core and pressuring their representatives to withdraw. It’s a crucial moment for the consortia, as their federal money must soon be replaced by state-collected tax dollars if they are to survive. Survival is not assured: In the past year, Alaska, Kansas, and Utah have dropped out of SBAC and Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania have dropped out of PARCC.
Common Core supporters know many voters and politicians dislike federal meddling with education, because it is not authorized by the Constitution, is utterly ineffective, and destroys the right of parents to bring up their children as they see fit. That’s why they insist Common Core is “state-led” and “voluntary” even though the evidence shows these descriptions are deceptions. The Obama administration already has proved this by, at the repeated request of those who created Common Core, requiring states to adopt it in exchange for a chance at federal grants and to receive much-desired No Child Left Behind waivers. But these public relations pushes also disprove the “state-led” and “voluntary” promise, for how “voluntary” is a public policy instituted under the influence of federally funded advertising and with little open debate?
In short, federal funds are being used to convince the people the government forced to provide those funds that unelected bureaucrats and private nonprofit employees did the right thing with their money before the people got wind of the scheme. Isn’t that a little backwards? A self-governing republic means lawmakers carry out the will of the people after judicious reflection and under the rule of law, instead of retroactively attempting to convince citizens we should want what unelected bureaucrats already did without the public’s knowledge or consent.
Common Core has leaders, all right, but they certainly don’t govern by consent.
Joy Pullmann (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute and a 2013–14 Novak journalism fellow.