By Mary Grabar July 23, 2014
After legislative battles this year, 42 states and the District of Columbia remain in the vise of Common Core, the federal education dictates.
One of these states, Georgia, illustrates the incredible hurdles citizen-activists face in their fight against the united forces of big government and big business. Senator William Ligon (R-Brunswick) was blocked in his efforts to pass a Common Core withdrawal bill by the Republican governor and Republican-dominated House.
Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles in Action, which supported Ligon’s bill, comments, “During the last hearing on the bill, we saw dozens of corporate and other well-funded lobbyists parade up to the podium to explain why their interests should trump those of Georgia families.”
I observed this parade, and the smear-campaign against citizen-activists concerned about educational quality and government overreach. While teachers and parents spoke about developmentally inappropriate assignments, mind-boggling busy-work math, and ideological curricula, the pro-Common Core lobbyists, legislators, superintendents, principals, and teachers seemed to follow a script. I heard the same phrases repeated – “state-led,” “critical thinking skills,” “locally controlled,” “standards, not curriculum,” and on.
And then I learned that they were following a script.
The script was linked in the June 7 Washington Post front-page article, “How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution” – published after legislatures had recessed. These were “Talking Points” developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the supposedly independent organization behind Common Core. CCSSO received over $11 million from the Gates Foundation in 2013.
That Bill Gates was “de facto organizer,” influencing states through donations to teachers unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was hardly a revelation. In August 2013, blogger Mercedes Schneider reported, “the four organizations primarily responsible for CCSS–[National Governors Association], CCSSO, Achieve, and Student Achievement Partners – have taken $147.9 million from Bill Gates.” Jane Robbins and others also made the charge long before the Washington Post’s exposé.
The Post reported that within two years of an organizational meeting at Gates’ Seattle headquarters, 45 states and the District of Columbia had adopted the standards. President Obama, whose administration was “populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates,” was “a major booster.”
In the Post interview, Gates denied that he had any self-interest, but the article noted, “In February, [Gates’ company] Microsoft announced that it was joining Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher, to load Pearson’s Common Core classroom materials on Microsoft’s tablet, the Surface.” This allowed Microsoft to compete for school district spending with rival company Apple, whose iPad dominates in classrooms.
According to a tape released by Glenn Beck last September, in 2009 Gates told the National Conference of State Legislators that he anticipated a “large uniform base of [Common Core] customers.”
More recently, Microsoft’s website warned schools to migrate to the new Microsoft Windows operating system. Opponents had predicted that computer-administered Common Core tests would require expensive upgrades.
Still, Common Core promotional sites, such as the Georgia pro-Chamber of Commerce Republican blog, Peach Pundit, mocked the notion of “Obamacore” and called Gates’ profit-motive a “conspiracy theory.”
Editor-in-Chief Charlie Harper testified against the Common Core withdrawal bill, while directing the smear campaign through posts and comments. He also is executive director of the non-profit PolicyBEST.
In February, PolicyBEST Policy & Research Director – and Peach Pundit blogger – “Eric the Younger” called a rally in support of Ligon’s bill a “train wreck,” filled with “crazy talk”: “It’s [sic] attendees included Jane Robins [sic], Sen. Judson Hill, Sen. William Ligon, Ralph Hudgens’ wife, “and a few of the other usual suspects.”
He promoted a new coalition that included PolicyBEST, “Better Standards For A Better Georgia.” The “diverse group . . . brought together through the Georgia Chamber” includes 100 Black Men, Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, Georgia Association of Educators, Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, Georgia school board and school superintendents associations, Technical College System of Georgia, and the University System of Georgia. In 2013, 100 Black Men received $583,531 from the Gates Foundation; Georgia Association of Educational Leaders received $179,015 in 2012.
Eric the Younger’s creativity only extends to name-calling, however.
Consider the CCSS “talking point”: “This has always been, and continues to be, a state-led and driven initiative. States voluntarily adopted and are currently implementing the standards. . . . These standards are in no way federally-mandated. . . .”
Eric the Younger dutifully wrote, “The Origins of the Common Core State Standards are here in Georgia with our former governor Sonny Perdue and State School Superintendent. . . .”
Elders, like “youngers,” also recited CCSSO’s script. The U.S. Chamber’s President and CEO Thomas Donahue wrote in the Washington Post, “Common Core is a not curriculum, a federal program or a federal mandate.”
Peach Pundit continued its campaign of smearing and repeating with a February 10 Courier-Herald column. After charging Common Core opponents with “a campaign of misinformation that at times borders on hysteria,” the writer essentially repeated a talking point: “Common Core is not a curriculum,” but “a set of benchmarks. . . . The curriculum – what is taught and how – remains up to states and local school systems…”
Cited also was a June 2, 2010, press release announcing then-Governor Sonny Perdue’s release of Common Core state standards that featured a panel discussion with the CEO of the PTA and Leah Luke, 2010 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year.
Where did this idea come from?
The CCSSO toolkit recommends as key spokespeople “State Teachers of the Year,” “Award-winning school leaders and principals,” and “Heads of local PTAs.”
Nothing was left to chance in CCSSO’s well-orchestrated campaign that included strategies for “engaging” teachers, “stakeholders,” elected officials, etc. Provided were fill-in-the-blank “Scene-setting Op-ed,” “Letters to the Editor,” “Local Op-ed and Blog,” and “Teacher Communication Preferences Survey.” There were tips for pitching stories and providing background information to reporters.
Most reporters, indeed, repeated CCSSO’s “talking points.” Now an NBC reporter is on Gates’ payroll.
In spite of overwhelming odds, a couple states rejected Common Core this year, following changing public sentiment. Pitfalls lie ahead, though. What these are and tips for fighting them will be discussed next time in Part II.
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.