Following the Money Trail: Who Profits From the Implementation of Common Core State Standards?

Part 2 of a 4 Part Series


urlOne of the most vociferous objections to the Common Core State Standards to date has been the perception of Common Core implementation as a “top-down,” thinly veiled attempt by the federal government to control nationwide educational policy. Less obvious, but perhaps ultimately more substantial, lurks the possibility that the CCSS is a semi-disguised play by for-profit educational corporations to bolster their coffers by tens of millions of dollars a year through the development and sale of materials geared toward implementing the new standards.

The official tale of who developed the standards goes something like this: About six years ago two not-for-profit public policy organizations, The National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) started a joint initiative to develop a set of nationwide educational standards for the purpose of setting clear and consistent goals that would ultimately prepare students by the end of high school for successful college or workplace careers. The developers issued clear disclaimers of any federal input.

However well meant in and of themselves these goals were, on close inspection it remains unclear who exactly participated in the creation of the standards, and certainly, who spearheaded the initiative in the first place. While the inclusion of the words “governors” and “states” in the names of these organizations seems to support the assertion that the CCSS was developed by a forum of public officials, Diane Ravitch, education historian and blogger who has written extensively about Common Core, notes that in fact there was “minimal public engagement.” It seems just as likely that the “business and corporate partners” of the NGA and CCSSO were the true influences.url

The NGA and the CCSSO share a number of funders, including The College Board, ACT, and Pearson Education. The CCSSO is additionally funded by a number of other well known educational publishers such as Scholastic and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. As Mercedes Schneider, a teacher and Huffington Post blogger has uncovered, Pearson Education created its charitable foundation and started donating money to the NGA and the CCSSO at precisely the same time that they started to develop the new standards. Recently, Pearson agreed to pay a $7.7 million fine to New York State for illicitly using its charitable foundation to promote its financial interests related to Common Core.

Pearson has stated openly that it expects to make millions off the new materials, especially its online and digital resources. It is not a far stretch of the imagination that other educational corporations expect to do the same. Indeed, a recent article posted by Education Week noted that 68 percent of all school districts plan to purchase new instructional materials for the coming school year, the overwhelming majority of which will be toward implementing Common Core Standards.

Meanwhile, there is a continuing perception that the implementation of a unified national system of standards and assessments is in truth an attempt by the federal government to clamp down more closely on policy which historically resided within the power of the states. Certainly, the close tie between implementation of the CCSS and the award of Race to the Top money does contribute to the appearance that the federal government has a stake in the imposition of a unified set of educational standards.

As teachers and administrators continue to struggle with competently grasping the new standards in time to adequately prepare their students for the 2014 assessments, the question remains: who is really profiting from the new standards, and who is really paying for them? The goal of setting rigorous standards in order to prepare the next generation of leaders is itself a lofty one, but not at the counter-productive cost of poor teacher and student performance. An informed the public can decide whether its children’s educational future should rest in the hands of those who would make the most money from it.