USED Official Admits Federal Curriculum Violation in Bush-Supported Race to the Top

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

The arguments made by establishment proponents of Race to the Top and Common Core, including some presidential candidates continue to implode.  The well-worn chant that these were “state-led,” “voluntary,” “hijacked by the federal government,” and especially that Common Core is “only standards” and “has nothing to do with curriculum” is dissolving into thin air.   That particular claim about curriculum has been absolutely shredded in the admission by former US Department of Education (USED) official, Joanne Weiss in an essay discussing the “lessons learned” from the whole effort to nationalize education standards via Race to the Top (RTTT).  Weiss actually brags that RTTT, a federal government program, produced curriculum:

In addition, new curriculum materials funded through Race to the Top and released in 2014 are already in use in 20 percent of classrooms nationwide. (Emphasis added).

This is a clear violation of three federal laws that prohibit federal involvement in curriculum – The Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA – 20 U.S.C. § 7907(a)], The Department of Education Organization Act [20 U.S.C. § 3403(b)], and the General Education Provisions Act [GEPA – 20 U.S.C. § 1232(a)].  Here is a sample of the language from GEPA, which is quite similar to the other two:

“No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, or personnel of educational institution, school, or school system…”  (Emphasis added).

Weiss’ statement quoted above is a direct admission that USED is violating federal law.  It also completely contradicts statements from presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his now former group The Foundation for Excellence in Education, that Common Core, adoption of which was all but required for cash-starved states to be able to compete for Race to the Top funds, is only a set of standards and has nothing to do with curriculum.  The claim that Bush’s foundation was attempting to debunk here is now shown to be truer than their so-called “fact:”

Claim: “Common Core means federal control of school curriculum, i.e., control by Obama administration left-wing bureaucrats.”

Fact:  Common Core State Standards are not a national mandate or a national curriculum.  States voluntarily chose whether or not to adopt the standards and retain full authority for implementation, preventing the possibility of a federal takeover. State leaders, accountable to their constituents, can withdraw their states from the standards at any time.

This revelation comes on the heels of an excellent article by Jane Robbins of American Principles in Action, quoting the same essay by USED’s Weiss that that federal coercion was present from the beginning with the Race to the Top grant program by requiring alignment to the program:

“…by the governor, the chief state school officer, and the president of the state board of education — by requiring each of them to sign their state’s Race to the Top application. In doing so, they attested that their office fully supported the state’s reform proposal.”

Robbins rightly and clearly explained:

But how to persuade the states they should adopt the Common Core national standards? Benchmarking [for Success] had a suggestion for that too: “As soon as possible, the federal government should offer new funding . . . to help underwrite the cost for states to take the [reforms] described above related to standards and assessment, curriculum, human capital, and accountability.” (Emphasis added).

So the coercion described so cheerily by Weiss was actually part of the plan all along. By pushing particular standards and assessments onto the states through ties to RttT money, USED was able to impose its policy preferences, and those of the private entities that were calling the shots (indeed, Weiss herself had worked with one of those entities before being brought to USED by Secretary Arne Duncan).

As chronicled by Emmett McGroarty also of American Principles in Action, Bush was complementary of Obama’s efforts to use federal money for grants to expand the federal role in education:

I think Secretary Duncan and President Obama deserve credit for putting pressure on states to change, particularly the states that haven’t changed at all. They’re providing carrots and sticks, and I think that’s appropriate.

The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition has documented much of the copious evidence of Jeb Bush’s cooperation with the White House to help spread Common Core like a cancer across the nation   

…and to defend it and help the deceptive rebranding efforts in Florida saying to Secretary Arne Duncan in an email:

“He [Governor Rick Scott]  is fearful of the rebellion. Wants to stop using the term common core but keep the standards. Wants to get out of PARCC.”

…and trying to say while campaigning for Governor Scott that Florida is out of Common Core while at the same time saying that the changes to Common Core were “not substantial:

Bush now says that Race to the Top is a problem of federal overreach, but that kind of rhetoric has only emerged since he started getting serious about running for president and especially since he started plummeting in the polls.  As shown above, in our analysis of the first debate, and chronicled by other writers like Stanly Kurtz of National Review, it is completely hollow and disingenuous. 

The evidence that this strategy is not working is showing up in poll after poll.  As of September 23rd, Bush is behind in both state (including his home state of Florida where his unfavorable ratings are higher than his favorable ones), and national polls to candidates that have strongly and publicly repudiated Common Core and expanded involvement in education:

In addition, the public and Republican primary voters are not fooled by the governor’s new-found love affair with the Tenth Amendment as evidenced by him receiving boos when speaking of Common Core and “high standards” at an event in South Carolina as well as polling data showing significant opposition to national standards not labeled Common Core:

“The latest decline in support for these standards does not arise simply from a politically tainted Common Core ‘brand.’ Among a second group of respondents who answered the same question but without the phrase ‘Common Core,’ support for the use of shared standards across the states slid from 68% in 2014 to 54% in 2015.” (Emphasis added)

Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times also provided evidence of that falsehood in an article titled Jeb Bush’s bond with Barack Obama on education poses 2016 challenge for him in January of this year that described Bush’s support for federal involvement:

“I’m excited … because I think for the first time in my political life, there seems to be more consensus than disagreement across the ideological spectrum about education reform,” Bush said during a 2009 speech at an education forum in Nashville. “I’m very encouraged about Secretary Duncan’s advocacy of challenging the status quo, and I’m excited that Republicans seem to be not wanting to get into a food fight about this but to join forces and to find common ground. . . . This is a huge opportunity.”

…Today, the notion that the federal government was involved stems in part from Obama’s “Race to the Top” grants that encouraged states to lift education standards and innovate…Bush supported competitive grants, though, his staff stressed, he opposed the overall stimulus from which the money came.

Leary’s article also provided video of the now infamous meeting in Miami in 2011 where Bush introduced President Obama and Obama effusively praised Bush’s education reform efforts: (starting at 5:19) 

Obama – “We are also honored to be joined here today by another champion of education reform, somebody who championed reform when he was in office and somebody who is now championing reform as a private citizen, Jeb Bush. We are grateful. We are grateful for him being here.  Aside from being a former governor of this great state, Jeb is best known as being the brother of Marvin Bush. Apparently the rest of the family also did some work back in Washington back in the day.  (Laughter) The truth is that I’ve gotten to know Jeb because his family exemplifies public service and we are so grateful to him for the work he has done on behalf of education.  So, thank you!”

The brazen fashion in which the Obama administration and Common Core’s proponents in both parties, especially Clinton, Bush and Kasich, have promoted Common Core and the lawless and unconstitutional federal structures that have put those standards, tests, and curriculum in place while riding roughshod over parents and elected legislators is breathtaking.  The parents of America want a presidential candidate that will tell the truth; follow the Constitution and the rule of law; and reduce, not expand the federal footprint in education.

One thought on “USED Official Admits Federal Curriculum Violation in Bush-Supported Race to the Top

Comments are closed.