Fact-Checking President Obama on Race to the Top

President Obama touted Race to the Top during the State of the Union

In the State of the Union Address, President Obama said:

“For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning — the first time that’s happened in a generation.”

Claim # 1: Race to the Top is less than 1% of expenditures on elementary and secondary education. ¬†— True.

According to official projections by the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States spent $488 billion on elementary and secondary education during the 2009 Р2010 school year during which the Administration launched Race to the Top, which was a $4.35 billion expenditure.

Claim # 2: Almost every state in the union has committed to the Common Core Standards. ¬†— False.

The Obama Administration considered it a binding commitment by the state to the Department of Education if the chief education officers and the Governors of each state signed off on the Common Core managed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers without consulting their legislatures. ¬†As a result, nearly every state committed to the Standards. ¬†The only exceptions were Alaska, Texas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Virginia. ¬†However, the states are still working on the implementation of the Standards and the accompanying assessments. ¬†Many states (such as South Carolina) are attempting to withdraw their legally difficult-to-define commitment to the Department of Education. ¬†Although the states have committed to the Common Core, assessments and standards have not yet been implemented or “raised.” ¬†It will cost billions of dollars and, with the exception of Washington State, almost no state has analyzed how it will raise the money to implement the changes. ¬†No guarantees exist that this process, which is expected to take 5 – 10 years, can afford to be completed. ¬†It is not yet complete, at any rate.

Claim # 3: The Common Core State Standards are higher standards. ¬†— False.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been the leading champion of the standards ever since they launched Strong American Schools, a public advocacy effort geared towards convincing Senators McCain and Obama to commit to national standards in the 2008 election. ¬†They have commissioned several studies to analyze the quality of the standards that they first promoted then underwrote with donations to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. ¬†These studies have the obvious bias to say yes to their commissioner. ¬†The only serious independent study commissioned by the Pioneer Institute of Massachusetts and the Pacific Research Institute of California found the Common Core Standards were not higher standards. ¬†They released their findings in the report Common Core State Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade.¬†

Claim # 4: The Obama Administration “convinced” the states to sign on to the Common Core. ¬†— True (and illegal).

Convincing can be interpreted as giving a conditional directive pursuant to a policy change. ¬†In this case, the Obama Administration tied the ability to compete for Race to the Top Stimulus funds to the implementation of the Common Core via two testing consortia funded by the Department of Education — the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Careers (PARCC). ¬†This was pursued in direct contravention of the federal statute¬†the Education and Secondary Education Act of 1965: ¬†“Sec. 604. Nothing contained in this Act 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, administration, or personnel of any educational institution or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system.” ¬†The Obama Administration did give direction to the necessity of signing onto the Common Core and implementing accompanying assessments to be instituted in schools.

Claim # 5 is that this is the first time that one-size-fits-all reform has been undertaken by the federal government. — True (in violation of the law).

Education policy has historically been a state and local affair.  Federally-driven reforms are prohibited both by the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution and federal statute.  Race to the Top and the Common Core are indeed unprecedented.

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