The Intersection

The Battle of The ‘Core’

September 18, 2013


“Tens of millions of dollars are pouring into the battle over the Common Core academic standards, which aim to set a course for students’ progression in math and language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade,” writes Politico education reporter Stephanie Simon and editor Nirvi Shah in the article, “The Common Core Money War.

Simon and Shah call the “money war” over the Common Core “one of the most expensive political fights in America.” In the article, they discuss the financial supporters and advocacy groups of the Common Core controversy and the views both opponents have about the development and implementation of the standards.

The proponents would appear to have all the advantages. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation already has pumped more than $160 million into developing and promoting the Common Core, including $10 million just in the past few months, and it’s getting set to announce up to $4 million in new grants to keep the advocacy cranking. Corporate sponsors are pitching in, too. Dozens of the nation’s top CEOs will meet today to set the plans for a national advertising blitz that may include TV, radio and print.

Opponents, meanwhile, project an image of scrappy grassroots gumption: One rancher in Alabama said he would sell off a cow to cover the costs of an anti-Common Core town hall. But they’re backed by an array of organizations with multimillion dollar budgets of their own and much experience in mobilizing crowds and lobbying lawmakers, including The Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, the Pioneer Institute, Conservative Women for America and FreedomWorks.

The think tanks and advocacy groups fighting the Common Core are supported by some of the wealthiest and most politically savvy conservative donors in the U.S., including the Pope, DeVos and Scaife families, according to tax records and annual reports. A spokeswoman for the Charles Koch Foundation said it hasn’t made any grants specifically aimed at the Common Core, but tax documents show the Koch brothers have supported many of the advocacy groups working against the standards.

Those groups have circulated talking points, organized online petitions, linked up activists and convened anti-Common Core conferences, like a recent event at the University of Notre Dame that attracted more than 200 people from as far off as Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina to learn how the standards are “ruining America’s future.” The opposition even has its own communications team, Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, which has represented a star-studded list of conservative clients including the National Rifle Association, McCain 2008 and Club for Growth and is now working for the American Principles Project, an advocacy group opposing the Common Core.

Proponents “were lulled into thinking this was a no-brainer, a done deal … but opponents got themselves organized and funded,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and a supporter of the standards. Now, he said, it’s war – and this fall will be like “the opening of a second front.”

The battle lines defy neat partisan categories: Teachers unions have joined hands with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the Obama administration in promoting the standards, which nearly every state has adopted. On the other side, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida finds itself on the same team as tea party activists.

The Common Core didn’t seem this controversial when the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers got together in 2009 to begin mapping out rigorous academic goals that schools from California to Maine could get behind. Backed by Gates grants, the groups wrote detailed standards for instruction in every grade, spelling out, for instance, that a first grader should be able to solve word problems requiring basic addition and subtraction and a 10th grader should be skilled at analyzing complex characters from literature.

To read the full article, go here.


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