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Corporate Funding and Common Core

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This article builds on my earlier piece, Lies My Teacher Told Me About Common Core. If you haven’t read it yet, please start there.

I’ve had a lot of fun talking and writing with people about the Common Core State Standards in the months since I wrote that piece. Nine months later, there’s still a ton of misinformation out there. Repealing Common Core has become a major issue in a bunch of the electoral races around the country this fall.

It makes me sad, because I think the standards are good. A lot of my teacher and professor friends agree.

One of the consistent things that comes up about Common Core is the specter of dirty money: the idea that corporations have bought and sold our future and controlled the destiny of America by shoving Common Core down everyone’s throats. It’s an appealing image, and it resonates for a lot of us—hardly surprising given that we’ve been forced to bail out banks and auto companies, insurance companies and more. We don’t trust corporations.

Questions about Corporate Money

I received an interesting comment on the other post, and I wanted to address it in greater detail, so I’m writing this post. The comment came from Meagan:

“Thank you for this. I am frustrated with the misinformation and confusion, too.

Other concerns I’ve heard, but haven’t fully researched on my own, are the CCSS connections to certain corporations and sources of funding that some folks have beef with, or assume directly influenced the standards. Of all the anti-CC arguments I’ve heard, that’s the only one I might agree with. Otherwise, I think the standards are strong, and as a college writing teacher, think that if they’re taught well (not with canned curriculum and testing-based teaching) they’ll definitely better prepare students for college and life.

If you amend this, would you consider addressing the concerns about the funding behind the push for CCSS?”

My response

Hi Meagan! Thanks so much for writing in—it’s always lovely to interact with readers.

I’ve heard the same things about the corporations and funding issues behind CCSS, but I haven’t been able to find anything conclusive either way. I’m choosing to hold that concern in abeyance until there’s more information available. If there’s a shadowy conspiracy out there, they’re hiding it well. (Readers, if you have actual, sourced information about money and influence peddling in CCSS, please post links in the comments.)

I’m not that concerned about the allegations of corporate money in CCSS for a couple of reasons, if you’ll permit a digression or two:

Preamble. I’ve read the Common Core standards, and I think they’re good. It sounds as though you’ve done the same. I don’t see evidence for most of the criticisms people make against CCSS; I think they’re complaining against bad curricula and bad testing practices. The complaints against CCSS itself don’t hold water.

In any case, we’ve both agreed that CCSS is, mostly, good. It has solid standards, a good framework for thinking, and a way of prioritizing and demanding critical thinking skills that have not previously been required. The standards are good.

The argument you cite really has two prongs:

  1. The identity of the specific corporations/groups funding the development of CCSS taints Common Core by association.
  2. These corporations influenced the development and adoption of CCSS, which is therefore bad.

Let’s address them in order.

Corporations taint Common Core by association

Let’s suppose that corporations really did throw a ton of money at this (which they probably did; it’s hard to find an area of American life that’s unsullied by corporate cash). That leaves us with this:

Corporations spent a ton of money to force us to develop Common Core, and it reflects their agendas.

If the argument is that these corporations have irrevocably stained Common Core through their sponsorship, then we’d need to see evidence of the problem in the finished product. If there is no stain, this problem becomes a philosophical debate.

So where’s the stain? We’ve already looked at the finished product—the Common Core State Standards—and found it good. We like it. We think it leads toward good things. So I’m going to go ahead and say that, whether or not corporations influenced the CCSS development, if we can’t find evidence of it in the final standards, it doesn’t matter.

Corporations influenced the development and adoption of Common Core

This is almost certainly true. So what?

Is that such a bad thing? Let’s suppose the rebuttal goes “yeah, because the curricula suck!”. That’s true, but we allegedly live in a free market society, and eventually someone will make a better curriculum package. The ones available now are really just first drafts; we should expect them to be imperfect. Once someone builds a better package, schools will buy it, and the other companies will innovate, etc.

It’s bound to happen, because that’s how capitalism works. If there’s a niche that’s not being served well, someone will invent a way to serve it. Build a better mousetrap, and the world beats a pathway to your door.  So even if the curricula are bad now, they’ll get better—and probably pretty quickly.

(Let me point out that we’ve neatly slipped away from talking about the Common Core standards now and have begun talking about curriculum packages and testing. This form of sleight-of-hand is part and parcel to the narrative of most of the #StopCommonCore crowd, and it’s good to call it what it is: legerdemain.)

To argue against that, you really have to believe both of these things:

  1. All the textbook companies are in cahoots with each other to collaborate in making bad products. They further agree to never improve them so they can all retain exactly the same market share they have today. All these corporations are satisfied with their current market share, and they will never try to jockey for position or undercut each other.
  2. Nobody else will ever develop a curriculum that is CCSS-compliant, so there will never be new entries into the market; the current offerings are all we get, forever.

I find it pretty hard to believe in an invisible non-competition agreement so widespread and effective that this could actually happen, and last, while blocking out all disruptive competition, forever.

Getting back to the earlier point, we’re saying:

Corporations spent a ton of money to develop and force us to adopt Common Core, and that makes Common Core bad.

This argument is kind of subsumed in the first, but again, let’s assume that corporations really did spend a boatload of money trying to influence the direction and content of the Common Core standards, and that they did all the disgusting power-brokering we suspect them of.

The thing is, we’ve seen the result—the Common Core State Standards—and we like it. So we end up saying:

Corporations spent a ton of money to develop and force us to adopt Common Core, but we ended up liking it. We’ve looked at it carefully, and it looks great.

Again, I don’t see a huge problem.

So, who knows whether corporations spent a ton of money rigging this thing. Even if they did, the standards are good. The curriculum packages will follow. Tons of smart people are working on it. The high-stakes testing is bad, but that’s not really related to Common Core, and we’ll get rid of it.

Common Core remains a good thing.

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6 thoughts on “Corporate Funding and Common Core

  1. I think the real point is, why would corporations want to spend money developing standards? Is it possible that it’s because they would like to hire people that can do what is outlined in the common core standards?

    So what’s wrong with that? How many of us go to school and then work for corporations? Shouldn’t we be asking them to help us with the standards, instead of thinking they must be something from the devil because they touched them?

    It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s about time we had a standard, and corporations are as interested in that as everyone else. I have been very frustrated with how little a supposed high school graduate knows. I’m tired of training people that can barely do math and don’t know English. Bring on the standards! (And I do not work for a corporation, I work in a small business)

  2. Thank you for the response. I do mostly agree, but still worry about testing companies growing profits off them, and in response to the other commenter, I do have a problem with corporations controlling education standards–I don’t like the idea of children seeming the widgets of corporations and businesses.

    Since in this case, those standards and skills happen to be useful (and encourage critical thinking, so, we hope, students who are aware citizens and perhaps employers instead of employees, or even better–re-seeing the world without corporations…) that doesn’t seem to be the case or a major worry, but I think it’s still worth watching. But it isn’t the standards that would likely show any bias or grooming, it would be at the curriculum level. I do have problems with some of the “OMG LOOK AT THIS WORKSHEET” posts, but I know better than to blame Common Core. The anti-CCSS movement is right in that the curriculum they’re touting as bad IS bad, but they’re blaming the wrong source.

  3. One word. Pearson. You should do research before blogging about this important topic. At least you said you don’t know much about it. You admit your argument is all based on conjecture.

    1. Sandra, while that’s true, I don’t think it supports your point. I made a structural argument that, while I don’t know what Pearson actually did, I can see the results, judge them to be okay, and therefore judge it not to matter that much what Pearson actually did. That’s different from just saying that I don’t know much about it.

      What would you suggest I read to learn more about your perspective?

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