The Sneaking Common Core in our Schools Act of 2013

Oh, okay, that’s not the real title of the bill I’m about to discuss.

The Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013 (let’s dub it “SASA”) is eleven hundred fifty pages of stereo instruction.  After mentally ingesting most of it over the weekend, I’m wondering whether printing it out and physically ingesting it might have been easier.

This bill updates the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  At times, it is a painful hash of subsection redesignations and language striking and insertions.  The rest of the time, it is just painful tedium.

SASA came to my attention a couple of months ago, when a warning popped up on Facebook about this bill interfering with homeschooling.  At the time, I found one website with news of its own:  SASA creates a national school board and changes the state implementation of Common Core from voluntary to mandatory.

Since then, I’ve kept an eye out for additional coverage, but I didn’t run into it any.  So, I stuck my nose into the text of the bill and half-heartedly attempted to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Well, I got buried in the chaff faster than a pig burrowing in a haystack.  Still, it was interesting to see the mutation of the law’s purposes from 1965 to 2013.  The changes are stunning.  For example, the first of the 1965 purposes was about making sure that parents, teachers, and administrators implemented challenging and measurable standards for students.

The 2013 version deletes that language, and instead sweepingly states that the law itself (i.e., the federal government) will be the one setting the expectations.  Those expectations include “critical thinking,” “deep content knowledge,” and “college and career readiness.”

Hey, guess what pops up when you google those phrases?  Come on now, the first two guesses don’t count.

That’s right, Common Core!

The bulk of SASA is a veritable grab-bag of bribe-tastic grant-awarding goodies, from the environmentally friendly “Green Ribbon Schools” (sec. 1133) to the creation of “21st Century Community Learning Centers,” (sec. 4107) which require a longer school day or a longer school year.  After finding twenty-eight different grant categories, I stopped counting.

Your state doesn’t have to apply for these grants.  So no, they aren’t being forced to do anything.  Wink, nudge.

I was a little confused as to why the federal government needed to give out more goodies, since most states already agreed to implement Common Core when they accepted Race to the Top money.

But then I noticed how Race to the Top is a more flexible program.  The state decides how much it wants to comply with the federal criteria before submitting the application.  If the application wins the competition, then the funds are dispersed even if all the federal criteria are not met.

SASA has no such leeway.  For example, under section 1201(e)(3)(E)(i), (page 260 of the PDF) an entity accepting a “Secondary School Reform” grant under Title I, Part B “Pathways to College,” shall “redesign academic content and instructional practices to align with high academic standards for all students, the criteria associated with admission to and success in postsecondary education, and the skills necessary to be successful in the workplace.”

Hey boys and girls, can you guess where lingo like that comes from?  First two guesses don’t count!

That’s right, Common Core!

The most detailed curricula requirements are in section 1111(a)(1).  This section is in “Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged,” page 36 of the PDF.  It is three pages long and referenced seventy times as the standard required in the rest of SASA.  Here my abridged version of it:

SEC. 1111. STATE AND LOCAL REQUIREMENTS.

(a) ACADEMIC STANDARDS, ACADEMIC ASSESSMENTS, AND ACCOUNTABILITY REQUIREMENTS.

(1) REQUIREMENTS FOR COLLEGE AND CAREER READY STATE STANDARDS.—In order to receive a grant under this part, each State shall demonstrate the State meets the following requirements:

(A) COLLEGE AND CAREER READY ALIGNED STANDARDS FOR READING OR LANGUAGE ARTS AND MATHEMATICS.

(i) The State shall not later than December 31, 2014, adopt college and career ready academic content standards in reading or language arts and mathematics that meet the requirements of clauses (ii) and (iii); and not later than the beginning of the 2015–2016 school year, adopt college and career ready student academic achievement that meet the requirements of clauses (ii) and (iv).

(ii) Each State plan shall demonstrate the State has adopted college and career ready academic content standards and college and career ready student academic achievement standards aligned with—(I) credit-bearing academic coursework, without the need for remediation, at public institutions of higher education in the State; and (II) relevant State career and technical education standards and the State performance measures under section 113(b) of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006;

(iii) College and career ready academic content standards shall be used by the State, and by local educational agencies, public elementary schools, and public secondary schools in the State, to carry out the requirements of this part; and be evidence-based and include rigorous content and skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills.”

Kind of funny, isn’t it, the way this bill is steeped in Common Core terminology, but never actually mentions it by name?

So the Education Freedom Committee is right.  S. 1094, The Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013, requires states that receive funds to use Common Core.

Also, SASA does create a brand new federal school board.  Well, technically it is called the Commission on Effective Regulation and Assessment Systems for Public Schools.

This commission is not confined to reviewing the grants offered under SASA.  Still, it appears to be a rather toothless affair.  Under Title X, section 10014, it has the power to hold hearings and make recommendations.  Under section 10015, it has the duty to take whatever actions necessary to gain full understanding of the issues of effective regulation and assessment systems for public schools.

Hmm.  Might be some teeth hidden in that sentence.  Anyway, the important thing is to simply establish the commission.  Mission creep will come along in due time.

Time for some good news!  First, as long as control of the House isn’t handed to the Democrats, SASA is unlikely to go anywhere.

Second, the bill does not attempt to regulate homeschool students.  In fact, SASA appears to keep the original language from the 1965 Act, which in 20 U.S.C. sec. 7886(b) states:

“Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to affect a home school, whether or not a home school is treated as a home school or a private school under State law, nor shall any student schooled at home be required to participate in any assessment referenced in this chapter.”

So we’ve got that going for us, anyway.  Have a great week everyone!

Update (DaTechGuy) Stacy & Michelle are also on this subject today.