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Common Core, Aligned Curriculum, and Other NGA/Duncan-decided Issues

November 24, 2013

In this post, I would like to offer information on the beginnings of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and its interconnectedness with other so-called reforms. I refer to three documents (all linked below) from June 2008, June 2009, and June 2010.

My initial purpose in examining these documents was to ascertain the admitted connection between CCSS and the intention to promote an aligned curriculum. One cannot assess standards in the absence of curriculum; if there is both promotion of standards (the beginning) and assessment (the end), then curriculum (the middle) must be present.

It is.

My initial investigation into the standards-curriculum-assessment connection led to other notable finds, which I also mention in this post.

And now, for examination of the three Junes mentioned above, plus one July and one September.

In June 2008, the Hunt Institute and the National Governors Association (NGA) offered the following information as part of an NGA press release regarding the “need” for “rigorous standards.” Notice the inclusion of curriculum in this 2008 statement:

High, rigorous standards are the foundation of a strong education system. Content standards specify the knowledge and skills that students need at each grade level. These standards must be supported by an aligned and clearly articulated system of curriculum, assessments, teacher preparation and professional development, textbook selection and appropriate supports for students. [Emphasis added.]

By June 2009, NGA backed off of the “clearly articulated curriculum” dictum and added US Secretary Arne Duncan into its common standards and assessments discussion.

At the June 2009 Hunt Institute and the National Governors Association (NGA) symposium focused on the allocation of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding, Duncan and the governors decide to focus on four areas for education reform:

1. Common standards

2. Teacher performance (value-added assessment)

3. “Turnaround” of “low performing” schools

4. Building data systems.

I will highlight parts of this document, but the entire document (16 pages) is well worth the read. Keep in mind that the document is from June 2009, yet it includes the following statement:

At the Symposium, Secretary Duncan made an important announcement regarding these funds: $350 million of the Race to the Top funds has been earmarked to support the development of high-quality common assessments. With 46 states and three territories already signed on to the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association-led initiative to develop a set of common core standards that are fewer, clearer, and higher, this announcement was greeted enthusiastically by Symposium participants. [Emphasis added.]

The resulting “standards” were not completed until June 2010, yet 46 governors and three territories were willing to blindly follow this as-of-yet uncreated (forget untested) “effort.”

The number rose to 51 states and territories by September 2009, according to this NGA press release.

In June 2010, US Secretary Arne Duncan wholeheartedly endorsed this “state led” initiative, of which he was clearly an integral part based upon the 2009 Symposium report. Here is Duncan’s support, recorded on the USDOE website in June 2010:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued the following statement regarding today’s release by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers on a set of state-led education standards, known as the Common Core State Standards.

“The release today of the Common Core State Standards is an important step toward the improvement of quality education nationwide.  States have come together to develop standards that are internationally benchmarked and include the knowledge and skills that students must learn to succeed in college and career.”

Hard to tell where “state led” begins and Duncan ends.

Incidentally, NGA is a lobbying organization that has its own 501(c)3 nonprofit, the NGA Center for Best Practices. The “non-nonprofit” component allows for unlimited lobbying, and the 501(c)3 component allows for tax-deductible donations. NGA garners federal funding via its non-lobbying nonprofit component, and it collects dues for its lobbying– dues that are sometimes paid with taxpayer money. So, even though NGA lobbies, the federal government can be right in the lobbying game with NGA while “technically” donating to the NGA non-lobbying nonprofit.

What a game.

Back to the June 2009 Hunt Institute Symposium:

The Symposium participants named this effort “Comprehensive Education Reform” and decided that all four areas must be addressed simultaneously. Arne Duncan was there:

As Secretary Duncan pointed out, “This first step (the common standards) is huge, but if all we do is the standards piece—if the assessments don’t follow the standards—we’re really missing the boat.”

The issue of tying standards to assessments is included in this document. However, conspicuously absent is any discussion of curriculum.

The absence of discussion of an intended, aligned curriculum does not mean that no curriculum is intended. It only means that in June 2009, with Duncan present, the word “curriculum” is conspicuously absent from this Symposium report.

The tying of assessments to standards absent the necessary connector– the curriculum– is part of the 2009 Symposium report.

Consider the irony of this statement, paraphrased in the 2009 Symposium document yet attributed to Dr. David Conley of the University of Oregon:

Once developed, multiple choice assessments are difficult to displace because they are inexpensive and take relatively little time to administer and score.

Following discussion of the “simplicity and ease” of multiple choice assessment, the necessity of all four components working in tandem is reinforced:

As states strive to develop and adopt standards that are fewer, clearer, and higher, as well as assessments that are aligned to those standards, it is important for states to continue to view these as elements of a larger, integrated system. To fully support student learning, governors need to ensure that the goals set through standards and assessments are accompanied by systems for supporting teachers and students, transforming low-performing schools, and a robust data system that is used to make informed decisions and track progress.

The next section of the report hails the use of measuring teacher “effectiveness” based upon student test scores: value-added modeling (VAM). In reality, VAM is fraught with complications. In short, there is no direct means of measuring teacher “value” based upon a statistical equation. However, those never to be subject to such an erratic, high-stakes process– governors– promote the practice in this 2009 Symposium report.

Ahh, the convenience of being outside of reform consequences.

Yet not everyone “in charge” escapes the consequences of poor decisions in advancing the image of reform success.

Enter former Atlanta Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall.

Concerning school turnaround, Hall of the Atlanta cheating scandal is cited as an expert:

Dr. Beverly Hall, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, provided governors with insight into the role of states in supporting districts that are trying to turn around low-performing schools. Dr. Hall shared her experiences in turning around schools in both Newark (NJ) and Atlanta (GA) and said she believes that if leaders stay the course based on research and best practices, they can successfully change outcomes for children.

As for the importance of collecting data, Aimee Guidera, founder of the reform-dripping Data Quality Campaign, was present to offer her reform-friendly advice and services:

Whether connecting teacher performance data to teacher preparation programs as in Louisiana, or identifying schools that are likely to need turnaround support, quality data systems and the capacity to use them effectively are key to meeting all of the assurances of the ARRA. Aimee Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, emphasized that governors need not start from scratch, but can draw upon successful state models. Collaboration among states, as well as interagency collaboration within individual states, is important as states continue thinking about P-20 data systems.

Finally, for the complete conclusion of this 2009 Hunt Institute, state-led-with-Arne-involved, reform promotion:

Governors have an unprecedented opportunity through the ARRA to make bold reforms in education. With momentum building around the four assurances and the Race to the Top funds, governors may want to consider the following as they move forward with their education reform agendas:

1. The four assurances do not exist in a vacuum. To improve educational outcomes for students in the U.S. and qualify for RTT funding, governors will need to work on all four assurances simultaneously. The issues discussed in this report are all interconnected, and policies which may seem likely to improve one area could have unintended consequences for another area of reform. Joanne Weiss from the U.S. Department of Education explained that when deciding which states will receive awards from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top competitive grant program, the Department will be watching for integrated plans that address all four of the reform areas. Therefore, states must work in concert on improving standards and assessments, increasing teacher effectiveness, providing support for low-performing schools, and strengthening data quality.

2. Collaboration is the key to fast, efficient reform. Despite the additional funding from the federal government, many of these reforms are quite costly. By collaborating with other states, such as through the Common Core State Standards Initiative, governors can pool their resources for efficient and effective outcomes. Additionally, by collaborating with states that have made progress in different areas, governors can achieve more immediate results by forgoing some of the costly, time-consuming initial research phases and focus on ways to adapt other state’s models to fit their own circumstances.

3. Political courage will be necessary. This point was made repeatedly by governors and Secretary Duncan throughout the Symposium. Many, if not most, of these reforms will face political pushback from one constituency or another. Governors must be ready with solid facts and research to back up their reform agendas. The returns in achievement will take longer for some reforms than others, and in the case of raising standards, many states will face a perceived decline in student achievement before they see an improvement. Moving forward on the assurances will not be easy, and the leadership of strong, education governors will be essential to push forward bold reform.

All of the reform must happen simultaneously. Surely these “simultaneous” reforms depend upon curriculum, yet it is not discussed in June 2009.

Not to worry. In July 2009, at the National Conference of State Legislatures, Bill Gates, who has spent hundreds of millions financing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), is very clear that “identifying common standards is just the starting point”:

We’ll only know if this effort has succeeded when the curriculum and tests are aligned to these standards.

View Gates’ speech here:

Here’s a question: Why is Bill Gates advising legislators on the need for a curriculum aligned to common standards?

Answer: Because he paid at least $173 million expressly to advance CCSS.

In closing, consider the following:

NGA is promoting the message that most governors agreed to CCSS before CCSS existed.

CCSS must be aligned to curriculum in order for CCSS to be assessed.

The reformer intention is for reforms to be implemented as one overwhelming package.

From the outset, states are expected to foot much of the reform package cost.

Stakeholder resistance to this reform package is anticipated with the intent of ignoring stakeholder concerns and pushing reforms onto stakeholders.

Definitely a mockery of the democratic process.

  1. I will be sharing this far and wide!

  2. Have you investigated the connection between CC and Picus and Associates? They are getting ready to be hired on in Kentucky. Again.

  3. Laura h. Chapman permalink

    The CCSS were formally published in June 2010. Well before then, in December 2009, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation enabled the transfer of initial work on an ELA curriculum, started by the National Governor’s Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. The transfer of that project, aided by a grant in excess of $550,000, went to a non-profit organization that happens to have the name Common Core. Common Core has continued to develop and market it’s ELA “curriculum maps,” complete with spreadsheets for teachers to track their use of the maps and to document their compliance with the CCSS. Some of the writers worked on Achieve’s American Diploma Project, the forerunner of the CCSS initiative. Others were recruited from the decade-old Core Knowledge® curriculum of E. D. Hirsch. Hirsch is probably best known as the proponent of education for “cultural literacy,” a national curriculum for K-8.
    The assessment process for the CCSS was being planned prior to June 2010. Before September 2010 USDE awarded $300 million to two testing consortia: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
    In no time, the incompetents at USDE “suddenly“ discovered that tests for the CCSS had to be tied to curriculum. Thus, in January 2011, USDE awarded each consortium about $15 million in supplementary funding for curriculum work. PARCC, the consortium operated by Achieve, Inc. justified their request with promises of model courses and ancillary materials by the end of 2011 with model units having instructional materials and formative activities to prepare for the CCSS assessments; professional development materials and other materials intended to “serve as powerful models for others to develop similar tools for other standards or grades” p. 4. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. (2010, December 23). Proposal for supplemental race to the top assessment award. Retrieved from
    Although the CCSS initiative has been contrived to maintain the pretense of not being a giant step toward a nationalized system of standards, assessments, and curriculum-based instruction–federal law prohibits that–that pretense cannot be maintained. More evidence: The federally funded testing consortia are seeking “comparability” in their tests and cut scores. Think a national test with forms A and B. That can only happen with substantial standardization of curricula.
    PARCC will “coordinate with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium on… artificial intelligence scoring, setting achievement levels, and anchoring high school assessments in the knowledge and skills students need to be prepared for postsecondary education and careers” p.3 (PARCC, 2010, December 23).
    Similarly, the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) asserted: “SBAC and PARCC are strongly committed to ensuring comparability between their assessments…[including] collaborative standard setting that will facilitate valid comparisons of achievement levels (cut scores) in each consortium’s summative test…” p. 31. SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium. (2011, January 6). Supplemental funding budget narrative submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. p. 31. Retrieved from

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  14. Gates Is at It Again: The Common Core-Centered “Collaborative for Student Success” | Dick Rylander 4 District 4
  15. Arne Duncan in Pittsburgh, Selling Low Common Core Test Scores | deutsch29
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  18. Lamar Alexander’s ESSA: Room for John King, But Not Opting Out | deutsch29
  19. Pearson Gets Bad Press for Its “Unaligned” Common Core ELA Materials | deutsch29
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