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Gates and Duncan and Their Common Core “Freedom” Charade

March 16, 2014

In his purchased keynote at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) (I know, huh?), billionaire-with-zero-teaching-experience Bill Gates insisted that the feds are getting the bum rap when it comes to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). As Huffington Post’s Joy Resmovits notes,

Gates went on to address critiques that the Common Core represents a national curriculum, a federal takeover or the end of innovation. He said these claims are false and distract from teaching — and that teachers can provide the most effective response to critics. [Emphasis added.]

However, Resmovits continues with details that do indeed implicate US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his USDOE in attempting to fashion “a national curriculum, a federal takeover, and an end to innovation”:

The creation of the Common Core started in 2009, and thanks in part to nudges from the federal government via the Race to the Top competition and the application process for waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act, most states have adopted them. 

“Nudges”?? Come now, Joy.

Robert Scott: CCSS-adoption Pressure Is Real

Consider Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott’s account of of the “nudge”:

“We had just spent three to four years developing our own college and career readiness standards,” Scott said referencing the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills) as the main reason Texas was not interested in adopting the Common Core State Standards. However, there was still tremendous pressure being applied for something that, according to Scott, he was told was voluntary and state led. 

“We said no to Common Core and they said, ‘you want Race to the Top money?’ That was $700 million. They said, ‘do it.’ Well, we still said, no thanks.” Scott recalled. The feds also asked if Texas wanted an No Child Left Behind waiver and again, the state said no.  

Scott was education commissioner until late 2012. It was his successor, current commissioner Michael Williams, who applied for a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver, which Texas was granted. Both RTTT and the NCLB waivers are tied to federal accountability mandate, which means testing. Education Week reported, even though Texas took the waiver without adopting the Common Core State Standards, the state still “had to scrap its own state accountability system in favor of one that aligns with federal requirements. It also had to redo student achievement goals.” Even Politico reported that Texas made concessions, buckling and giving into political coercion. [Emphasis added.]

Texas is one of five states that did not sign on to RTTT– that is how Texas escaped CCSS. As part of RTTT, states were required to demonstrate that they were part of some “common standards”– and CCSS was the only game in town. Thus, those “45 states and the District of Columbia” supposedly “volunteering” for RTTT were required to submit this CCSS memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the governor and the state education superintendent as part of the RTTT application.

That is hardly Duncan/USDOE neutrality when it comes to CCSS.

But Bill is trying. And he doesn’t need truth to back his claims. He has his money– thus, he is his own truth.

Next step in this reform charade: Gotta pull Arne in line with Bill’s truth.

Hey, Arne, Follow Bill

Resmovits continues by noting that Indiana might be the first to escape CCSS:

In recent weeks, several states have made moves to hobble or scrap the Common Core entirely. Indiana has come closest, with its state Senate on Wednesday approving a bill that withdraws the state from the initiative and adopts its own set of academic standards to “maintain Indiana sovereignty” by July.

Now, I know this must just be a matter of coincidence, but it so happens that Arne told The Blaze on March 15– the day after Bill’s NBPTS speech– that Indiana is free to exit CCSS:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told The Blaze Friday that states are completely free to discard Common Core education standards. ..

This week, the Indiana legislature sent a bill to the desk of Gov. Mike Pence to pull out of the Common Core standards….

The Blaze asked Duncan during the White House press briefing Friday to comment on the final approval in the Indiana legislature.

“They absolutely have the right to do this,” Duncan told The Blaze. “This is a state-led effort; it always has been, always will be. And whatever Indiana decides, we want to work with them to make sure that students have a chance to be successful.” [Emphasis added.]

Duncan isn’t fooling anyone with his sudden benign attitude toward states’ altering– much less dropping– CCSS.

He has pushed this “common standards” idea since 2009; he has told newspaper editors how to report on CCSS; he has insulted parents and offered this tepid backpedaling on his insult.

Duncan wants CCSS and all of the trimmings— curricula and tests– and so does Gates.

Duncan and Gates can say that CCSS is not a federal coercion. However, one document interferes with their spin:

That pesky CCSS MOU.

The CCSS MOU; No State Freedom Here

The CCSS MOU is a contract that states entered into with USDOE as per USDOE’s requirement for vying for that $700 million of which Texas Ed Commissioner Scott spoke.

Duncan’s use of the term “state-led” is one used in the CCSS MOU to actually tell states that they are to lead:

Purpose: This document commits states to a state-led process…that will lead to the development and adoption of a common core of state standards.

So, the federal government has states sign a contract saying they will lead themselves– according to USDOE stipulation.

That’s right: The entire MOU is the federal government telling states that they will be “state led” and what that will look like, down to the details.

Duncan and Gates can cry foul all they like. This is the actual text from the CCSS MOU regarding “federal role.” It is a tourniquet of federal control, for it mandates that states “agree” to “common standards”:

Federal Role. The parties support a state-led effort and not a federal effort to develop a common core of state standards; there is, however, an appropriate federal role in supporting this state-led effort. In particular, the federal government can provide key financial support for this effort in developing a common core of state standards and in moving toward common assessments, such as through the Race to the Top Fund authorized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Further, the federal government can incentivize this effort through a range of tiered incentives, such as providing states with greater flexibility in the use of existing federal funds, supporting a revised state accountability structure, and offering financial support for states to effectively implement the standards. Additionally, the federal government can provide additional financial support for the development of common assessments, teacher and principal professional development, and other related common core standards supports, and a research agenda that can help continually improve the common core over time. Finally, the federal government can revise and align existing federal education laws with the lessons learned from states’ international benchmarking efforts and from federal research.

And states tied to the CCSS MOU are tied to assess CCSS:

Purpose: This document commits states to a state-led process that will draw on evidence and lead to development and adoption of a common core of state standards (common core) in English language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards will be aligned with college and work expectations, include rigorous content and skills, and be internationally benchmarked. The intent is that these standards will be aligned to state assessment and classroom practice. The second phase of this initiative will be the development of common assessments aligned to the core standards developed through this process. [Emphasis added.]

The bolded section above is the state agreement to the CCSS spectrum: CCSS, CCSS curricula, CCSS assessments.

Bill Gates comments on the necessity of this CCSS spectrum in his 2009 speech at the National Conference of State Legislatures–a group that he gave a $557,000 CCSS grant to in 2013. (See a video of Gates’ 2009 speech at the end of this post.)

As to the “adoption” of CCSS, the MOU is clear that CCSS must be adopted in its entirety. States can add but cannot remove CCSS. Notice that the language is carefully constructed to make it appear that this “effort” is not the coercion that it actually is:

This effort is voluntary for states, and it is fully intended that states adopting the common core may choose to include additional state standards beyond the common core. States that choose to align their standards to the common core standards agree to ensure that the common core represents at least 85 percent of the state’s standards in English language arts and mathematics. [Emphasis added.]

The only way that states are free from a CCSS tie to the federal government is to be released from the CCSS MOU.

A Challenge to Duncan

If Arne wants to go public and tell states that they are “completely free to discard Common Core,” then let him offer states a new MOU, one which clearly details this “freedom” and which declares the former CCSS MOU null and void. 

The very existence of a CCSS MOU bespeaks federal coercion.

Never mind that it is ILLEGAL according to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Subpart 2, section 9527(c)(1):

(1) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law, no State shall be required to have academic content or student academic achievement standards approved or certified by the Federal Government, in order to receive assistance under this Act. [Emphasis added.]

The USDOE has clearly overstepped its jurisdiction via its CCSS MOU and has been counting on no authority challenging its brazenness in doing so.

The crafters of ESEA apparently knew that there was no such thing as a “state led” federal MOU.

Bill and Arne: Who is in Whose Pocket?

Concerning Bill’s pushing the idea of no federal CCSS push: Even Arne is taking money from Bill, and Bill is clear that he seeks out those who might fulfill the goals of his foundation in order to offer them money.

Gates wants CCSS. Arne wants CCSS. But it goes a step further.

Gates purchased $1.4 million in “training and technical assistance” for USDOE.

USDOE is now indebted to Gates– and is allowing Gates to “help” it run the country.

This is truly sickening.

Arne and Bill, you are a disgrace to American democracy. Your presence in the affairs of American public education is nothing more than the stench of deceit and self-aggrandizement.


  1. Peter permalink

    Thanks for lining up all of this stuff in one place.

    And yes– Resmovits’s “nudges” just about sent my eyebrows off the top of my head.

  2. Peter permalink

    Stumbled across this today– makes an interesting comparison between what the government had to say about national standards twenty years ago and what they say today.

  3. Mercedes,

    Keep up the great investigative journalism. I wish I were a student in your class. What a phenomenal role model you are.

    Cheers from Colorado,


  4. Dr. Rich Swier permalink

    Great. Posted:


  5. Wonderful piece! Thanks for taking the time to keep us informed.

  6. Andrea Lancer permalink

    Why isn’t anyone challenging the legality of this coercion? The wording of the ESEA section you quoted seems unambiguous.

  7. Victoria Z permalink

    WOW…thank you so very much for writing this and connecting the dots!

    I am truly sickened by how a set of “standards” that are supposed to be superior to anything we as Americans have experienced within Education…HAVE PROVEN TO NEED…such under the table, blatant coercion and manipulation for states to agree to use them! Oh, and please do not be confused when I say a set of “standards”. I by no means meant…a federal mandated curriculum, as we all know this whole education movement has been on the up and up from onset. We all KNOW that ALL CONCERNED PARTIES are doing this for no other reason than making sure our babies…OUR FUTURE LEADERS…will be taught exactly what they need to learn to succeed in local and global markets. It has NOTHING to do with the money this movement brings to certain entities!

    (And for those that need this spelled out…the above was total sarcasm!)

    When will ‘WE THE PEOPLE’…WAKE UP and realize the mass manipulation of big business and government?

    I reside in Indiana.
    I feel nothing but disdain as we have been deceived in so many ways by government!

    DO NOT give parents, grandparents, voters lip service about Common Core!
    DO NOT rebrand Common Core!
    DO NOT allow federal government to push back at findings that CCSS are not better than what we already had in place!

    INDIANA should be DEMANDING that the CCSS MOU be null and void!

    ALL STATES should be DEMANDING that the CCSS MOU be null and void!

    We need to put a stop to this NOW! The longer this goes on, the only people suffering are our children and the teachers!

  8. Thanks for keeping the light on so that the truth may be exposed.

  9. Great post. I do like the dots connected. Did you know Gates was meeting with 80 senators? I used your link about the transformation of how government operates in an educational talk. Now I guess I can use this quote about all of the governmental structures Gates wants to circumvent for his vision.

    There will be many more characters to add to these diagrams.

  10. Harlan Underhill permalink

    Absolutely wonderful, Mercedes. You do detailed research and present it cogently. On this entry, I rather like the moral summation as well. It may not seem so to you, but I find the education policy lies and deception characteristic of the entire Obama administration in every single area.

  11. John Young permalink

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.

  12. The problem is the test… ITTS It’s the test, stupid.. . If the test was decent, then Common Core would be a really good thing… But because the test is so bad, and since everything in Common Core depends upon the test…. student scores, teacher rankings, the influx of charters, selling Pearson self-help programs, Achieve’s profit plan, AIR’s profit plan, McLatchy’s profit plan, College Board’s profit plan, Gov. Markell’s political future, the rest of Mark Murphy’s life, Darryl Scott’s future employment, … we are going forward with a bad program…. Imagine firing a former teacher of the year because she got a low income class and her scores dropped? Where else would that take place but corporate America? Imagine firing an amazing teacher because he underestimated the corruption embedded in a test designed to make children fail, and set his teams goals too high? Where else would that take place but corporate America?

    Common Core is like taking chicken manure from Sussex County, putting into sausage casings and selling it for breakfast sausages… The kids say : mom this tastes like poop and the parents, the administrators, the Sokola’s, the Scott’s, the Murphy’s , the Markell’s all say: shut up: you can’t eat your pudding if you don’t eat your meat…. The pushback from parents on Common Core is parents who say: Shut up, it does not taste like poop. Here I’ll eat one to show you… Ugh, Pffffft. Oh My Goodness, Uck. Pffft, Pffft… It effin taste like Poop!

    ITTS…. It’s the test, stupid……

    • No, it is not “just the test.” I can tell you from teaching English II (same set of CCSS for English I) that CCSS does not fit my students; in the case of reading comprehension, it assumes that all learn at the same rate and in a linear, incremental fashion across the school year. Standards on reading comprehension also dictate my manner of teaching and completely ignore my role in assisting my students in the ongoing construction of a knowledge base necessary for critical thinking.

      Even if the “tests” disappeared, CCSS is still designed to be a major money maker for curriculum and student data collection. There is also the nightmare of “standards-based grading”– teachers’ having to base student achievement on a 4-point system of grading each student on each standard. I spoke with a school board member in Utah, and standards-based grading is happening there– and Utah dumped CCSS tests a couple of years ago.

      If the standard doesn’t fit the student, too bad. If standards-based-grading eats up all of a teacher’s time and then some, too bad.

      CCSS needs to go– not just the tests.

      • It appears we both agree, that whether for the tests or the curriculum, the current system cannot stay…

        I don’t want to de-stress the issues of the tests. Or the example above. It is easy to be lulled into following the quest for higher standards, After all our species is a sucker for marketing ploys

        It is human nature to strive to be better. but the tests… ITTS, are the soldiers inside the Trojan horse, they are the virus inside the self-help program, they are the arsenic sprayed upon the lace… It would be nice to say that Greeks shouldn’t exist, that they shouldn’t have sailed to our shores and set siege, that they shouldn’t have killed our Paris… But they did. Now all we have to do, is not accept the Trojan Horse, despite the “free money” attached… It comes down to the one thing we can do against the entire bizarre shaping of events… That is to opt out of the test, to point out the test is the Trojan horse, to show parents what the test is and let them make their own conclusions on how it will ruin their children’s lives over their next 80-90 years…

        That said, as you probably know I agree with you completely that “the G(r)eeks” of the Microsoft linage are a big problem, yet hope that as more parents look to the trap door on the outside of this giant horse put before us now, and peak in, we can avert a disaster of historical proportions….

        As early as 2 years ago, I used to say we already had a national standard and that was the SAT. Sadly I cannot even say THAT anymore.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Arne Duncan Plays the Common Core Distancing Game #stopcommoncore | Stop Common Core Illinois
  2. Pennsylvanians Against Common Core Arne Duncan Plays the Common Core Distancing Game - Pennsylvanians Against Common Core
  3. Arne Duncan Plays the Common Core Distancing Game | Dr. Rich Swier

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