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The 2008 Common Core Sales Job: Part One

May 1, 2014

In 2008, the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and Achieve, Inc., released a report, Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-class Education.

The Gates and GE foundations funded the report.

The content of this report begs for careful examination. Thus, I plan to examine it closely in a series of posts. This first posts centers upon certain economic issues raised by the assumptions in the report, which happen to connect to the title term, “benchmarking.”

According to the authors, the “benchmarking” idea must go beyond the definition in American education (“comparing performance outcomes” or “setting performance targets”) and must consider the business definition, which happens to correspond to the “competitive” definition of “benchmarking” in education in other countries (“identifying top performers or fast improvers, learning how they achieve great results, and applying those lessons to improve one’s own performance”).

In other words, I learn from you, but I do so in order to beat you.


The purpose of the report was to promote a now-familiar spectrum of  “education reforms,” including the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In doing so, NGA, CCSSO, and Achieve assure America that our education system would then be “globally competitive”:

Five Steps Toward Building Globally Competitive Education Systems 

Action 1: Upgrade state standards by adopting a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12 to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be globally competitive.

Action 2: Leverage states’ collective influence to ensure that textbooks, digital media, curricula, and assessments are aligned to internationally benchmarked standards and draw on lessons from high-performing nations and states.

Action 3: Revise state policies for recruiting, preparing, developing, and supporting teachers and school leaders to reflect the human capital practices of top-performing nations and states around the world.

Action 4: Hold schools and systems accountable through monitoring, interventions, and support to ensure consistently high performance, drawing upon international best practices.

Action 5: Measure state-level education performance globally by examining student achievement and attainment in an international context to ensure that, over time, students are receiving the education they need to compete in the 21st century economy.

It’s all about the “global economy.” The report abounds with such language as “the race” being “on to create a knowledge-fueled innovation economies.”

Education is identified as supremely important in America’s “winning” the global economic “race”:

Education is a tremendously important lever for ensuring competitiveness and prosperity in the age of globalization, albeit not the only one.

Nevertheless, the report reads as if education is the only “lever” for competitiveness, and that in order to “compete,” America must become a “skills-driven global economy.”

The report also refers to giving America’s students “a world class education” and of the need for “innovation.”

So, which is it:  Skills, or a world-class education leading to “innovation”?

I notice that nowhere in this report do the authors advocate their set of reforms be imposed upon all American schools– including elite prep schools.

I have yet to read of an elite prep school advertising that it will equip its pupils with “skills” for the “skills-driven global economy.”

The report also mentions the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the growth of global trade.

Ironically, the report was published in 2008, the same year that underregulated corporate greed plunged the US economy into a recession. Desiring money today with no thought for tomorrow, banks and hedge-fund managers “invested” in what became worthless subprime mortgages. In short, their irresponsibility soon led to federal bailout that included major automotive companies.

NGA, CCSSO, and Achieve should have mentioned the role of corporate greed upon the GDP.  American education had nothing to do with the 2008 rocking of the “global economy.”

Hedge fund managers are now “investing” in underregulated charter schools– and such “disruptive innovation” is being positioned in cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia, where public schools have closed due to “budget cuts.”

As the 2008 economic crisis should have taught NGA, and CCSSO, and Achieve, underregulated charters lead to instability (i.e., “charter churn”) (see here and here and here and here for examples).

Time to “benchmark” the effect of “charter churn” on the “global economy.”

The 2008 “Benchmarking” report alludes to the need for schools to provide students with “global awareness.”

It should begin with a national lesson on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

It should continue with a lesson on the “global edge” of a country’s having a lower debt-to-GDP ratio. Yes, the NGA, and CCSSO, and Achieve love to promote international test scores as evidence of “global competitiveness”; however, the US cannot continue to “lead” the world (which it has managed to do despite decades of low international test scores) if the US’ ever-increasing national debt makes it increasingly vulnerable to its international creditors.

The authors of the 2008 “Benchmarking” report admire countries like China, (South) Korea, and Finland for their international test scores. They would be wise to also consider that all three countries have a lower gross-debt-to-GDP ratio than the US. 2012 figures have the US gross debt at 107% of the GDP as compared to China’s 23%, South Korea’s 34%, and Finland’s 53%.

National debt is a global economic issue.

Underregulation of major markets is a global economic issue.

In their zealous push for American “global competition,” the authors apparently overlooked such glaring and complex issues.

Stay tuned for Installment Two.





  1. A friend of mine teaches an MBA course, “Business, Society and Government” … this should be required reading in my opinion.

  2. Terry Burdette permalink

    Mercedes, This is a fantastic critique of the economics of the “reform” movement. Just like for- profit health care, prisons, and numerous other privatization mania movements, the school – business model is seriously flawed. I taught economics for 22 years before I retired and could not help but see the assault on public education by this gang of money-hungry folks. Your reporting is spot on and should be reaching as many as possible out there. Our school was adopted by the academy model (vocational dropped) and we were responding to the Chamber Commerce in our city as I closed down my teaching career. Competition, endless time-consuming meetings that brought consequences if you decided to do something more productive. They still cannot find a person to lead their nursing program!! The last professional nurse came and they ate her alive in a few months. ( there is a gap between the market-based salary for nurses in the industry of health care and the salary for teaching nursing…hmmm??) This reinforces the fact that product knowledge does not automatically equal a great teacher. ( a fact you have skillfully put out there) Dissent is absent, yes men abound, Teach for America is incorporated, older teachers are retiring at an alarming rate, morale is at an all-time low. I taught at this same school for 22 years so I can remember the great years when teachers had more say in how the educational process should unfold. There is a class war going on, and education is just one of the battles…(Warren Buffet has admitted this) I will share your blog with as many as I can here in Tennessee as the struggle continues. The TEA is suing our government here now for problems in the reform process, so we shall see. Thanks for all you do WHILE TEACHING…no easy feat since time demands on teaching have gone up sooo much in the last decade!! May everything you put your hand to do prosper, Terry Burdette Date: Fri, 2 May 2014 03:33:37 +0000 To:

  3. It just occurred to me that media has really been playing up Vikings the past few years (commercials, an entire TV series and now a few movies). Vikings who pillage, plunder and ravage communities…doesn’t this sound just like what the bankers, certain investors and venture capitalists did just a few years ago to the economy? And seem to be planning to do to pubic education and the employees’ pensions? Maybe they are putting a sweeter spin on Vikings to make themselves look good in comparison…but it’s not working, they look a lot worse.

  4. 2old2tch permalink

    Does it strike anyone that the call for efficiency in business and wherever “they” happen to have spread their tentacles has more to do with leaching money out of the economy than creating something that will produce (economic) value? I enclosed “economic” in parentheses because I believe value should have a much wider definition beyond that of monetary.

  5. Lisa Smith permalink

    It would be interesting to find out which other companies inquired after the release of the Request For Proposals, and then decided not to bid. This has to be a lucrative contract; there must have been a mighty strong reason to discourage every other interested party from bidding on this. I suspect a big story behind it. Unfortunately, it’s not something CNN, 60 Minutes, or PBS is likely to want to investigate.

  6. Very good point Lisa! We need a T.R. to break up this up. Personally I think one word explains this. Gates!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  9. Yet ANOTHER Clueless Common Core Op-Ed From The Editorial Board – #NCed #StopCommonCore | Lady Liberty 1885

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