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Could the Rights to Common Core Ever Be Sold?

October 10, 2014

Let’s talk the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) copyright. CCSS is owned by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). It’s theirs to do with whatever they wish. So saith the copyright– which they have already modified once.

NGA and CCSSO can do what they wish with the CCSS license and not be held responsible for any outcome:


So saith the copyright.

There is also the CCSS memorandum of understanding (MOU), drafted by NGA and CCSSO and signed by most governors and state superintendents in 2009. Now, CCSSO CEO Chris Minnich, a political science major who once was employed by Harcourt (now Pearson), stated on October 8, 2014, in Real Clear Education, that the CCSS MOU was void as of 2010. However, though it was signed in 2009, the CCSS MOU includes information on CCSS usage, as well as future revision and expected public promotion. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has even accepted the CCSS MOU beyond 2010 as evidence of state agreement to abide by CCSS as part of the Race to the Top (RTTT) application’s “common standards” component. Thus, the CCSS MOU was not only for “development” as evidenced by both CCSS MOU content and CCSS MOU document usage.

But back to another NGA/CCSSO document– the CCSS copyright.

Minnich says that the copyrighting of CCSS was done “to protect the states.”

But “the states” are not the owners of CCSS. Two organizations are: NGA and CCSSO:

NGA Center/CCSSO shall be acknowledged as the sole owners and developers of the Common Core State Standards, and no claims to the contrary shall be made. [Emphasis added.]

Minnich says that since NGA and CCSSO are “ultimately run by [their] membership”; therefore, “the states” own CCSS copyright.  The problem with such a statement is that it assumes that all NGA and CCSSO state “members” want CCSS. State leadership changes. Some state leaders’ opinions about CCSS have changed. But NGA and CCSSO remain the “sole owners.”

And no claims to the contrary shall be made.

Let’s talk money. Minnich states that neither NGA nor CCSSO are profiting from the copyright:

We (CCSSO) also don’t make any money off the copyright, neither does the NGA. We don’t charge licensing fees. Individuals are free to use the standards as long they tell us they’re using them.

Let’s just set aside the fact that NGA has accepted over $2 million and CCSSO over $17 million from billionaire Bill Gates alone to “implement” CCSS, though the “making money” part for both NGA and CCSSO is definitely present. Sure, the money is not from licensing fees. Not right now.

But it could be, if and when NGA and CCSSO so choose.

According to the CCSS license,

NGA Center and CCSSO reserve the right to release the Common Core State Standards under different license terms….

But let’s even move beyond the possibility of NGA’s and CCSSO’s charging of a fee for CCSS usage.  Let’s talk sale. NGA and CCSSO can alter “licensing terms”– and outright sale of CCSS would certainly qualify as “releasing” CCSS “under different license terms.”

After all, they are the sole owners.

In short, two organizations–NGA and CCSSO– hold all of the CCSS cards.

The power that NGA and CCSSO wield via the CCSS copyright is not an issue that Minnich wants the public to thoughtfully consider. On the contrary, Minnich is working hard to promote the image of NGA and CCSSO as “protectors of the states” via the CCSS copyright:

…The biggest thing for us is to protect the states. If the standards weren’t copyrighted, a publisher could’ve taken the standards and sold them back to the states. We did this on behalf of the state agencies and governors…. [Emphasis added.]

What Minnich fails to acknowledge is that NGA and CCSSO could do the very same: Sell CCSS to a third party– a publisher that could take the standards and sell them back to the states.

A publisher already deeply invested in cornering the CCSS market– like, say, Pearson.

Minnich mentions hoping for some of that “market force” that Gates is so fond of promoting. In his spin, Minnich tries to promote the idea that CCSS standardization is good for smaller publishers– presumably to turn those smaller publishers into bigger publishers:

One of the things we were hoping to do with the standards was open up the market to more publishers. Having a common set of standards across the
 country allows smaller publishers to come to the forefront.

Before the Common Core, each publisher had to produce 50 different sets of textbooks for 50 different standards – one for each state. The bigger publishers had the capital and resources to do that – to write to the different standards for different states, the smaller publishers really couldn’t. The smaller publisher would probably only be able to write to one, and hope that the other states would buy them. Now, given the more common standards, we would hope the smaller publisher would be able to get into that market and really increase the innovation that’s going on with materials.

The problem with this “smaller publishers to the forefront” idea is that the bigger publishers– like the Pearson from which Minnich happens to hail– are already big. They are the Walmarts among the mom-and-pop corner stores.

We know what happens when a Walmart moves in on mom-and-pop territory.

Goodbye mom. Goodbye pop.

And the terms of that CCSS copyright– terms that clearly benefit NGA and CCSSO and not individual states– would allow NGA and CCSSO to make the sale, if ever and whenever they wish.



Schneider is also author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education

previti chronicle pic


  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Said it before. Next degree should be law. Tis is a splendid take-down of claims about the CCSS and it is a timely one. The opposition is growing stronger from the left and the right. Still seems to me that not many people have looked at the document in any detail, or the history of this project. I look forward to your book on this.

  2. ira shor permalink

    Any chance you could do a time-based visual map or flow chart indicating each impt step along the way that brought us to this fix?

  3. My guess: Pearson will own CCSS by 9/2015.

    • Benoit permalink

      Pearson doesn’t need to own CCSS if they own the tests. It’s the tests that drive everything.

  4. Mercedes, I am speaking at our school board meeting next month. I would like to add your idea of CCSS being sold to my statement, with your permission. Thank You, Zoie Burton

    • Zoie, use whatever you like. Best wishes for the board meeting.

      • Thank you!!

      • Hi again! Can we email privately? I have some questions I’d like to ask. Thank you, Zoie

      • Hi Mercedes, I have thought a lot about your post. If the NGA and CCSSO did sell the copyright, why? What reason could there be? Who would purchase the copyright? My first response is Pearson. However, why would they purchase CCSS? They already own PARCC tests and curriculum. That led me to think the copyright is just a front for Pearson. It was created as a distraction. The American people would not tolerate unelected unaccountable ‘officials’ dictating our public education system. However, the fallout would be much less than if Americans realized control of public education left the country. The NGA and CCSSO aren’t controlling American public education. British based Pearson and Sir Michael Barber are. I hope you can take time to read and respond to my post. Thank you!

      • The involvements of these individuals are a corporate-reform-friendly web of self-serving connections. There is no telling who owes whom a favor, or who might get some kickback for handing the rights to the CC lock-in over to another nonprofit, or company, or individual. Not all are friendly toward Pearson; perhaps some might devise a way to undercut Pearson’s CC connection. And states’ using CC as a bargaining tool for both RTTT money and NCLB waivers makes states a captive market for CC.

        In short, it is dangerous for American public education to be beholden to two corporate-reform-driven “nonprofits” as the holders of the rights to standards that have unprecedented profit potential.

      • I completely agree that American public education should not be owned by any corporation. I’ve heard Arne Duncan and Sir Michael Barber speak. Both speak the same language. ‘Global citizen’ and ‘global governance’. The CCSS is very similar to the United Nations Educational Standards. I know we will never know positively what went down but that is exactly why the NGA/CCSSO were chosen. IMHO. 🙂 Thanks for the reply! I know you are one busy lady!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: Could the Rights to CCSS Be Sold? | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. 1-16-15 NC Common Core Commission Meeting | Lady Liberty 1885

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