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Getting to the Core of Common Core

1 June 2016

Heard of Common Core, but not sure what it is? Curious about how states receive federal funding for education? Below, we break down this hot-button issue, and provide the 2016 presidential candidates’ stances towards Common Core.   

What is the Debate over Common Core?
There is a lot of contention around the national set of education standards, known as Common Core. These standards are used by teachers and school staff to design lesson plans, as an assessment of student achievement at the end of each grade, and as a benchmark for students to reach.

It is important to note that states are not forced to comply with Common Core - Alaska, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Indiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Minnesota, and the U.S territory of Puerto Rico have not fully adopted these standards. However, all other states and U.S territories have adopted Common Core state standards. States that adopt the standards receive more opportunities for federal competitive grants.

Can the federal government tell states how to educate its students? Should they require states to adopt national standards in order to have more opportunities for federal funding? These are the questions that many politicians are debating, making Common Core a heated issue in the 2016 election.

Current Federal Funding for Education:
The underlying issue surrounding Common Core is federal funding of public schools. There are a myriad of federal programs that are funding public schools throughout America, and they have been for some time.

Some of these include Title I, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  President Obama's Race to the Top challenge offers schools competitive grants if they can show that they are reforming their K-12 education process. If states are interested in federal funding from the Race to the Top challenge, they must reform their education programs in certain areas.

According to the U.S Department of Education, the four areas of education reform are:
Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

These are the four areas of reform that schools must address in order to be applicable for competitive grants from the Race to the Top challenge.  So, in order to be applicable for more federal funding for public schools, one of the stipulations is that states adopt Common Core standards. This is what some states and politicians disagree with.

This is different than other federally funded programs, such as Title I and IDEA. For example, Title I funding is based on a specific formula to calculate the needs of school districts with low income families in order to allocate an appropriate amount of federal funds. The Race to the Top challenge expects states to reform their education systems to the standards of the federal government in order to eligible for extra grant money.

On one side of this issue, these standards are seen as a good thing. The Department of Education states that “The standards define the knowledge and skills students should gain throughout their K-12 education in order to graduate high school prepared to succeed in entry-level careers, introductory academic college courses, and workforce training programs.”

On the other side of this issue, there is concern that the federal government is coercing states to adopt national standards that might not fit the mold of that state's students, in order to receive the opportunity for additional federal funding.  

Where do the 2016 presidential candidates stand on this issue?
Vote Smart has conducted research to provide this information to voters. The main presidential candidates running in the 2016 election are as follows: Senator Bernie Sanders (Democrat), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Democrat), Donald Trump (Republican), Jill Stein (Green Party), and Gary Johnson (Libertarian).

Bernie Sanders:
According to the Political Courage Test filed by Senator Bernie Sanders in 2012, when asked the question “Do you support requiring states to implement education reforms in order to be eligible for competitive federal grants?” Sanders response was the following:

“No. I believe states, which along with communities have traditionally been the main support for our public schools, should be the entities which decide on reforms. I strongly support both early education (and child care) and extended education (after school programs, summer programs) as ways to strengthen our education of children and youth. I strongly support Pell grants, which help make college more affordable to the children of working families.”

According to this response, we can see Senator Sanders supports local and state run education and having these entities decide on whether or not to implement education reforms.

Hillary Clinton:
When presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was asked the same question, Vote Smart's research shows her response based off of a Washington Post article that explains her position regarding Common Core state standards:

"When I think about the really unfortunate argument that's been going on around Common Core, it's very painful, because the Common Core started off as a bi-partisan effort - it was actually nonpartisan. It wasn't politicized, it was to try to come up with a core of learning that we might expect students to achieve across our country, no matter what kind of school district they were in, no matter how poor their family was, that there wouldn't be two tiers of education.
Everybody would be looking at what was to be learned and doing their best to try to achieve that."

As presidential candidate Hillary Clinton states, she is in support of Common Core State Standards. She states the current debate over these national standards is unfortunate due to its initial bi-partisan effort.

Donald Trump:
Presidential candidate Donald Trump's stance on Common Core can be seen in the transcript of the Republican debate in Miami on the 10th of March, 2016 when Jake Tapper asks:

TAPPER: Education obviously plays a large role when it comes to jobs and the economy. The United States has long been falling behind others in the industrialized world. American students currently rank 27th out of 34 countries in math and 17th in reading. Mr. Trump, you've called the education standards known as Common Core a disaster. What are your specific objections to Common Core?

TRUMP: Education through Washington, D.C. I don't want that. I want local education. I want the parents, and I want all of the teachers, and I want everybody to get together around a school and to make education great.

As presidential candidate Donald Trump states, he supports local education as opposed to “education through Washington D.C.”

Jill Stein:
Jill Stein’s response to the question “Do you support requiring states to implement education reforms in order to be eligible for competitive federal grants?” can be found within her 2012 Political Courage Test:

“The Federal government should stop pushing corporatization of education in the guise of "reform". Competition for funding is being used to mask overall budget cuts that harm students. Let's help our kids' schools, rather than penalizing them when they are struggling. We will educate the whole child for lifelong learning and independence - not simply do job-training for the short-term benefit of corporations. We will stop attacking teachers and focus on the real obstacles to learning, including poverty, nutrition, and health.”

Jill Stein advocates against national education standards, and does not believe that states should compete for federal funding.

Gary Johnson:
According to our research, Gary Johnson’s 2016 campaign states:

“More broadly, Gov. Johnson believes there is no role for the Federal Government in education. He would eliminate the federal Department of Education, and return control to the state and local levels. He opposes Common Core and any other attempts to impose national standards and requirements on local schools, believing the key to restoring education excellence in the U.S. lies in the innovation, freedom and flexibility that federal interference inherently discourages. As Governor, he saw first-hand that the costs of federal education programs and mandates far outweigh any benefits, both educationally and financially.” 
We can determine from Johnson’s statement that he is against Common Core and national education standards. 
This hot button issue still causes debate among politicians and citizens alike. Common Core State Standards are among one of the most contested issues facing American public education today. The main controversy deals with federal funding of public education, and whether the federal government should offer more opportunities for funding to states who adopt national standards and education reform.  

For more information on your candidates’ stances on education, visit

This article was written by Jesse Fischer, Vote Smart Bios Department staff



Related tags: Common-Core, Donald-Trump, Federal-funding, Gary-Johnson, Hillary-Clinton, IDEA, Jill-Stein, K-12. Bernie-Sanders, Title-I, US-Department-of-Education

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