The Douglas County Republican Party held a discussion about the Common Core educational standards Monday night, with speakers claiming the new standards represent a federal takeover of education policy and an attempt by corporations to gather massive amounts of personal data about school children.
“I wouldn't want the Koch brothers running the way our school system is led; neither do I want Bill Gates to be running things,” said Megan King, a leader with the group Kansans Against the Common Core.
King was referring to the more than $170 million that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated to various groups to support implementation of the Common Core standards.
King alleged that the Common Core standards were a federal initiative from the start, despite the fact that the standards began as a joint initiative among states, spearheaded by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Specifically, she pointed to the stimulus act that Congress passed in 2009, more than a year after the initiative began, which provided more than $4 billion to fund competitive grants known as “Race to the Top” through the U.S. Department of Education.
States applying for those grants had to make certain assurances, including an assurance that they would “adopt standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy.”
Kansas applied for a Race to the Top grant that year but was eventually denied. But a year later, in October 2010, the Kansas State Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards anyway.
King said that was so the state could qualify for another federal incentive, a waiver from No Child Left Behind, although those waivers were not announced until September 2011.
Another speaker, Paul Schwartz of Lenexa, said he was concerned that the standards also require schools to gather massive amounts of data about students.
“At the end of the day my child goes to school to learn, not to give them information,” said Schwartz, who said he worked in Air Force intelligence before going to work in the private sector in information technology and data security.
Schwartz pointed to a project underway by the U.S. Department of Education called the National Education Data Model, which he said calls for gathering as many as 400 different pieces of information about individual students. He also said students taking the Common Core-aligned tests this spring will be asked to provide those 400 pieces of information, including things like their family income, religious affiliation and voting history.
Kansas officials have said repeatedly that they are not taking part in any such program, and that the information they gather will only be shared with school officials and the State Department of Education. And one of the consultants currently developing the new tests said there will be no questions asking students for personal information.
"As far as what we collect from students, the answer is nothing — not even their name,” said Marianne Perie, co-director of Kansas University's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation. “The school district requests a test for each student, matching their name to a student ID number.”