Such a big cost, so little benefit: Why, Governor, persist with Common Core?

Somehow in preparing to run against Republican Meg Whitman, California Gov. Jerry Brown managed to shed his old persona of Shaman/Management Theorist, an easy target of ridicule and one that Whitman would surely have relished had she been able to resurrect it. This showed impressive image control, but I’m looking for the old Jerry Brown – the spiritualist, the philosopher – because that’s the Jerry Brown I want to address my question to.

Here is my question, complete with background:

In your recent negotiations with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding waivers from the more impossible requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, you have sought extra time for the trickier of the waiver’s own requirements, like reaching labor agreements on use of student test scores in teacher evaluation (or using them without labor agreements), and maybe that is wise of you. The $353 million in Title I funds that you ask the DOE to permit California to use as a down payment on the new national standards is not the liquid capital it would take to buy the political muscle for challenging the California Teachers Association anyway, so I support your efforts to give us the time we need for this important task.

On the other hand, you can hardly consider yourself to be engaged in tough negotiations with Duncan. The projected cost in California of the Common Core standards, agreed to (though not in contractual form that has ever been reported) by the Schwarzenegger-appointed State Board of Education, is $2 billion and change (per the March, 2012 agenda before the State Board of Education). Such a deal you’re getting us! California  transfers $353 million in Title I funds from education to the Textbook Publishers’ Bailout, the benefit to us being a partial payment on the Common Core $2 billion, leaving us in debt to the tune of a billion plus. How is this tough negotiating?

What will the reapplication of Title I funds in California mean? TOP-Ed writer John Fensterwald explains in his recent post: “Districts with Title I schools – about 60 percent of the state’s 10,000 schools – would still have to spend the money on low-income students, but could use it, say, for preparing teachers for Common Core standards or for their own school improvement plans outside of NCLB’s limited models.” So you can spend the money on low-income students as long as, instead of actually spending it on the low-income students, you funnel it to the Publisher’s Bailout. (See details in a waiver request that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s staff at the state Department of Education is recommending.)

My question then, is, “Why do you think we need these standards?” “But wait!” you say, “If you’re asking Brown a policy question, why do you want him to assume his former role as shaman? Do you want a policy answer or a horoscope?”

Fair enough. Yes, I want a policy answer, but Brown, in his spiritual moods, is disarmingly honest. It’s a skill and it’s also a good thing. I’d like to see him channel that honesty in discussing his education policy.

So then, Governor, we already have world-class standards in Californian, for which we paid several billion a decade ago. Those standards, which were written and maintained by experts and people in the field (including yours truly), raised the bar for all children in California. Nevertheless, they did not do much to raise student achievement. And that’s because standards do not in themselves do much. The companies and consultants waiting for the Common Core gravy train are telling you that the standards didn’t work because they were faulty, and we need new standards. Governor, it’s not true. Standards are no panacea in the best of times, and they are really not very important at all right now. If you disagree, let’s hear why. Assume the lotus position if necessary.

Doug Lasken is a retired LA Unified teacher, consultant, and debate coach. Read his blog at

Author: Doug Lasken

Doug Lasken is a retired LA Unified teacher, consultant and debate coach. Read his blog at

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