The Wellspring of Education Reform and the Common Core State Standards

Undoubtedly, the Common Core State Standards and Race to the Top initiatives have become the most highly contentious issues to impact public schools in the United States, arousing both concern for what is perceived to be the overreach of the federal government as well as the steady march toward the destruction of public schools through privatization and the free market.   For more than a decade, I have engaged in an inquiry to determine how and when the public schools became ensnared in the free market frenzy to capitalize on the education system as a source of profit.  Discerning the origins of current systemic education reform is not an easy task.  While much has been, and is being, written about the current phase of systemic education reform, I determined a number of years ago that what was needed was a road map that would establish not only the point of origination along the path to the Common Core, but also provide a scholarly analysis of the social, historical and political events that have culminated in the CCSS and RTTT policies.


My research began well before implementation of the CCSS.  In 2001, I began examining the origins of school vouchers and school choice.  In the years that followed, it has become clear that the latest iteration of these concepts would be manifested through the charter school movement.  In 2010, my husband, Thomas Fiala, and I presented a paper entitled “Education Policy and Friedmanomics: Free Market Ideology and its Impact on Education Reform” at the Midwest Political Science Association’s annual conference.  The paper was well received; however, one of the political scientists in our session posed a question that lingered and prompted me to continue my inquiry.  He asked: “If, as you assert, the wellspring of NCLB and other free market reform ideas such as school choice is the conservative movement, then how do you explain the fact that the biggest federal government intervention in public schools occurred during a Republican administration?”


Answering this question has been my goal, fueled further by the implementation of the CCSS and RTTT policies.  I will use this website to discuss what I have found through my research.  As a beginning point, I am providing a link to the paper that was presented at the 2010 Midwest Political Science conference, published on ERIC.  This paper represents the nascent stages of my inquiry.  However, it does provide an understanding of the conservative ideas that have undergirded federal public school reform since 1983 and the publication of A Nation at Risk during the Reagan administration.  Future postings on Public Schools Central will demonstrate the convergence of the political right and left with corporate America in the decades following the Reagan administration that have resulted in the current systemic education reforms with the Common Core taking center stage.

“Education Policy and Friedmanomics: Free Market Ideology and its Impact on Education Reform”

Deborah Duncan Owens