The Wrong Villain: Critics Should Focus on Race to the Top | On Common Core

The Common Core State Standards are under attack from many arenas but, argues Paige Jaeger, critics should instead be honing in on Race to the Top. It has driven the ills of excessive testing, teacher measurement, and data-archiving monsters that track “achievement” by numbers.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are under attack from many arenas, but critics are not focusing on the real target. They should instead be honing in on Race to the Top (RttT), a $4.35 billion competitive grant sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education to reform schools, with a focus on measuring student success and holding teachers and principals accountable as a strategy to close the achievement gap, and reforming curriculum. RttT pointed to the Common Core as the “exemplar” standards, but the Common Core is not the villain.

Race to the Top LogoThe RttT has driven the ills of excessive testing; teacher measurement; data-archiving monsters that will track “achievement” by numbers using many days annually in formal assessment; and requiring monetary expenditures, which often are being administered Robin Hood style, on electronic devices or computers. This is what should be questioned.

All over the world, teachers are learning to repackage their curriculum so that students uncover and discover, rather than merely cover material. If the U.S. education system does not adapt, our students are likely to be standing behind a student from India or Turkey who has, according to Intel, learned “to lead and participate in the global economy” ( While our students build travel brochures and call that endeavor research, international students assess the mortality rates in various countries and propose action plans for remediation. A Harvard review of the international educational assessment data warns, “The United States’ failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country’s ability to thrive in a global economy” (

Our founding fathers believed that education should be for all, even for the impoverished–whom other countries may not be educating or testing. Until recently, we have done that better than most other nations. In an effort to remediate our international ranking, an independent organization examined shortcomings and strengths in our system. The result was the CCSS, intended to raise rigor, embed real-world relevance into our curriculum, and keep students on the same academic page regardless of their home state. When the anchor standards explicitly say to research, assess sources, and avoid plagiarism, we educators should rejoice. The CCSS authors correctly assessed this generation’s needs and supported a student-centered inquiry-based research model rather than a teacher-defined task.

What CCSS is not

The CC authors did not say that we needed a national testing behemoth and should spend $350 million to create and administer such animal. RttT identified the Common Core as the standards to adopt if states were going to compete for RttT monies.

In turn, new testing machines such as PARCC and Smarter Balance are trying to quantify all achievement by numerical measures. Experienced teachers believe assessment is vital to direct teaching and learning but are not convinced another set of tests is the answer. Experienced teachers feel that tests alone are not an accurate reflection of all progress and quality. They are concerned with what the assessments are not measuring. They may also comment that they would have rather seen the $350 million spent on competitive assessment grants allocated to books and materials for the classroom—to speak nothing of the technology being doled out as a panacea for poor scores. States are supposed to fold qualitative measures into their teacher assessment data, but many argue that qualitative measures cannot be “quantified” accurately.

Many critics of the Common Core are off the mark. We could instead build an evidence-based claim (EBC) that our Department of Education has exceeded its constitutional powers through assessment. Students could investigate the international testing data to see whether the impoverished are educated and included in other countries’ scores. We could ask our students to deeply investigate whether it is constitutional to fund additional testing, layered atop the previous No Child Left Behind. We could ask students to debate and argue whether the $4.35 billion expenditures of RttT grants have been efficacious. We could ask them to build a plan for redirecting the $350 million assessment budget.

Now, those research endeavors would be rigorous, arguable, open-ended, and worthy of debate. Those debates are aligned with the Common Core.

Paige JaegerPaige Jaeger ( is coordinator for school library services, Washington Saratoga Warren Hamilton Essex BOCES, Saratoga Springs, NY.

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Sharon Stone

Wonderful article Paige

Posted : Apr 02, 2014 02:50


I do agree with you that RttT is the larger problem. However, CCSS are not, IMO, "good standards." They were created by non-educators, they are not researched-based themselves, and a generation of students is dis-engaging because of their inappropriateness especially in the early grades. They are only one part of Race to the Top that is problematic - but make no mistake, there are indeed serious issues with the standards themselves.

Posted : Jan 26, 2014 04:58

Z Crockett

Very enlightening. Thank you for putting this all together, and so clearly. And to add insult to injury, here in North Carolina our General Assembly has greatly increased the number of and funding for charter schools, and told teachers that masters degrees will not increase their pay scale, since more education doesn't make one a better educator. Thank you for pointing my frustration in the right direction.

Posted : Jan 22, 2014 02:00

Vicki Palmquist

Thank you, Ms. Jaeger, for stating this misdirection of heat and vinegar so clearly. The CCSS is, indeed, a good set of standards to use for guidance. It is the over-assessment, teaching to the test, and vilifying of teachers created by RttT and NCLB that is hugely objectionable. Your call to action in your last two paragraphs is spot on. Let's focus on gathering evidence to reveal the way Race to the Top and NCLB have altered our teaching and fostering of creativity and love of learning in American schools. And let's not take another 10 years to do it ... we'll have lost a generation of teachers and students.

Posted : Jan 22, 2014 01:28



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