Controlling the public policy conversation today often means repeating phrases until people believe them. That's why we talk about "narratives," "memes" or the "echo chamber," where everyone throws catchphrases into a blender and waits to see what spins out.
But labeling a dog a "chicken" does not make it good for soup. Precise, accurate definitions are essential to good government, so the people who are supposed to be controlling it -- the public -- know exactly what's going on.
Accurate descriptions of an initiative reshaping all of U.S. education have been sorely lacking from the beginning. One of the most misleading terms for the Common Core education standards is "state-led," implying that "states got together and created national education standards and their corresponding national tests." That's the narrative, and it's deceiving.
Since Common Core, for which 45 states have traded their own math and English standards, is starting to look suspiciously like national control over what kids learn and when, its proponents have whipped out their shields emblazoned with the words "state-led." Common Core is the very model of states working together outside the federal government and the 10th Amendment, they claim.
Nice try. What we know about how the standards were created indicates significant federal and special-interest influence, with a scattering of teachers and unelected state officials strewn about to disguise the smell.
Back in 2000, the Brookings Institution published a paper complaining American yahoos don't let the national government run education as most other developed nations do. Americans don't trust the feds to safeguard state sovereignty and control curriculum.
A more effective way to nationalize education is to use governors and states as a stalking horse, the report said, so in 1989, "the impetus for the creation of national goals came from the National Governors' Association." That led to America 2000, Goals 2000 and now Common Core, all entailing national education goals and tests as enforcement.
NGA, with the Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO), was a driving force behind Common Core. Despite their official-sounding titles, both are DC-based private nonprofits. Governors take votes at NGA, but their grandstanding resolutions and vote tallies are not public, and even if they were, they're not binding. Votes involve nothing like the scrutiny and public debate of legislative hearings, notes former Virginia Gov. George Allen.
Five governors have dumped their NGA memberships. Maine Gov. Paul LePage explained: "I get no value out of those meetings. They are too politically correct and everybody is lovey-dovey and no decisions are ever made."
Both nonprofits have received significant federal funds for decades. State and federal tax money provide approximately half of CCSSO's operating funds, and funded a whopping 80 percent of NGA's income in 2010, according to NGA's most recent public tax return. That was the year they released Common Core.
Public scrutiny has not accompanied this public sponsorship. The meetings creating Common Core were closed to the public, and critiques from the dozens of people window-dressing its committees were not publicly released as is usually required of government rulemaking. No one has any idea how to amend the standards when necessary, and states must adopt them wholesale.
All of this, and the fact that the federal government is the exclusive sponsor of the Common Core tests set to arrive in 2014-2015, indicates "state-led" in this case doesn't mean what most people would think. The Obama administration did not pollute Common Core after states nobly forged it in darkness.
The feds have sponsored its progenitors for decades, the standards were written inside a black box by unelected bureaucrats, and the NGA and CCSSO simply employed their decentralized-sounding titles to nationalize education.
Joy Pullmann (email@example.com) is managing editor of School Reform News and an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute.