Common Core’s Political Agenda

The Common Core State Standards are standardizing student learning and performance nationwide and will gauge achievement using national tests. The standards were called for and created at the behest of the federal government. Although the word “state” is commonly used in the program description, no state produced the standards. Rather, committees created them for all states. Governors were enticed to sign on before the standards were even completed. Forty-six states are teaching to the English Language standards and 45 have adopted the math standards. Common Core national standards are currently being developed for science and social studies. National testing will begin in 2014.

The standards are available online. Many have called them confusing and complicated. Detailed goals for each grade level are offered, as well as means of measuring achievements. Books, poems and informational reading are suggested in “text exemplar” sections of Appendices.

Critics and some English teachers object to the emphasis on “informational texts” and the move away from literature that is necessitated to include those assignments.

Although there are no hard and fast rules for using the texts suggested in the Appendices of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, it would make sense for teachers to adopt those suggested rather than choosing other readings. They will be teaching to a test so why would they deviate from what the testers suggest?

Examination of two of the English Language “text exemplars” for high school students shows they have definite political agendas. “The Cost Conundrum: Health Care Costs in McAllen, Texas,” written by Atul Gawande and first appearing June 2009 in the New Yorker magazine, is at its heart a call for universal, government-run health care. “Executive Order 13423” is a presidential mandate that all government agencies become “sustainable” entities. It promotes controversial scientific ideas and purports them as factually accurate in a way that could unduly influence students.

Health Care Text Exemplar

“The Cost Conundrum” consists of attacks on both medical doctors and hospitals as greedy profiteers. The heroes of the analysis are doctors who accept salaries from hospitals, rather than determining their own fees. Doctors are accused of ordering too many tests and doing unnecessary surgeries to line their own pockets. Gawande describes one physician CEO he met with as aloof and having a “let’s-get-this-over-with” attitude, and then dismisses as ludicrous the doctor’s suggestion that the government’s involvement in health care has caused some of the problems in health care.

I asked him why McAllen’s health care costs were so high. What he gave me was a disquisition on the theory and history of American health care financing going back to Lyndon Johnson and the creation of Medicare, the upshot of which was: (1) Government is the problem in health care. “The people in charge of the purse strings don’t know what they’re doing.” (2) If anything, government insurance programs like Medicare don’t pay enough. “I, as an anesthesiologist, know that they pay me ten percent of what a private insurer pays.” (3) Government programs are full of waste. “Every person in this room could easily go through the expenditures of Medicare and Medicaid and see all kinds of waste.”

Many knowledgeable critics of the current health care “crisis” make the link, as the McAllen doctor did, to decades of government interference. It cannot be easily dismissed. In fact, many would say his analysis is quite astute. Plus there are predictions that ObamaCare is further interference that will affect “the health care market in many new and profoundly destructive ways.” (Reason, 03-13-2013)

Promises to “make health care coverage more affordable” fall flat in the face of evidence. The Associated Press reports:

Some Americans could see their insurance bills double next year as the health care overhaul law expands coverage to millions of people. The nation’s big health insurers say they expect premiums — or the cost for insurance coverage — to rise from 20 to 100 percent for millions of people due to changes that will occur when key provisions of the Affordable Care Act roll out in January 2014. Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna Inc., one of the nation’s largest insurers, calls the price hikes “premium rate shock.” “We’ve done all the math, we’ve shared it with all the regulators, we’ve shared it with all the people in Washington that need to see it, and I think it’s a big concern,” Bertolini said during the company’s annual meeting with investors in December. (03-13-13)

Will high school teachers submitting Common Core’s slanted informational texts to students be qualified to dissect the politicized text assigned? Opposing viewpoints are easy to find, but will a high school teacher select and present other views to students? If not, this article is indoctrination.

Gawande goes on to say in this text exemplar:

Advocates of a public option say government financing would save the most money by having leaner administrative costs and forcing doctors and hospitals to take lower payments than they get from private insurance. Opponents say doctors would skimp, quit, or game the system, and make us wait in line for our care; they maintain that private insurers are better at policing doctors. No, the skeptics say: all insurance companies do is reject applicants who need health care and stall on paying their bills. Then we have the economists who say that the people who should pay the doctors are the ones who use them. Have consumers pay with their own dollars, make sure that they have some “skin in the game,” and then they’ll get the care they deserve. These arguments miss the main issue. When it comes to making care better and cheaper, changing who pays the doctor will make no more difference than changing who pays the electrician. The lesson of the high-quality, low-cost communities is that someone has to be accountable for the totality of care. Otherwise, you get a system that has no brakes.

Gawande’s article is an assertion that there is no one better to be “accountable” for the “totality of care” than the federal government. But the truth is that it is far from clear that a taxpayer-funded system in which decisions are removed from patients, doctors, and the people actually footing the bill has the “brakes” he points out that we need. Who is putting the brakes on our runaway federal budget and our many other bloated and ineffective federal programs?

Sustainability Text Exemplar

Another informational text suggested by Common Core is “Executive Order 13423 of January 24, 2007: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.” This document, signed by President George Bush in 2007, is a sweeping call for sustainability, greenhouse gas control, use of renewable resources, and recycling at all federal agencies. It incorporates green standards, such as renewable energy generation projects on agency property for agency use, meaning wind and solar.

The Executive Order states that ‘‘‘sustainable’ means to create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.” Sustainability
is also a leftist buzzword and rooted in the United Nations Agenda 21, which calls for developed nations to decrease energy usage. It aims to control the West, especially the United States, economically and politically. Another interpretation of Agenda 21 would be, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need,” as stated by Karl Marx.

The executive order also mandated creation of a new job at each federal agency: a senior civilian officer to be responsible for implementation of environmentalist requirements. These government employees at the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Education, and every other federal agency, are paid at level IV of the Executive Schedule, which was $155,500 in January 2012. These individuals obviously require a sizeable staff to implement the changes, oversee their success, and file the required reports to multiple other agencies. The order requires compliance at each agency, by all contractors outside the government with which the agency does business, by tenants or concessionaires, and even makes provision for standards to be met in foreign locations.

If educators or parents object to students being indoctrinated at school in the leftist environmentalism and sustainability represented by this reading, it will surely be pointed out that it was a Republican president who signed this order.

A better decision in this time of economic uncertainty, the massive burden on taxpayers, and our unprecedented national debt to foreign countries such as China, would have been to appoint an overseer of cost effectiveness at each department. This person could approve “sustainable” activities only when feasible and cost-effective.

A critical reading of this executive order could lead more astute students to realize the federal government’s propensity for wasting money and complicating everything. Since it was precisely this disregard for cost that allowed government interference in health care to create the inflated system we had before ObamaCare, it is questionable whether the massive and definitive takeover of healthcare by the federal government is the right direction for America — but students given scanty information from a skewed perspective are very unlikely to question it.

As Ronald Reagan said in 1964, “outside of its legitimate functions, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector of the economy.” Will students, parents, and citizens also question whether the massive and definitive federal takeover of education that Common Core represents is the right direction for America?

Why the Size of Government Matters

By Michael D. Tanner

This article appeared on National Review (Online) on March 20, 2013.

When one moves beyond all the budget numbers floating around Washington these days, much of the debate over future policy boils down to a question of the size of government. The Left often dismisses this issue as symbolism or rhetoric, but it is much more than that.

The question of big government vs. limited government is not an abstraction. How we answer that question has real consequences for real people. For example:

1. Big government is unaffordable. This year, the federal government will run a budget deficit of at least $845 billion. This does represent a decline from the deficits of recent years, but emergency appropriations or any slowdown in economic growth could easily push it back up toward $1 trillion before the end of the year. Although deficits are expected to continue declining for the next few years, eventually bottoming out at $430 billion in 2015, this is a temporary phenomenon, and by the end of the decade, we will be climbing back toward annual deficits of $1 trillion.

Moreover, our debt, already $16.7 trillion, more than 103 percent of GDP, is expected to exceed $26 trillion by the end of 2023. Throw in the unfunded liabilities of programs such as Social Security and Medicare and our real debt runs between $79 trillion and $127 trillion. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office said in 2008 that in order to pay for all currently scheduled federal spending, both the corporate-tax rate and top income-tax rate would have to be raised from their current 35 percent to 88 percent, the current 25 percent tax rate for middle-income workers to 63 percent, and the 10 percent tax bracket for low-income workers to 25 percent. It is likely, given increased spending since then, that the required tax levels would be even higher today.

2. Big government is incompatible with economic growth. Economists debate the exact relationship between the size of government and economic growth, but few argue that government can consume an unlimited proportion of the national economy without its having a significant impact on that economy. For example, a pair of studies by Harvard’s Robert Barro found that “public consumption spending is systematically inversely related to economic growth,” and that there is a “significantly negative relation between the growth of real GDP and the growth of the government share of GDP.”

Similarly, an empirical analysis of 23 OECD countries by James Gwartney and his colleagues found that a ten-percentage-point increase in government consumption as a share of GDP reduced the growth rate of real GDP by one percentage point. Numerous other studies, including those from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have also shown that as government grows, growth slows.

3. Big government doesn’t work. Quickly now, can you name three government programs that work? And if you have to reach back to the GI Bill, you lose.

The further government gets from its core functions, the more it gets involved in areas where it just isn’t qualified to do a very good job. We have 126 separate federal anti-poverty programs, at a cost of $668 billion per year, yet poverty has hardly been dented. We spend more on education every year, but test scores remain stagnant. The stimulus bill spent as much as $540,000 for every job it created. Social Security is a giant pyramid scheme. Medicare and Medicaid are models of inefficiency.

Perhaps worse, government intervention crowds out the private actions of civil society, which are far more effective in addressing people’s needs. Big government doesn’t only make it harder to care for ourselves and our families; it also makes it harder to care for our fellow man.

4. Big government breeds corruption. Corruption is endemic to big government, and it goes far beyond the occasional scandal about congressional bribery, nepotism, or Dominican prostitutes. It goes without saying that pampered politicians — desperate for reelection and with the power to dispense favors, reward friends, and punish enemies — are prone to temptation. But the real corruption goes much deeper.

Washington is a town with 12,390 registered lobbyists and a special-interest association on every corner, from the American Dehydrated Onion and Garlic Association to the National Balloon Council. But why are they there? Because the government is involved in everything from dehydrated onions to balloons.

You can decry the influence of lobbyists and money on politics all you want, but those who are taxed, regulated, paid, hired, or controlled by the government are naturally going to try to influence how they are taxed, regulated, paid, hired, and controlled. Nor should it be a surprise if these interests try to rig the game in their favor by, say, securing special tax treatment for themselves or encouraging greater regulation of their competitors.

5. Big government limits freedom. Perhaps most important, the debate over the size of government is about the ability of people to make decisions for themselves and be responsible for their own lives. Every dollar that big government spends the way it wants is one less dollar that individuals have to spend the way that they want. As Frédéric Bastiat put it in his parable of the broken window: If the shopkeeper with the broken window hadn’t had to pay to replace it, “he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes or added another book to his library.” Or to put it in today’s context, he might have purchased health care, saved for his retirement, or donated to charity. He might have started a business or hired workers. Or he might have spent it entirely on frivolities. Whatever he might have done, he is now deprived of that choice.

Moreover, when government tells us how to save for our retirement, what health insurance to buy, what charities to support, what to eat, or whom we can marry, it forces people to live by the government’s standards rather than their own decisions. It prevents people from pursuing their own goals and objectives, merely because people in government believe that those goals are mistaken. But, as Milton Friedman warned:

Those of us who believe in freedom must believe also in the freedom of individuals to make their own mistakes. … We may argue with him, seek to persuade him that he is wrong, but are we entitled to use coercion to prevent him from doing what he chooses to do? Is there not always the possibility that he is right and we are wrong? Humility is the distinguishing characteristic of the true believer in freedom, arrogance of the paternalist.”

This is why the fight over the size of government really matters. Big government leaves us poorer and less prosperous. And it fails to alleviate our social ills. But most significantly, big government denies the unique value and self-worth of every individual.

And that is why, on both the left and right, those who would try to harness big-government to their own ends will ultimately fail.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.