Until a few years ago, the educational effort known formally as Common Core State Standards seemed like a benign push to make sure American public school students were competitive in English and math. Shaped by bipartisan governors and education leaders, the benchmarks were adopted voluntarily in 45 states.
But Common Core has fast become controversial as school districts started awarding large contracts to companies and testing students on the standards. Students have boycotted initial exams this year in New Mexico and New Jersey, claiming the tests weren't a good measure of their knowledge.
The standards have become a political issue, forcing likely presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Chris Christie to defend previous support for what some conservatives call government overreach. Large teachers unions that once backed the effort have now reversed their position.
And more drama is all but certain as additional schools attempt to implement Common Core using taxpayer-funded education budgets.
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Despite the squabbling, significant cash has already been spent.
An important chunk of early funding—$360 million—came from the U.S. Department of Education through a program called Race to the Top. The initiative is a competitive grant program designed to "encourage and reward states that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform," according to its materials.
That federal funding went to two large groups of states that banded together to save money: the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.
Those groups in turn shelled out the money to vendors to develop Common Core testing and related materials for their members. The most money went to Apollo Global Management-owned McGraw-Hill ($72.5 million from Smarter Balanced), U.K.-based Pearson ($63 million from PARCC) and nonprofit Educational Testing Services ($42 million combined from both groups), according to numbers compiled by Education Week