By Judith Ryder
“…provoke not your children to wrath but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
Riddle: What affects 45,000,000 students, pre-K through 12; has never been field tested, vetted or voted on by any elected official; could cost taxpayers nationwide $16 billion; and is causing a trans-partisan tsunami, left to right across the political spectrum, among parents, teachers, students and unions?
Answer: The Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI), the newest version of D.C.- inspired education reform.
Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are national goals which every student, pre-K through 12, is expected to meet by the end of each year. CC-aligned “assessments” (Smarter Balance, PARCC) are required national tests that measure student achievement. CC is now being implemented in schools throughout the 45 states that adopted it.
What’s wrong with Common Core? For starters, almost everyone objects to how CC’s P20 Longitudinal Data System will eventually employ extensive digital files to track 400 points of data on every child, pre-K through age 20. Inter-related Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) are set up in each state, enabling sharing information between them.
Many parents and teachers question why math Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are often weaker than former state standards. They worry that better students headed for careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) will be seriously disadvantaged. Others protest that CCSS for English Language Arts (ELA) favor writing over reading, reduce the study of good literature and poetry by over 50%, substitute politically-biased instructional texts properly belonging in other disciplines, and omit teaching cursive.
Politically astute citizens note that CC is the latest in a series of top-down presidential education reform programs lining up America’s education policies with the World Declaration on Education for All, a set of global education goals from a 1990 U. N.-sponsored summit. (First was George H. W. Bush’s AMERICA 2000, next Bill Clinton’s Goals 2000, then George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, and now Barack Obama’s Common Core. All share the common thread of viewing American students essentially as future good workers, merecogs in a wheel needed to ensure we can compete in the global economy. The traditional higher goals of education, turning out knowledgeable, well-rounded, virtuous citizens who can live full and meaningful lives, has evidently taken a back seat.)
Nationalized education is blatantly unconstitutional, and the three major education laws expressly forbid federal involvement in curriculum. Nevertheless, in 1996, using cleverly devised strategy, two private D. C. trade/lobbying groups joined forces and artfully managed to work around these prohibitions. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) deputized David Coleman, head of a non-profit D. C. group, Student Achievement Partners (Achieve, Inc.), to write a set of national math and English standards, working from the 12th grade down. These eventually morphed into CCSS. (Under construction are additional standards for science, history, social studies, and health/sexuality education.) States could write their own curricula, a technical and dubious advantage since, unless driven by strict adherence to the CCSS, none can ensure students will pass the national assessments. Faced with severe time constraints and the difficulty of the task, undoubtedly many educators will turn instead to readily available CC-aligned texts. For this project, Coleman received massive amounts of private funding from the Gates ($174,000,000) and Charles Seward Mott Foundations.
Following completion of the CCSS, the two private groups, NGA and CCSSO, shrewdly copyrighted them; nobody except themselves may ever alter them. Now CC promoters can force through uniform national standards while claiming not to have violated laws prohibiting federal control of curriculum. Every state adopting CC had to sign a licensing agreement acknowledging NGA/CCSSO as sole owners of CCSS. Interestingly, the agreement also states that neither group stands behind the CCSS or warrants them to be free from faults. The actual agreement (caps included) reads in part: THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS ARE PROVIDED AS-IS AND WITH ALL FAULTS, AND NGA CENTER/CCSSO MAKE NO REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS, IMPLIED, STATUTORY OR OTHERWISE…FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, NONINFRINGEMENT, ACCURACY, OR THE PRESENCE OR ABSENCE OF ERRORS, WHETHER OR NOT DISCOVERABLE.
In 2009, Achieve started with a nucleus of 13 states but, a national curriculum being their goal, and fearing politically-risky forums might jeopardize their plan, they by-passed Congress, state legislatures and most elected officials, and went straight to governors and state Departments of Education. Simultaneously, being careful to skirt the laws banning federal involvement incurriculum, Obama’s U. S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan dangled $100 billion worth of education-designated federal stimulus money in front of the states to lure them into aligning with CC. Governors and state school superintendents were invited to vie for sizable bonus grants in the federally-funded Race to the Top competition. The U. S. was in a recession, and the bait was irresistible.
To qualify, 40 competing states sent plans for (1) student data tracking from pre-K though college; (2) reviving low-performing schools; and (3) linking teacher evaluations to student achievement. But all that quickly changed, and the federal money was used instead to persuade states to adopt the administration-backed CCSS and assessments. More “points” were earned by plans more closely resembling U. S. Department of Education criteria. NCLB waivers and stimulus money were available only to states signing on to CCSS.
By 2011, 35 states had come on board, prompting CC’s announcement that new standards had been developed “in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts…to prepare our children for college and the workforce.” At the competition’s end in 12/2011, 19 states had been awarded $4.35 billion, with NY and FL getting the most – $700,000,000 apiece. Moreover, 45 states and the District of Columbia had adopted CC, most signing on sight unseen, since the standards had not yet been completed (nor had any field testing been done.) Not surprisingly, by 2014, most states are now having second thoughts, with 30 legislatures considering legislation to pull-out, pause, or, as in RI’s case, delay implementation.
Recently, due to rising public dissatisfaction, and mindful of 30 states waging war against CC, High State Standards Partnership, a Big Business front group for the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, began a TV ad campaign supporting CC. Qtar, Microsoft, Prentice-Hall (affiliated with Pearson Education, publishers of CC-aligned textbooks), and several other big corporations are, understandably, some of CC’s most ardent advocates. Many stand to make monumental profits from myriad opportunities provided by CC. For receiving curriculum assignments and taking assessments, every child will need a personal computer needing maintenance and upgrades. Massive data-tracking must be accomplished. CC-aligned curriculum textbooks and workbooks must be purchased. Extensive Program Redevelopment will be required to train teachers. An army of bureaucrats must be hired to manage all this.
Let us examine more fully some of the chief objections to CC. According to Dennis Van Roekel, the union President of the National Education Association (NEA), who freely acknowledges that CC was “botched”, polls show that 7 out of 10 teachers report implementation of CCSS is going poorly in their schools. Two-thirds complain of never being asked how to implement them in their classrooms, and many say teaching feels like “reading scripts”, causing the joy to have gone out of their profession. Teachers must spend far too much time on “teaching to the test” and test-prep because their evaluations are tied to high-stakes testing. In at least one RI kindergarten room, all the toys have been removed; there is simply no time for kindergartners to play! Also, teachers struggle teaching developmentally, age-inappropriate CC concepts that, having never been field tested, prove baffling to younger students while not challenging enough for older ones.
Many students, formerly cooperative about going to school, are losing their enthusiasm. Math-proficient students, especially, find CC math to be needlessly time-consuming, frustrating, and discouraging. CC assessments continue to rely on the unpopular Everyday Math (aka “fuzzy math”) adopted under 2002’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Developed at the U. of Chicago, Everyday Math teaches “critical thinking” skills rather than memorization of basic math facts. CC’s math standards are based on an unproven theory, “Constructivism”, which teaches students to construct their own way of figuring out answers rather than drilling them in basic math skills. Simple problems can turn into complicated monstrosities.
Parents take exception to serious deficiencies in CC. Traditionally, high school math standards for students preparing for advanced college work require Algebra I and II, Geometry and Pre-calculus, but CC math standards don’t deliver. Also, their experimental, non-Euclidian approach to teaching geometry has never been successfully implemented at middle and high school levels. Ze’ev Wurman, who served on a 2010 CA commission evaluating CC, disputes the CC claim that CCSS will promote “college readiness” in math. Testifying before the FL Board of Education on 10-15-14, Wurman said, “This readiness is at most for non-selective community colleges”, not the colleges“most parents aspire to.” Similarly, he counters CC’s claim that the new standards are internationally bench-marked, stating “Despite Common Core’s aggressive start in kindergarten, by grade eight it falls by a year or more behind international high achievers.” R. James Milgram, Professor emeritus at Stanford and the only content expert in mathematics on the CC State Standards Initiative Validation Committee, agrees. “Core Standards in mathematics have very low expectations. …By the end of seventh grade, Core standards are roughly two years behind.” Milgram was one of several on the Validation Committee who refused to validate or endorse CCSS.
Parents are also displeased with mediocre CCSS for English Language Arts (ELA). Another member of CC’s Validation committee who refused to sign off on CCSS was Sandra Stotsky, responsible for MA’s turnaround to #1 in the nation for academic standards (prior to adopting CC), and now 21st-century chair in teacher quality at U. of AR. Stotsky contradicts CC’s claim that standards are more “rigorous”, saying many of the reading standards are poorly written and developmentally inappropriate. Being skill-based, they do not specify content, and writing is emphasized to the detriment of reading. More than half the texts are “informational”, not literary. Stotsky says such emphasis is not supported by research. Literature has been reduced from reading entire books of good literature (Dickens, Shakespeare, Twain) to mere excerpts, with a heavy focus on nonfiction articles about global diversity, global warming, etc. and the few about American culture having a disappointing scope – Halloween, a sea lion controversy in OR, for example. Many of the reading texts belong in other courses for proper context, not ELA.
For most, a particularly alarming feature of CC involves the data-tracking of children. Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) are in place in every state that adopted CC. A Gates Foundation-funded database, inBloom, is available to collect and share confidential student data with for-profit companies. In March 2013, Reuters reported, “In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address, and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, tests scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school, even homework completion.” Parents will not be informed, and may not opt-out. Recent sabotage of Target, Michaels, and other stores’ customer databases lends an air of incredulity to government assurances of children’s privacy.
Indeed, parents are startled to learn that President Obama signed an Executive Order, effective 1/3/2012, weakening section 99.31 of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to allow greater access to students’ Personally Identifiable Information (PII) identifiers. These include biometric data such as fingerprints, retina and iris patterns, voice prints, DNA sequence, voice patterns, facial characteristics and handwriting data. CC’s invasion of student and family privacy covers 400 points of data for every child including medical and disciplinary records, family income, voting status, religious affiliation, and more. Why do schools need to know all this? A chilling February 2013 report, Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance, issued by U. S. Department of Education Office of Technology, offers methods for monitoring psychological and affective data on our children. The report states, “While it is impractical to use [an] FMRI in the classroom (i. e. it is a prohibitively expensive, room-sized machine), Ed Dieterle and Ash Vasudeva of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation point out that researchers…are beginning to use multiple methods to explore how specific brain activity is correlated with other cognitive and affective indicators that are practical to measure in school settings.” On page 44 are pictures of some of the mechanical devices proposed for monitoring our children’s psychometric info re: levels of anxiety, etc.: facial expression camera, posture analysis seat, pressure mouse, and wireless skin conductance sensor, which suggests a lie detector.
It seems that Education is getting a total makeover. An important link between Common Core and SAT was forged in 2012. College Board hired as President none other than…..David Coleman, the architect of CC. Coleman says he is aligning College Board’s SAT to CC. The new PSAT rolls out this year, and the new SAT in 2015. Even the venerable Iowa Test of Basic Skills and GED are being CC-aligned. Private, charter, religious, and home-schooled students will all feel CC’s pernicious effects. Common Core is everywhere, by design.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6