Common Core: "Common Core" or "Rotten to the Core" - You Decide
Common Core is an educational curriculum being forced upon the states by the Obama administration, which is scheduled to be mostly implemented this year in the 46 states that have adopted it. Common Core eliminates local control over K-12 curriculum in math and English, instead imposing a one-size-fits-all, top-down curriculum that will also apply to private schools and homeschoolers.
Common Core was has been promoted in a manner that sounds good and commendable - "States working together to create national standards for education... standards that are designed to be robust and relevant in the real world." Common Core describes itself as "internationally benchmarked," "robust," "aligned with college and work expectations," "rigorous," and "evidence-based."
Common Core proponents claim that it is not a federal mandate, instead using language like "state-led" and "voluntary." The Common Core website asserts, "The federal government was NOT involved in the development of the standards." It states that Common Core is not a national curriculum, but "a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. If you go to the Common Core website, this is what you will find: Common Core is focused in two areas: Mathematics standards and English Language Arts standards. It was created by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
If the initiative sounds so hunky dory, why is there a growing resistance to this initiative in many states around the country, including right here in North Carolina? Well, state and local groups who are bothering to do their homework and look into the details of Common Core have concluded that what the public has been told about this initiative has not been the truth. In fact, none of what the Common Core establishment is pushing is true.
For instance, even though the Common Core establishment is claiming that the NGA and CCSSO are behind the initiative, this is merely offered to give the public the illusion that the agenda is "state-led." Common Core standards were actually initiated by private interests in Washington DC and not by state lawmakers. Both the NGA and the CCSSO are both DC-based trade associations (organizations founded and funded by businesses that operate in a specific industry). In fact, most of the creative work was done by ACHIEVE, Inc, a progressive non-profit group based out of DC which has received much of its funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Bill and Melinda Gates are super liberals).
So, we see that Common Core was not, in fact, created by the states. But 45 states so far (including NC in 2010) have adopted the Common Core standards, so that must mean that the initiative is a good thing, yes?
Even though the NGA is cited as the author of Common Core, the federal government has had a big hand in it. The Department of Education helped create Common Core, it has poured millions of dollars into two consortia that are created the national tests aligned with Common Core. The states who adopted Common Core did so primarily so they wouldn't lose their "Race to the Top" federal funding and therefore have to come up with state funding for education. The needed to adopt Common Core to remain eligible for federal funding. ("Race to the Top" is Obama's education initiative, announced in 2009). Right away we can understand why states were so quick to jump on the bandwagon.
So with this federal coercion and with the federal government involved, what does Common Core actually mean for the states? Well, the Common Core establishment no longer claims that its standards are internationally benchmarked (no longer linked to competitive international performance). The website now claims that the standards are simply "informed by" the standards of other countries (although there is no clarification as to what "informed by" means). The public school curriculum will be streamlined in both math and English language arts, but will not have any input by the individual states. Instead, the curriculum will be developed by private associations and non-profits based in Washington DC. Fordham University, a proponent of Common Core, admits that several states had education standards superior to those advanced in Common Core and some states had standards that were at least just as good. This has led many to describe Common Core as a "Race to the Middle." It means that eventually, over time, the states will give up complete control over the curriculum in their public schools. They will not be allowed to make any changes to the curriculum or to the Common Core standards. Parents will have greatly diminished opportunity to get involved in the education of their children. The two private testing consortia, being funded by the US Department of Education, have admitted in their grant applications that they would use the money to create curriculum models for the nation.
What does this mean for our children? It means that in many cases, the standards that were developed were not based on research, public dialogue, state input, or input from educators. Nowhere is this fact more astoundingly true than in the case of the early childhood standards - more specifically Kindergarten through grade 3. There were 135 people on the committees and panels that wrote and reviewed the Common Core standards. Not a single one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood development expert. It means that children will be subject to a one-size-fits-all education scheme which assumes all students can learn in the same manner and at the same pace. Diane Ravitch, a historian of education and Professor of Education at New York University who has long advocated for national standards, says she cannot support Common Core because she fears it will cause a precipitous decline in test scores, based on arbitrary cut scores, which will have a disparate impact on students who are English language learners, students with disabilities, and students who are poor and low-performing. A school in the Mid-West had piloted the Common Core assessments and the failure rate rocketed upwards, especially among the students with the highest needs. He said the exams looked like AP exams and were beyond the reach of many students. When Kentucky piloted the Common Core, proficiency rates dropped by 30 percent. The Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents has already warned that the state should expect a sharp drop in test scores.
Common Core is expected to begin being implemented this year in the states that have adopted it.
What are some of the Criticisms of Common Core?
1). It uses a one-size fits all approach. The Common Core standards were founded on a severely flawed idea - that every child can learn the same way and at the same pace. It assumes that every child across America will "be on the same page at the same time." Let's say, for example, that your child has a learning disorder. He or she will be left behind, as Common Core has no provision for helping those that can't keep up.
The proposed standards focus exclusively on teaching isolated reading and math skills starting in kindergarten. Academic learning is separated from social, emotional, and physical growth. But theory, research, and experience tell us that meaningful learning in young children does not come from rote skills. Children build knowledge through hands-on experience with materials, peers, and teachers in meaningful ways that relate to what they already know, to their developmental levels, and their interests. If adopted, the national standards will lead to more rote learning by all young children, but especially our poorest young learners who are in overcrowded classrooms with less qualified teachers who will have to resort to more direct instruction rather than hands-on, experiential learning. Even if we did see better test scores after an implementation of national standards, it's unlikely that children would be able to apply the skills learned by rote to real-life situations, use them to solve new problems, or discover the satisfactions inherent when learning is meaningful. This will set young children up for failure later on when they go to college when transfer of knowledge and self-motivation become crucial to school success.
2). Up until forty years ago, this nation had the best system of education - both K-12 and colleges and universities - in the world. One of the traits that made American education great was its diversity. Elementary and secondary school students can choose among private, parochial, public, technical charter, virtual and home schools. College students can choose from an array of 2-year associate or technical colleges. Students wanting to attend a four-year institution have options ranging from small private liberal arts colleges to large public research universities. The diversity in institutional type, curriculum, and governance has been a hallmark strength of American education. That diversity has helped to produce the best system of education in the world. Since when is our diversity a bad thing?
Yet that's exactly what Common Core Standards are all about. The CCS drive is sold on the idea that national standards will improve education for all. That's only true if the new standards are proven better than existing standards. The standards are marketed as a combination of the best practices and "internationally benchmarked." Really? The standards have never been tested and utilize unproven methods of instruction. In some cases (e.g., Massachusetts and Virginia) the standards may be inferior to existing state standards. In the case of Massachusetts, in order to adopt CCS the state had to scuttle academic standards that were widely regarding as the best in the country. It is true that in many states Common Core Standards were equal to or inferior to state standards. How is forcing a state to adopt inferior standards good public policy?
3). Data Mining. States who have adopted Common Core to continue being eligible for Obama's "Race to the Top" federal funding will be obliged to implement a State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS) used to track students. They will track students by obtaining personally identifiable information which will involve a huge violation of privacy. The information collected will not only include the student's test scores and perhaps other measures of academic proficiency, but will be much more extensive, including demographic, emotional, and psychological data. How will some of this data be collected? Students will be extensively questioned, while being observed by facial-monitoring equipment and by sensors strapped to their bodies. They will also be neuro-psychologically tested. In its February report, the US Dept. of Education displayed photographs of the actual technology that will be used on students, when the department's plan is fully implemented. What they call the "four parallel streams of affective sensors" will be employed to effectively "measure" each child. The "facial expression camera," for instance, "is a device that can be used to detect emotion.... The camera captures facial expressions, and software on the laptop extracts geometric properties on faces." Other devices, such as the "posture analysis seat," "pressure mouse," and "wireless skin conductance sensor," which looks like a wide, black bracelet strapped to a child's wrist, are all designed to collect "physiological response data from a biofeedback apparatus that measures blood volume, pulse, and galvanic skin response to examine student frustration." So far, 24 states have agreed to a deal with the government to receive a $20 million grant in exchange for implementing such data mining.
"Personally Identifiable Information" will be extracted from each student, which will include the following data: parents' names, address, Social Security Number, date of birth, place of birth, mother's maiden name, etc. On the other hand, according to the SLDS brief, "Sensitive Information" will also be extracted, which delves into the intimate details of students' lives:
1. Political affiliations or beliefs of the student or parent;
2. Mental and psychological problems of the student or the student's family;
3. Sex behavior or attitudes;
4. Illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, and demeaning behavior;
5. Critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;
6. Legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers;
7. Religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or the student's parent; or
8. Income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).
Students' personal information will be submitted to a database managed by inBloom, Inc., a private organization funded largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The fact that Common Core Standards require children's personal information to be provided to a database that can be expected to sell or share the data to unspecified companies is worrisome to many parents and educators. "It leads to total control and total tracking of the child," said Mary Black, curriculum director for Freedom Project Education, an organization that provides classical K-12 online schooling. "It completely strips the child of his or her own privacy."
4). The curriculum replaces the classics with government propaganda. According to the American Principles Project: "They de-emphasize the study of classic literature in favor of reading so-called 'informational texts,' such as government documents, court opinions, and technical manuals." Over half the reading materials in grades 6-12 are to consist of informational texts rather than classical literature. Historical texts like the Gettysburg Address are to be presented to students without context or explanation. Professor Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas criticized the English Common Core standards as "empty skill sets that weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework." The most significant change for English CCS is a requirement that 50 percent or more of class readings in grades six through 12 be from "informational" or nonfiction texts. Advocates say the change in reading material will better prepare students to be college ready. But the changes will mean the curriculum will no longer include many of the classic works of literature. Professor Stotsky says the move will limit a student's exposure to great literature and limit the opportunity to think critically and communicate, skills that are vitally necessary for success in college and also for success later in life. Professor Stotsky also points out that there is no research to suggest that college readiness is promoted by informational or nonfiction reading in English high school classes
The math standards are equally dismal. Mathematics Professor R. James Milgram of Stanford University, the only mathematician on the Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the math standards, because they would put many students two years behind those of many high-achieving countries. Other education experts agree. For example, Algebra 1 would be taught in 9th grade, not 8th grade for many students, making calculus inaccessible to them in high school. The quality of the standards is low and not internationally benchmarked. Common Core denies this on its website as a "myth," but Professor Milgram's opposition contradicts this.
In math, much of the criticism is focused on pedagogy. Under Common Core, students will be asked to explain the "why" of a problem before merely performing the calculation. The changes result in needlessly complicating the teaching of basic math to students who are unlikely to have the context to properly understand such queries. The changes have serious consequences. First, it means standards will be taught by teachers who are still grappling to understand the curriculum and not familiar with ways or resources to successfully teach various subjects. Second, the changes also mean children will not learn traditional methods of adding and subtracting until the fourth grade. Multiplication skills will likely be delayed until fifth or sixth grade. Because of the back-loading, students who might normally have the opportunity to take calculus while in high school won't have the time to do so because the number of prerequisite courses is started too late. Do these changes improve a student's math skills and really represent a better curriculum?
The Common Core website, of course denies that its curriculum tells teachers what to teach. The site, in fact, claims that is a myth: "These standards will establish what students need to learn, but they will not dictate how teachers should teach." This is like saying, teachers will be required to teach sex education and evolution, but they can choose whether to teach it using assignments, movies, class discussion or reading. Teachers will, more than ever, teach to the test only. It will be to the child's benefit (and to the teacher's benefit) not to teach him/her critical thinking and problem solving, but rather to memorize desired information (teaching to the test only) since the measure of education will be the test scores. It will be the dumbing down of our children. The measure of a successful teacher will be the test scores as well.
5). Common Core is a Nationalized Federal government takeover of our Education system which runs afoul of the Tenth Amendment, as education is a right reserved to the States. The government certainly doesn't have the power to create a one-size-fits-all take-over of education on all levels yet it uses its power of conditional spending to achieve the same purpose (an end-run around the Constitution). Though educational grants tied to "Race to the Top" and now "Common Core," the federal government is doing what is expressly prohibited by the Constitution: directing, supervising and controlling the curriculum, and dictating its direction. Government commandeering of education is a States' Rights issue. If the federal government has enough money to bribe the states to adopt its policies with taxpayer money, then the government is clearly overtaxing the American people. It should tax less and allow the states to tax more so at least the states can use its people's money to serve their interests.
6). The Federal Government has standardized the education curriculum that will apply to all public schools, charter schools, private schools, Christian schools and homeschooling. No one is safe from this new mandate.
The Common Core standards do not "technically" affect homeschoolers or even private schools for that matter, unless they receive federal funding. However, the big concern for home schools and private schools is that if the adoption of the CCSS leads to a national curriculum and ultimately national testing it will pressure them to teach their students according to the standards as well. Recent statements from the College Board announce that they are making the move to changing the SAT to reflect the CCSS as well. If the SAT is based on one curriculum, this move will seriously affect private school and home school students who take the SAT. This may also cause colleges to accept only students who have an education based on the CCSS. Essentially, the future is wrought with questions for homeschoolers and privately educated students if the Common Core Standards are nationally implemented.
7). Common Core will force consistency and uniformity across the nation. As long as the States are bribed and coerced into adopting a national one-size-fits-all education scheme, then education in general will suffer severely because the states, as 50 independent laboratories of experimentation, will be precluded from trying to innovate and improve education and find solutions to the problems that plague our current education system. In other words, this imposed uniformity will stifle the innovation that federalism fosters.
8). Common Core changes the mission of the public education system from teaching children academic basics and knowledge to training them to serve the global economy in jobs selected by workforce boards. Theoretically, we could see a lot of corporate and lobbying involvement. Lisa Harris, a retired teacher and education activist, says that what she sees with Common Core is that instead of children being encouraged to succeed and excel to the highest level they can, the agenda is to replace the system whereby child chooses his/her career or determines where he/she wishes to pursue with one where the workplace or the career chooses the child. And then they track the students all along the way to slot them into whatever the workforce needs are (compare to Communism). With Common Core, the child will be railroaded into a particular career based on emotional and psychological data and then tracking them. As one analyst put it: "We are all born free and our lives are like an unfinished canvas. It is if we are all artists with a blank canvas. We are born to live and paint our masterpiece. It should be we ourselves who paint that masterpiece and not the government telling us what to paint."
9). Common Core will also track teachers - compiling data, testing them, and keeping files on them. Teacher tracking information will be made public on school websites. Ordinarily, this would be a good thing and help keep teachers accountable to the education of children, but one has to wonder what kind of data the government will track and whether it will be presented fairly and reflecting the true ability of the teacher's abilities or just his/her ability to "teach to the tests."
10). Common Core is the ultimate liberal "bait and switch." Obama, the ultimate "transformation" president, has baited the states with "Race to the Top" federal education funding. The Race to the Top funding follows the "No Child Left Behind" funding. States have become dependent on the federal funding and in this time of economic distress, have little opportunity to either raise state taxes or find other ways to raise funding for education (to separate themselves from the Race to the Top). While the government has the states dependent on federal funding for education, it has made the "switch." The Obama administration has switched to Common Core standards. With these standards, and especially with the teaching of informational texts rather than classics which involve analysis and critical thinking, the indoctrination of America's youth will proceed with warp speed. The Father of Communism, Vladimir Lenin, said: "Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted." Common Core appears to have all of the earmarks of the old USSR's programming system for children - with several new innovative and chilling twists, of course. History has shown that state-run information control, which begins with education, has always lead to disastrous results (USSR, Germany, Cuba).
In fact, the U.S. Department of Education has already started a Common Core "technical review process" of test "item design and validation." The test writing stage is where the specifics of content, or in this case progressive ideologies, are inserted. Test questions need content and context, and since Common Core is about subjective processes, the content can be added without ever notifying the public. This is where the sleight of hand can come in. After content is tied to test questions, textbook manufacturers can write the necessary content into their products, the teachers will have to teach from the progressively-driven textbooks, and the circle will effectively be complete. Herein we see the dirty little Common Core secret: If the government can control what is tested then it controls the curriculum.
11). The role of education is not to teach students what to think in preparation for job placement. The role of education, the proper role, is to teach children HOW to think, how to process information, how to analyze, interpret, and infer, and how to solve problems. Proper education teaches children and young adults to think in order to deal with the ever-changing circumstances of our rapidly changing world. Trade school and career institutions, on the other hand, are the proper environment to be trained for job placement. Teaching specifically for job placement becomes obsolete as quickly as the technology of today yields to the new of tomorrow.
12). The Common Core model is an untested model. It has not been field-tested anywhere. There is no evidence to support the theories upon which the Common Core experiment is built. Diane Ravitch, one of the most voices in education and a long-time advocate of national standards, cites this as one of her strongest criticisms of Common Core.