*Common Core myths debunked - Standards not internationally benchmarked - the Educational Commercialization Complex
Scroll through for updates (to Nov. 2013), such as: UFT President Mulgrew lies, asserting many teachers contributed to the Common Core
Myths and Facts around the Common Core
I would like to offer some counter-arguments against some prevailing positions by Common Core State Standards proponents. Along the way, I express my concerns over how this is an unprecedented instance of one philanthropist’s having his way with policy, a policy which he accomplished outside of legislative channels. (Unfortunately, at least one media outlet applauding this process of evading public scrutiny was wise in the interest of efficiency.) And I would like to point out, the wing-nut arguments notwithstanding, my pedagogical concerns over the Common Core.
The Gatesean political power era
In the course of sifting through the facts from the myths, we see a cloaked political process, whereby a billionaire has charted educational policy. Yes, we have seen corporate prerogatives in governmental policy making in the past. But what is so disturbing is how in the Common Core creation process occurred, and in education policy in too many instances as the city and state level across the country, private power has been exerted over public policy making in a dangerously unprecedented exercise of decision making by private organizations --cast by government collaborators as doing a public service-- supplanting traditional institutions, decision-making that in the past if with the intruding hand by corporate interests (as the corporatist model of public policy formulation) was at least manipulating public institutions. In Common Core in the present (Bill) Gatesean era private interests entirely evade public institutional channels altogether and function parallel to the manner in which policy has traditionally developed. The veneer of public collaboration is tagged on as a selling point to affix a gloss of representation.
Much as the elites of France before the Revolution, the super elite carry special power. Software monopolist and philanthropist Bill Gates' billions give him unique franchise to evade the legislative process. In this new era his private money buys private proxies in the policy-setting process. Notice that in this paragraph I have hesitated in saying government. In this process a shadow bureaucracy of private associations has supplanted public representatives or public agencies.
The prior analyses
It is interesting to read the blogs of the left and the right on Common Core. They are not citing sources from the other side. Alas, when delving into the problems of the Common Core, it is only the activists, the non-professionals. A glaring silence is that the professional media have pretty much shied away from deep attention to the issue. This ignoring of the Common Core has only been broken by the string of attempts in several states to withdraw, to defund the Common Core or to pull out of the associated tests, the PARCC and the SBAC. This post pulls from sources, where needed, from both sides. This has been a murky process, not well covered by the press, thus we the public have had difficulty figuring out the genesis of this landmark educational policy.
There have been some fine analyses already done by progressives on the pitfalls of the Common Core. They are all very well worth reading, particularly regarding the educational impact of the Standards.
*Christopher Tienken, Common Core Standards: The Emperor Has No Clothes, or Evidence
*Edward Miller and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, A tough critique of Common Core on early childhood education
*Diane Ravitch, Why I Cannot Support the Common Core Standards
*Susan Ohanian, Whoo-Hoo! Occupy the Schools
*P.L. Thomas, A Call for Non-Cooperation: So that Teachers Are Not Foreigners in Their Own Profession
*Donald H. Smith and Sam Anderson, The Common Core State Standards and Its Negative Impact Upon Black Education
Myth: this comes from President Obama
Fact: the evolution of it began before the 2008 election. That is, the develop came during the George W. Bush administration. It is by the accident that they were finally announced under President Barack Obama that they have become named "Obamacore." Had the election turned out differently, we could have heard of "McCaincore."
Myth: the desire for them came from the states
Fact: While one could tentatively say that the impetus did come from National Governors’ Association, the momentum was propelled by the Gates Foundation’s strategically timed contributions. Though literally the Standards' name suggests the states, as detailed below, the NGA are not in fact identical as the governors. The impetus came not from governors or state legislatures, so the state impetus is tenuous at best. The hand of Gates was clearly at work.
While they can be deemed as coming from the NGA, they were not coming from state legislatures, or any through any public process from a broad cross-section of societal interests. Not even were these from all governors, rather these were from a set of trade associations, with strategically timed Gates Foundation donations.
As Sarah Reckhow argued in her 2012 book, Follow the Money, the big education foundations, such as Gates, Broad and Walton foundations, operate as a “shadow bureaucracy,” as Joy Pullmann has summarized in “Education Policies Led by Gates, Not States?,” their “incubation of education initiatives cloaks the process from ordinary citizens.” As she points out, “Citizens can’t find out who attends or makes decisions, or what information they take into account when doing so, as they can for state boards of education and legislatures.”
The Education Commercialization Complex and its new Iron Triangle
Akin to the munitions lobby which sets the course of a permanent, or institutionalized, war economy (Sard, Oakes and Vance; Wilson; or Melman), charting the course for long term economic planning, whereby the prerogatives of industries are met by government policies that span across presidential terms, in the Gatesean era, computer, software, and text interests, chart policies that span across presidencies. As in the illustration of the Common Core, its development has spanned the Bush and Obama presidencies. The critical departure is that in contrast to the military industrial complex which involved the public institution of Congress, the education commercial has displaced legislative bodies as the institutional actor and supplanted them with its institutional proxy of non-governmental organizations, types of institution which I refer to as private associations, emphasizing their operating out of public sight or accountability.
The depiction of this as a drive from states is arguable, for the Common Core followed from a Gates-funded 2007 commission of 15 people, meeting in Aspen, which included only two (former) governors Tommy Thompson (Rep.) and Roy Barnes (Dem.). The Aspen Commission recommended national standards. (Most of the participants came for the education field, but they also included Craig Barrett, then Intel chair and Edward B. Rust, Jr., a board member of McGraw-Hill.) In May 2008 the Gates Foundation gave $2.2 million to the Hunt Institute, which soon convened a symposium on education strategies with the National Governors Association. Later in 2008, the NGA and the CCSSO accepted federal funds to create the Common Core.
The NGA, the Council of Chief State School Officers, CCSSO (another private trade association originally paid by state dues; in recent years receiving funding by the Gates Foundation), and Achieve Inc. (a pro-standards and testing organization, founded in 1996, according to its site, by “governors and Fortune 500 CEOs”) pushed for the standards, and since 2007 they received more that $27 million from the Gates Foundation alone, to push for the standards and the associated data-collecting systems. (Remember Achieve, as see below, its English Language Arts consultant, Susan Pimentel, was a lead writer of the English Standards, along with David Coleman.) [POSTSCRIPT: Maureen Downey reports that the group recieved fundeing from Microsoft, the Gates Foundation, Chevron and DuPont. "Achieve’s five highest-paid executives received an average annual salary of $198,916 in 2011, tax records show. The company’s president, former Clinton administration official Michael Cohen, had a salary of $263,800 in 2011."]
In December 2008 those three organizations issued the Benchmarking for Success report, which marked a change of the rhetoric for national standards to a common core of standards across states. This significant semantic was probably done to circumvent possible trouble federalist (state autonomy emphasizing) states might pose to the national standards project. Additionally, the report's accountability elements, the last of five Action recommendations (Five Steps Toward Building Globally Competitive Education Systems), remarkably presage the accountability elements of 2009’s Race to the Top ("RTTT," as with the Common Core’s development outside of legislative channels, the Race to the Top was an Obama bureaucratic ex post facto addition to the Economic Recovery Act, the administration added RTTT five months after Congress passed the Recovery Act):
Action 4: Hold schools and systems accountable through monitoring, interventions, and support to ensure consistently high performance, drawing upon international best practices.In fact, the NGA actually does not represent all of the governors. While membership is nominally automatic to governors by virtue of holding office, participation is not universal. Many governors opt not to attend the meetings and four states avoid paying contributions, although the NGA has declined to identify how much individual states contribute. Contributions range from about $22,000 to about $176,000 a year. It is argued that the decisions are not binding and some governors attend more out of practical, rather than policy motivations. Pullmann has written:
Action 5: Measure state-level education performance globally by examining student achievement and attainment in an international context to ensure that, over time, students are receiving the education they need to compete in the 21st century economy.
Former Virginia Gov. George Allen told School Reform News NGA is less a policy forum and more a networking opportunity, because any resolutions governors vote on are “not binding” and governors often disagree. He attended NGA meetings particularly so he could recruit IBM into Virginia.Copyrighted standards, limited liability statement, and seeming publisher tie-ins
“I find regional governors associations were much more practical,” he said. “You have similar concerns and similar philosophy.”
The Standards are copyrighted. The NGA and CCSSO hold the copyright, and curiously, the CCSS website has a limited liability statement saying that neither organization shall carry any liability for damages arising from the standards. Mysteriously, two publishers appear to have a special connection with the standards. From the CCSS website:
With respect to copyrighted works provided by the Penguin Group (USA) Inc., duplication, distribution, emailing, copying, or printing is allowed only of the work as a whole.Facing truths and violations of pledges
McGraw-Hill makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy of any information contained in the McGraw-Hill Material, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. In no event shall McGraw-Hill have any liability to any party for special, incidental, tort, or consequential damages arising out of or in connection with the McGraw-Hill Material, even if McGraw-Hill has been advised of the possibility of such damages.
Let us be clear: if we lead pledges of allegiance in schools to a republic and its flag, then let us recognize when the institutions of the republic are being used and when they are being circumvented. The CCSS was not created by any republican institution, not by the governors officially in toto, not by the state legislatures, not by Congress, nor even the U.S. Department of Education. The NGA merely signed off on a prerogative of its new benefactor, Bill Gates. Neither the Federalist nor any civics textbook describes as the republican ideal a baron's commissioning policy and guiding it through NGOs.
Myth: they were developed by many people from many parts of society
Fact: Five individuals have been identified as the main Common Core State Standards authors, two of the English section, three of the math section. David Coleman and Susan Pimentel were the main English authors. Yet neither have been employed as teachers or even college instructors. (Coleman, the "enemy of fiction in America," has an English literature degree from Oxford. As recent as May 2012, he and two of his Student Achievement employees have sat on the board of Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst, where he is treasurer. [See below. Also, Ravitch, "The Disturbing Connection between David Coleman and Michelle Rhee"] In 2007 Pimentel was appointed to the board that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, NAEP. Ravitch has recently noted that the NAEP is not internationally benchmarked and that in a controversial "modified Angoff method" are merely the product of panelists' judgment calls.) The three main writers of the mathematics were Jason Zimba, Phil Daro, and William McCallum, current or recent mathematics professors, all. Note, again, none of these individuals were teachers or even school administrators, yet they were laying down how schoolteachers across the country should teach math. Coleman and Zimba had no experience writing standards.
Intriguingly, Zimba and Coleman share a Michelle Rhee connection. Right up until the time of the College Board's appointment of David Coleman to head the College Board, Coleman was a founding board member of Rhee's StudentsFirst. Below were the members of the board as of May, 2012, from the IRS application StudentsFirst Institute (501c3) and StudentsFirst (501c4) . We have Ken Libby and his blog to thank for this information: Michelle Rhee – President
David Coleman – Treasurer
Ann-Margaret Michael – Secretary
Jason Zimba – Director
Coleman and Zimba as of May 17, 2012 were members of Students Achievement Partners. And Michael has been the operations manager for SAP and has been Coleman's assistant. What is the paramount connection between David Coleman and Jason R. Zimba? They were both among the 32 U.S. Rhodes Scholars entering Oxford in 1991. Incidentally, there were a mere 7 women among the 32. The U.S. awardee size has remained around 32 since the 1940s. (Appendix, p.389, in Thomas J. Schaeper, Kathleen Schaepe, "Rhodes Scholars, Oxford, and the Creation of an American Elite," New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2011.) Zimba holds the rarified position of Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Bennington College, where David's mother, Elizabeth Coleman is president. I use "rarified" because in 1994 Elizabeth Coleman eliminated tenure at the college and immediately purged one-third of the professors. So, one might consider Zimba very comfortable as a full professor.
We have been told that all told 60 individuals were involved in the writing, review and validation stages of creating the Common Core standards. As Anthony Cody pointed out in "The Secret Sixty Prepare to Write Standards for 50 Million," early in the process, the proceedings were masked in secrecy with no mechanism for public vetting or input from parents, students or teachers. The official announcement came, “The Work Group's deliberations will be confidential throughout the process.” Participants were required to sign confidentiality agreements as to all writing and discussion related to the creation and the validating of the standards. Only three of these people were teachers and this was at the validation stage of dealing with the Standards. (They were Sarah Baird, Kristin Buckstad Hamilton and Mary Ann Jordan. The first is a K-5 math coach, the subject specialties of the other two was not identified.) No parents were involved. But since the people convened to create the standards did so under the auspices of a private association, the organization was not required to provide any kind of documentation as to the proceedings. So, unlike Congressional proceedings, as in the case of the Affordable Care Act, there is no account in the Congressional Record or detailed day by day account in the professional media. There was no transparency or standard accountability. Being that the NGA, CCSSO, two private trade associations chartered the process, they were free of Freedom of Information or other sunshine (transparency) requirements. (See here and here.)
[POSTSCRIPT: The Stop Common Core NY site (which carries links to Ravitch and At the Chalk Face in its sidebar), parallel to the analysis here, asserts that the CCSS creation process violated three federal statutes, the General Education Provisions Act (20 USC § 1232a), the Department of Education Organization Act (20 USC § 3403(b)) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (20 USC 7907(a)).]
What we do know of this opaque process is not illuminating. Indeed, even the reviewers at the outer ring of this process said that they did not know what happened to their comments once they had given them. Mark Bauerlein, an Emory University professor involved in the review stage, said that it was unclear how his or his fellow reviewers' ideas got treated,
“I have no idea how much influence committee members had on final product. Some of the things I advised made their way into the standards. Some of them didn’t. I’m not sure why or how.”Pullmann, author of “Five People Wrote 'State-Led' Common Core,” reported,
“The ‘facilitators’ for the validation committee meeting were virtually impossible to deal with,” wrote James Milgram, a Stanford University professor who sat on the committee, in an email obtained by School Reform News. “The facilitators were emphatically trying to not let us act according to our charter, but simply sign or not sign a [final approval] letter when the charter said we had final say over the quality of the final [Common Core] and could revise or rewrite it if we deemed it necessary.”The Gates/Common Core apparatus has really flexed its muscle when the Common Core has been challenged. This year the standards were faced with repeal efforts in about a dozen states. Tellingly, in one early battleground this year, “Twenty-six of the 32 people who testified against a bill to withdraw Indiana from the Core are members of organizations the Gates Foundation funds,” as Pullmann reported. (Here is a spreadsheet of Gates' donations related to Common Core.) Furthermore, there have been unique waivers of federal conflict of interest laws to accommodate the movement of four Gates Foundation individuals from the Foundation to becoming high level Department of Education officials, a kind of "reverse revolving door." Multiple other Gates Foundation employees enter the Department of Education early in Obama's first term.
Five of 29 validation committee members refused to sign off on Common Core. The validation committee’s final report does not mention their objections. Its author later told Sandra Stotsky, another committee member, he had never received any written objections from committee facilitators, she said, although she and several others had sent them. He would have included them, he told her.
In contrast to acts passed by legislatures or policies created by governmental agencies, there was no opportunity for input from an authentic range of societal stakeholders, forgive the modern cliché, parents, teachers, principals, state and local school boards or elected officials. Contrast this to other domestic policy debates: the Affordable Care Act, whatever one thinks of it, followed far more of these procedures of openness, elected representative discussion and input than did the creation of the Common Core. In a democratic republic citizens deserve to have such major education changes be decided by elected officials, rather than by a small clique of individuals chosen by three private associations, with a not so hidden guiding hand by billionaire software mogul and philanthropist Bill Gates.
No, this is an elitist project, perfect for an era of elitist politics in which the Gates, Broad, Walton or Mackinac Foundations (of Dick and Betsy DeVos) exert political muscle, shutting out popular voices, telling us that they know better than we do what is good for us.
[POSTSCRIPT: UFT PRESIDENT MICHAEL MULGREW LIES BY STATING THAT MANY TEACHERS CONTRIBUTED TO CREATING THE COMMON CORE Note the above, only three teacher were involved, and only at the validation stage. Neither of the two English Standards architects was even an educator. You will not hear this from Mulgrew, you will not hear how the standards were engineered by the Gates Foundation and will aid computer, software companies or publishers. In the last 36 hours we have heard an uproar over the standards and the tests, over the social media. But Mulgrew, he is singing the praises of the Common Core, like he is Arne Duncan himself. Read his Orwellian distortion about the creation of the Common Core, in an op-ed in the Daily News, August 8, 2013:
While teachers — many of whom helped create the new Common Core — support the new standards, the decision by the state and the city to rush them through has made the situation much worse. The lack of a thorough new curriculum that teachers could use to create lessons matched to the Common Core has meant that children were far less prepared.]
Myth: states are free to choose or accept the standards
Fact: While the Standards may be technically voluntary, states pay penalties when they do not comply: non-compliant states stand to lose money in the Race to the Top competition. The fact is many states committed themselves to the standards sight unseen in the latter part of 2009 and the beginning of 2010. Why? As critics pointed out, state governments had weakened revenue streams and so particularly not inclined to take the step of risking the loss of Common Core contingent Race to the Top funds, when the nation was reeling from its worse recession since the Great Depression.
We should ask, if the Standards were so good and attractive, then why would enticement or coercion be necessary? One site has addressed this issue:
If the Common Core proponents were honest, they would admit that they never could have convinced enough states to sign onto the national standards without the federal “persuasion.” The U.S. Department of Education (USED) reinforced the desirability of retaining the Standards by linking No Child Left Behind waivers to their implementation.Myth: they are internationally benchmarked
Fact: As Jane Robbins has written,
Does the research support the argument that students are more successful with math using this technique?
To the contrary – research concerning top-performing countries shows that students do better in math if they are required to work math problems (lots of them), not merely explain math problems. A report by the American Educational Research Association examined the math standards of high-achieving countries, Finland, Japan, and Singapore, and discovered very little alignment to Common Core. All three of these countries “place a much greater emphasis on ‘perform procedures’ than found in the U.S. Common Core standards.” [Education Researcher April 2011] In fact, '[f]or each country, approximately 75% of the content involves ‘perform procedures,’ whereas in the Common Core standards, the percentage for procedures is 38%.' If the Common Core math drafters want U.S. students to compete with students from these countries, perhaps imposing standards with only half the math-performance requirements is not the best way to go about it.
Practical (pedagogical concerns)
I concur with Diane Ravitch: subject area standards in themselves are sound and proper. However, we must be attentive to how these standards run rough-shod over many established sound practices. One of the many great con-jobs in the Common Core is that eliminating social studies is satisfactory because it is being addressed in close readings of informational texts, such as this anecdote of a first grade Common Core assignment on Mesopotamia. And as in the cited passage and question set, many prescribed Core-aligned lessons often run into the absurd, as content and reading level expectations are far beyond the capacity of the student at that stage.
Unfortunately, the Common Core’s emphasis upon English and math will further escalate recent trends of shoving aside science, social studies, foreign languages or the arts in the pursuit of better scores in the tested subjects, as Diane Ravitch has pointed out. New reporting by Alyssa Figueroa has further underscored this point.
Teachers have had to teach to the test and put other classroom learning aside, which researchers believe is the cause of decreased creativity among children. ["Why are U.S. children becoming less creative?: Researchers argue that an emphasis on standardized testing has hurt creativity in children"] A 2011 teacher survey revealed that 66 percent of teachers said the NCLB’s focus on reading and math has led to reduced time for art, science and social studies.In those other academic subjects the established standards are supplanted by the Common Core, as teachers of those disciplines are forced to infuse the primacy of the Core into their subjects, over principal attention to subject area content. Again, international benchmarking is dubious: I challenge the Standards' architects to provide instances of other countries that subordinate varied subjects' content standards to text or math analysis or practice. As pedagogues of academic integrity of the marginalized are duty bound, in the name of our disciplines, to stand against these Standards.
Anxiety around the tests
The 46 participating states have been compelled to participate in given test consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), as a means of implementing the tests. The two consortia have benefited generously from the government monies to create the tests: all together, the consortia received $346 million in federal education grants. However, parents and activists have great concern that the student data of databases holding student academic and personal information, the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS, the controversial student data mines),could be accessible outside of state or district school agencies, circumventing the U.S. FERPA privacy law. Certain agency statements have encouraged these concerns: The U.S. Department of Labor has expressed these goals:
“developing or improving state workforce longitudinal data systems with individual-level information [and] enabling workforce data to be matched with education data to create longitudinal data systems . . . .”And as Perdido Street School blog has just reported in "Why Are Tisch And King So Afraid To Reveal The Common Core Test Contents?," many students were unable to complete the tests in time. Are test administration issues behind the wall of secrecy around the tests?
Additionally, with issues of vagueness, as raised by the writer of the Mesopotamia story, these are of great concern to both students and the teachers who are being given value-added modeling ratings on the basis of the students' scores. (--remember, student test-rated U.S. teachers being a virtual anomaly internationally, as noted at this post) Teachers' unions, while being supportive of the test in the instance of the United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew has supported the standards (after all, the previous president, Randi Weingarten, sat on the teachers advisory board of the test score-associated student data tracking system), but he has raised great concern that teachers are becoming acquainted with the standards and no associated curriculum has been developed. Let us hope that more state administrators do not give a dismissive answer, as New York State Education Commissioner John King has done, as Kris Nelson recently reported "John King to Superintendents: Be 'Judicious' When Deciding Whom to Fire." More complete King quotes are here. (King was appointed by Merryl Tisch and the other New York State Regents.) It has seemed cavalier to the impacted students and teachers that John King has said that scores are expected to fall. How cynical to say this, even before the tests were released. He and New York City Chancellor Dennis Walcott had said similar statements well before the tests were administered. Their results for grades three to eight are set to be released Wednesday. The UFT apparently got some early indication of score patterns, as it released a report August 2, indicating that the percentage of elementary school students meeting the standards will fall by 19 points in reading and 28 points in math. Middle school students's scores will decline 14 points in reading and 22 points in math.
[POSTSCRIPT: New York City and State test scores were drastically low in the August 7 release. If one takes these scores with credence they look rather grim. Of course, this is all a charade to indoctrinate parents in the close-and-privatize-the-schools ideology. Some of the best analysis is here, here and here.
8/8/: Another stolid response by our mentor, Diane Ravitch, "New York Times Loves High-Stakes Testing, No Matter How Absurd the Scoring". She writes:
The Times displays its ignorance of the scoring rubric, in which Commissioner John King decided to align New York's test scores with those of NAEP.Carol Burris, principal, has been an erstwhile critic of the misguided reforms, particularly as regarding testing. This morning comes a brave principal, Katie Zahedi, from New York City school, Linden Avenue Middle School, I note:
Any student who is not proficient has failed, according to the inexperienced Mr. King.
King seems not to know that the NAEP definition of proficiency does not demonstrate grade level performance, but a very high level of achievement representing superior performance. In everyday terms, proficient on NAEP is a solid A.
But in John King's world, anyone who is not proficient has failed.
. . . What the public may not understand in the midst of today’s controversy is that when a test yields 80% (of a particular cohort) of students passing over a 5 year span, and scores suddenly drop to below a 35% passing rate, that the problem is probably unrelated to student performance. In fact, the last two years of tests produced by the NYSED have been rife with mistakes, missing tables needed for computation, and confusing and misleading questions.]
The failure rates on the NYSED site are dissimilar to reported numbers in the 8/6/13 New York Times, leaving principals unsure how the data is being or will be manipulated for public reporting. What is immediately clear is that the NYSED is out on a limb with its political machinations of student test data.
. . .
While not representing the views of my school district, I submit that we ought to take a look at the core problem. We have a duty to speak truth to power (and his best friend: money) and hold the NYSED “accountable” for the failures that they are producing. The NYSED is need of internal reform. Straight up, my school is not in need of full scale revision and neither are most schools in New York. All schools should run in a constant state of improvement led by experienced principals and struggling schools need investment, support and a team relationship with a partner school that is successful. . . .
We see that this permanent war against teachers economy, just as the military has had "black budget items," items that were kept secret, "for the good of the people," we have Common Core questions that are kept secret-- NY's State Education Department is only selectively disclosing some questions. Since the government cannot use the national security excuse, what excuse could they use? -Corporate private security or copyright. Baloney. The real reason is that the tricky questions hello will expose what illogical, inappropriate questions the Common Cores brings into English and math, as At the Chalk Face reports. The blog site reports several substantive issues with the Common Core questions. This is the negative consequence of privatization of test publishing functions by the international corporate giant, Pearson PLC, away from what historically had been a public function under the aegis of the New York State Education Department.
However, from the organization that we would expect to hear much criticism, the United Federation of Teachers, whose members were in touch with the tests, we have heard limited anecdotes of trouble, mixed with praise for the Common Core, as indicated in this April op-ed column in the Daily News by the UFT president, Michael Mulgrew. The leader mentioned the lack of a curriculum, the fact that test prep is not teaching and that teachers are over-burdened with paperwork. Contrast this limited critique with the multiple details from the Chalk Face blog a week earlier. This is reflection, once again, of the detachment of the union leadership from rank and file (regular non-officials) teachers on the ground. Otherwise, we would have heard fire and this depth of detail from Mulgrew, and probably less enthusiasm for the Common Core. Diane Ravitch mentions in "What is the Goal of Common Core testing?" that Rick Hess predicts that Common Core anxiety, prompting some parents "to demand “reforms” and an escape from their neighborhood schools." As she says, reformers will gloat over failing scores (no doubt to continue the failing schools line).
Political Common Cause or G.O.P. boon?
I am in alignment with Perdido Street Blog who argued eloquently recently and in May on the need to oppose the Common Core, regardless of whether conservatives are well organized against the Common Core.
The most successful and well-organized push back efforts have been in red states, and some kooky arguments have been made against the standards. Nonetheless, the Common Core State Standards or Common Core Learning Standards could be called Common Cause of Left and Right. In one state, Democrats and Tea Party activists have actually caucused together to oppose the Common Core. If Democrats do not get more mobilized on this issue, the push-back against Common Core could be a factor greatly aiding Republican state legislators in the 2014 state elections. It would be a great risk if the Democrats could allow the Tea Party Republicans to continue to own the narrative, rhetoric and push-back against the Common Core, for there are numerous purple states, such as Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where margins of a few hundred or a thousand votes could change the result of a legislative district's election.
This is also significant for organized labor as the struggle to replace Rick Snyder as Michigan governor and Scott Walker as Wisconsin are paramount objectives. Snowballing Republican-led grassroots rebellion through 2013 and 2014, and poster-child Common Core test result disasters in states such as New York will only serve to protect those governors. Lastly, Obama's repeated steadfast touting the virtues of the standards will put a Democratic face on these standards as parents and teachers reel from the ill effects of the implementation of these standards. Democratic silence on the standards will be a gift to Republicans. The whiplash of the standards upon teachers will become evident as negative student test results will drive negative value added modeling (VAM) teacher evaluations. The case can be made that this is a cause for teachers unions to adopt, in the interest of protecting already besieged teachers.
[Postscript: we can already see the risk of Democratic-oriented voters shifting to voting Republican in 2014 over the issue of Common Core. Note this open letter from a Chicago teacher to State Senator Kwame Raoul; reading the letter (republished on a conservative anti-Common Core site) one reads of the author's family's roots in the 1960s Civil Rights struggles. The author cites Illinois Superintendent Christopher Koch's perks (I've bolded) from Pearson:
If Bill Daley is the Democratic nominee for governor and he plans to support the current state school board, I will vote for the Republican candidate if the nominee will do something about Superintendent Koch, Common Core, and the PARCC assessments. Superintendent Koch received paid trips from Pearson Education and the state then hired Pearson to develop its Common Core standardized tests.The author also cites Kentucky's negative experience with Common Core tests. On that note, see these articles, Michael Hirsch, "Kentucky scores drop on tests aligned to Common Core;" Andrew Ujifusa, "Kentucky Common-Core Testing Snafus Upset Lawmakers."]
Progressives and conservatives alike are concerned with the data mining obligations that come with the PARCC and SBAC tests and the management of student data. Progressives and grass roots conservatives (ironically in this instance) have opposed the vested commercial interests (publishers, test developers and professional trainers) that stand to profiteer from the new standards. (Alternet wrote recently on how Pearson and other publishers/test developers stand to benefit from the new standards push: new standards mean more tests. The testing of teachers is another ripe market. The Thomas Fordham Institute asserts that implementing the Common Core will cost the country between $1 billion and $8 billion. The great majority of the profits will go to publishers and test developers such as Pearson and CTB/McGraw-Hill, according to Figueroa.)
Both progressives and conservatives have expressed consternation at Coleman’s dismissal of literature. (Originally, Coleman and Pimentel's prescription was for 50 percent informational texts and 50 percent fiction. Joanna Weiss has reported that this relationship has tilted to a 70-30 ratio. And a New York City Department of Education webpage, “Tasks, Units & Student Work,” scopes a heavy emphasis on informational texts and very limited attention to fictional literature.) Infamously, Coleman has become famous for his derision of personally expressive writing. He expressed this at a 2011 address at the New York State Education Department, " . . . as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a sh*t about what you feel or what you think." (See the video at the upper right of this page for Coleman's "s" bomb. Is this the man that is telling us how to teach children? How dare he or Gates foist these reprehensible ideas upon us!) Disappointment over the CCSS’ abandonment of civics has been bemoaned here and here. (This worsens the neglect of non-English and math courses since the passage of No Child Left Behind, as noted by this retired high school social studies teacher.) These are cavalier exclusions, setting a standard of narrow curriculum for the mass of the public, in contrast to the rich curriculum that the top five percent enjoy at the sorts of schools such as Seattle's Lakeside Academy (Gates' alma mater) or Washington's Sidwell Friends (the Obama children's school).
Conservatives have pointed to the Tenth Amendment and the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act to argue against national standards. Yet, proponents and opponents of the Common Core should recognize that even without the formal standards, we have had plenty of coordination across the states, with professional associations for teachers and administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, National Science Teachers Association, National Council for Teachers of Math, National Council for the Social Studies, American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. In large measure, there was much commonality between states in terms of goals and sequencing.
The acceptance of these standards demonstrate that policy makers are not exercising critical thinking, something which the Standards emphasize. (Actually, in many districts and states critical thinking has been standard practice.) We should practice this ideal in our life, as well as in the classroom.
Citizens, professionals and students deserve not to be lied to, about whether they were passed by constitutional procedures or whether they are actually internationally benchmarked.
Careers will be threatened if teachers dare to deviate from the standards or the new mandated pedagogical approaches. We can anticipate that many teachers will risk insubordination charges if they question the soundness of the standards.
In a democratic republic, we deserve an open debate on the standards, and governance by representatives that are popularly chosen, not by millionaire or billionaire philanthropists.
What kind of citizenry are we if we are following orders while the essence of the liberal arts tradition is being trashed and we are not asking questions about democratic practice?
Indeed, the arts demonstrate the essence of the soul, of the free human spirit, civics course challenge us to consider what is and what is not truly republican. Beverly Sills once said, "Art is the signature of civilization." The Common Core was conceived and begat in a profoundly undemocratic manner. This aspect has too many grave parallels in the past. We should not similarly trash culture, history or civics to the dustbin. Franklin Roosevelt, 1943, "We all know that books burn — yet we have the greater knowledge that books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. … In this war, we know, books are weapons. And it is a part of your dedication to make them weapons for man's freedom."
POSTSCRIPT: There is a very astute analysis of the Common Core in Alabama, "Bribing Alabama to Adopt Common Core."
A Democratic-affiliated Chicago teacher's letter, "Chicago Democrat Activist High School Teacher: Common Core a Massive Fraud."
Diane Ravitch has called attention to a 1993 federal statute, forbidding the prescribing of curriculum: Public Law 103-33. Thus she published a post, November 16, 2013, Is Common Core Illegal?: Did Arne Duncan Break the Law?