The Common Core Circus: An Open Letter to the NYT op-ed columnist David Brooks
I read with intrigue your recent op-ed article in the New York Times regarding Common Core. I noticed several errors so thought I’d make a few corrections.
The Circus Descends (revised version)
We are pretty familiar with this story: A perfectly idiotic if slightly insane idea is walking down the street. Suddenly, the ideological circus descends, marketing the crazy idea with hysterical claims and fevered accusations. The idea’s political backers and corporate rainmakers meet. The idea builds and grows into a monster.
This is what happened to the Common Core education standards, which are so bad that both the right and left are uniting on a grassroots level to fight this monstrosity that gambles the future of America’s children on untested standards for the sake of corporate profiteering and political gain.
About seven years ago, it was widely claimed that state education standards were a complete mess. About 14 states had pretty good standards, according to studies at the time, but the rest had standards that were verbose, lax or wildly confusing. Enter Common Core so that now the states with decent standards can be horrible like all the others.
The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers set out to draft clearer, consistent and more rigorous standards by assembling a standards development team with no classroom teachers, early childhood experts, or special education advocates—however it did include one member who founded a marketing company and whose primary achievements are not in education per se, but in creating education related reports and brochures.
Remember, school standards are not curricula. They only drive the testing which then determines the curricula—a nice round-about way to force a federalized curriculum on all schools.
These copyrighted standards do not determine what students read or how teachers should teach. They merely recommend sexually laced books such as The Bluest Eye and Dreaming Cuban as examples of literary excellence for hormonal, high school teens. School districts then use the recommended exemplars located in Appendix of the standards themselves to create their required reading lists.
Individual states do not hold the copyright, thus states give up control of their standards when adopting the Common Core. Because the copyright is held by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, a state cannot choose which part of the standards or their reading recommendations it will adopt. It must accept them all. A state cannot remove a developmentally inappropriate standard and replace it with something better. It cannot decide it doesn’t like certain reading recommendations and delete them.
The standards are the goals for what students should know at the end of each grade so that they will be community college ready. Jason Zimba, one of the men credited as the architect of the Common Core Math Standards, stated in a March 2010 Massachusetts Board of Education meeting that the standards’ definition of college readiness is “minimal,” that the standards prepare students for “non-selective colleges,” and that they are designed for the entrance into the types of colleges that “most kids go to, but not that most parents aspire.”
This was marketed as a state-led effort under the ruse of the Washington DC based trade groups, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It was supported by corporations who stood to make huge profits and financed by private foundations connected to corporations that would win big from the money to be made in the name of education reform.
This was not a federal effort, though the Obama administration did encourage states to embrace the new standards through bribing states by offering waivers on burdensome “No Child Left Behind” mandates along with a lottery in which states who followed the federal “recommendations” would be poised to win millions of dollars towards education funding. No federal arm twisting there.
The Common Core standards are at least partially in place in 45 states. The initial implementation has been a bit bumpy—because the one thing government excels at (not) is rolling out new policies and programs in a smooth and efficient manner. It’s going to take a few years before the textbooks and tests align with the new standards so now would be a great time to heavily invest in stocks of companies that produce curriculum, assessment platforms, and teacher development programs.
This new initiative is clearly inferior to what supporters claim. The high school math standards are more in line with the middle school standards of the top performing math nations. The English standards encourage a unique type of reading comprehension. Whereas the old standards frequently taught things like context as it relates to historical documents, the new standards encourages selecting specific passages for study as a “close” read without discussing any background information. In the Common Core Unit “A Close Reading of the Gettysburg Address” by Achieve the Core—an organization founded by David Coleman who is another (non-educator) man credited as the architect of the Common Core ELA (English Language Arts) standards, it states, “This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all students as they seek to comprehend Lincoln’s address.” After all, if a student reads the Gettysburg Address without understanding the era in which it was given, that’s enough. It’s not like the Civil War was that important of an event in American history. Incidentally, Coleman now sits as head of the College Board which made changes in the SAT to align it to Common Core State Standards.
But this makes no difference when the circus comes to town, headlined by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has provided grants for nearly every organization lobbying for the full and swift implementation of Common Core, regardless of the negative consequences in the classroom. This includes the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Not surprisingly, Fordham concluded that the Common Core standards are “clearly superior” to the old standards in 37 states and are “too close to call” in 11 more.
On both sides of the aisle, the market obsessed profiteers and power hungry politicians claim that the Common Core standards represent a state led effort that respects local control. This is clearly false. Localities lose their control over what exactly is taught and how it is taught in the name of accountability. Because teachers, principals, superintendants, and the schools themselves are evaluated with a heavy emphasis on the Common Core standardized tests, there is little to no motivation to teach beyond the test. Remember, that would be Algebra I for high schoolers. It will be the privileged elite who can afford expensive private schools and tutoring who will be afforded the path to enter the highly lucrative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers.
It is true that the new standards are more rigorous than the old—especially when one considers the definition of rigorous. Strict. Harsh.Unrelenting. Sounds good doesn’t it? Consider the term rigormortis as it pertains to the classroom. It creates in students a dread for school that may very well kill the love of learning. It induces a death of teaching careers because this is not what professional educators signed up for. At a Common Core forum in NY, one teacher even went so far as to call the Common Core State Standards and the high stakes testing that go along with them as a form of child abuse. In some cases, students have to perform certain math skills at developmentally inappropriate ages. Kindergarteners are reported to be practicing standardized testing without necessarily having attained the fine motor skills required to navigate the keyboard for the new digital tests.
The idea that Common Core is popular is also true. Bill Gates loves it. So do all the organizations receiving funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, such as Stand for Children—whose recent claim to fame included accusations of forging names on a petition with over 7000 alleged signatures in support of Common Core. Corporations like Pearson love Common Core. Pearson is the UK based company that owns several textbook publishing imprints, an ADHD testing company, teacher certification platforms, and standardized testing platforms. Technology companies like Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify Education (a division of Newscorp) and the Gates funded inBloom cannot wait to get their hands on the lucrative student data collected from classroom software and digital testing. A number of politicians also love it, including potential presidential contender Jeb Bush who founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education (which happens to be funded by the Gates Foundation) and whose brother Neil Bush founded an educational software company. Colorado State Representative Carole Murray spoke out against the 2014 Colorado Moms bill which would have delayed the standardized testing element of Common Core for one year. She is on the record as saying Colorado should “put the gas on” when it comes to Common Core. Her husband also works for the textbook publisher and educational programs developer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
But not everyone is so fond of Common Core. While many greenhorn teachers profess their undying love for Common Core State Standards using buzzwords like “rigorous” and “collaboration,” top-notch veteran teachers are choosing to retire early, posting their resignations on blogs and YouTube linked from Facebook. Click the links HERE and HERE to read two other teacher’s testimonies, along with this video:
Parent warriors are also waking up like sleeping mama bears who sense their cubs are in danger.
The new standards don’t revolutionize education, but nearly destroy it. It’s not enough to set new standards and call them good. When the only two content experts on the validation committees refuse to sign off on them, that’s a problem. When validation committee members are forced to sign confidentiality agreements that remove transparency in the process, that’s a problem. One of those content experts happens to be not only a professor of Mathematics, but serves on the NASA Advisory Council. What would he know anyway?
Common Core State Standards are a step backward. States from New York to Oklahoma are thinking of rolling them back. This has less to do with listening to constituents on the ground, especially parents and classroom teachers, and more to do with preserving political careers. As corporations cling to projected financial win falls from this latest education reform disaster, pro-Common Core television ads air on TV just as a circus might advertise its presence.
The Common Core Circus has come to school. Let’s hope it’s not here to stay.