Yesterday’s Washington Post carried a banner story about growing Tea Party opposition to the Common Core. We learn that across the country, Tea Party activists have been organizing around opposition to the Common Core, and have succeeded in blocking or delaying the standards in at least nine states.
There has been a contemptuous reaction from the highest levels of our educational system. Arne Duncan has implied that opponents are tin-foil hatted paranoids: “It’s not a black helicopter ploy and we’re not trying to get inside people’s minds and brains,” he said last week. A week before he responded to questions at Capital Hill, saying “Let’s not get caught up in hysteria and drama.” And of course corporate-funded conservatives like Jeb Bush, and the Fordham Institute are still on board all the way. The problem they have is that the substance of the Tea Party criticism of Common Core standards is solid. And it aligns pretty well with what many of us a bit more to the left have been saying for years. Let’s take the arguments, as presented by this Washington Post article and elsewhere, and check them out.
1. Sharing of student and teacher data with third party developers of all sorts, with no guarantees of privacy. As noted in this post, there are plans in place in some states such as Illinois and New York, and others as well, to collect massive amounts of data, which will be housed in a cloud based databank maintained by inBloom, a non-profit created by the Gates Foundation for this purpose. Given the many ways data has been abused in recent years, there are sound reasons to question this threat to privacy.
2. As the Post notes, “Critics also charge that Common Core was thrust onto schools with little public debate.” This is a huge problem. What hubris it must take to believe that you can assemble a small group of people, and, working largely in secret, completely overhaul what is taught in a supposedly democratic society. When I first got wind of the project back in 2009, I wrote this:
And what about a democratic process? We are apparently about to be handed a set of standards that will dictate what is taught in millions of classrooms across this nation. How will these have been arrived at? Who, besides the Gates Foundation millionaire’s club, and the standardized test companies and the publishing companies will have been engaged in this profoundly civic process?
A month later, when the writers of the standards and the “confidential” process were announced, we learned that the group of sixty people included numerous representatives of test publishers, but only one classroom teacher.
In most states, it was the governor or state superintendent of education who made the decision to adopt the standards, with little or no public deliberative process. This back door adoption process is now backfiring, as people realize the entire fabric of our schools is being changed, and educators and the public were never consulted in meaningful ways.
3. Related to the previous point, Tea Party activists have correctly pointed out that Federal law specifically forbids the Department of Education from setting national standards. As Jamie Gass and Charles Chieppo noted in their recent Wall St. Journal op-ed:
Three federal laws explicitly prohibit the U.S. government from directing, supervising or controlling any nationalized standards, testing or curriculum. Yet Race to the Top, a federal education grant competition that dangled $4.35 billion in front of states, favored applications that adopted Common Core. The Education Department subsequently awarded $362 million to fund two national testing consortia to develop national assessments and a “model curriculum” that is “aligned with” Common Core.
There has been extensive federal support for this project from the start, and one of its chief selling points has been the fact that it will create a set of national standards. There is little question that this is federal bribery bordering on coercion. In his rebuttal to Gass and Chiappo, Michael Petrilli, of the Gates-funded Fordham Institute, offers the very weak defense that no courts have, as of yet, found this to be illegal. That is a low standard indeed.
4. Some conservative critics have pointed out that the thrust of the Common Core is aimed at preparing students for the workforce. We are told that the role of our schools is to prepare students for “college and career,” and we find an increased emphasis on informational text. This very thorough conservative critique states:
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.
The author also writes:
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.
This resonates with a more progressive critique offered by Susan Ohanian, who frames the issue this way:
This latest corporate reform plan, the Common Core State (sic) Standards (CCSS), eliminates community-based planning, destroys personal response to literature, and, instead of fostering education for individual need and the common good, puts children on a treadmill to becoming scared, obedient workers for the global economy. The constant exhortation to teachers and students is “You’re not good enough for the market economy!” When the ruling class screams about people not measuring up, over time the besieged are trained to blame themselves for the lack of jobs, lack of benefits, lack of a safety net.
5. Many conservative activists are, like myself, deeply concerned about the role of the Gates Foundation, which has, to date, invested an estimated $150 million in the Common Core project. Check out those out front advancing the standards – you will find they are almost all recipients of Gates money. Educators have come to understand the market-driven, test score-focused agenda of the largest philanthropy in the world. The Gates Foundation has promoted charter schools, test score/VAM teacher and principal evaluations for the past decade, and have been hugely influential across the country, and at the Department of Education. The Tea Party analysis often applies the label “progressive” to the Gates Foundation, while some of us might use a different term.
We also have some major reasons to be concerned about the Common Core that have NOT been mentioned by conservatives. The tests associated with Common Core are likely to renew the false indictment of our public schools. Proficiency rates are predicted to drop by at least 30%. There will be a significant expansion in the number and frequency of tests, and the technology needed to fully implement to Common Core will divert billions of scarce education dollars. The data systems not only threaten student privacy, but also provide more fuel for the phony value added systems being developed to micromanage our work as teachers.
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