Common Core is like gluten: Lots of people say they want to avoid it, but they don’t even know what it is. For the record, gluten is protein in grains historically used to make bread. It forms cross-links which trap carbon dioxide and that causes bread to rise. The only people who should avoid gluten are those with celiac disease.
Common Core is an educational approach to learning. It should be avoided if you are not able to think for yourself. Though some have labeled Common Core as a fad, to be sure, but nevertheless it is an attempt to correct the problems ushered in by the prior fad, “No Child Left Behind.” That misguided effort did leave children behind . . . and was a great reason to keep the federal government out of education.
The impetus behind Common Core had been in progress since 1996 when the National Governors’ Association and several high-profile business leaders, such as the chairman of IBM Corporation, formed a company named Achieve, Inc. The stated purpose of Achieve was to develop means to assure that a high school diploma represented a meaningful accomplishment by a young person.
By 2007, Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona, was chair of the National Governors’ Association. She wrote an “initiative” that focused on improvement of public education in the United States. To do this, Napolitano assembled a task force of educational experts, leading business people, and governors to develop a plan. The product of the task force was the 2008 report titled “Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education.” Achieve, Inc., was brought in as developer to accomplish this ambition. That is when people started taking notice of Common Core.
Backing by the Governors’ Association was a logical method of promoting nationwide educational standards without the stigma that would otherwise be attached had they been developed by the federal government. It is a way of assuring that a student in Mississippi, for example, is exposed to the same topics in the same depth, at the same point in their academic career, as would a student in New York. It is a means of not only leveling the playing field, but also elevating that field to world-class loftiness. Financial backing for developing the standards came from non-government sources, notably, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And Bill Gates, of course, is the billionaire dropout entrepreneur who founded Microsoft Corporation.
The educational standards being developed focused on mathematics and English. Science curricula had its own set of movers and shakers in parallel to the Common Core proponents. Social studies teachers felt left out and complained. Eventually, they also will have standards.
“No Child Left Behind” needed to be replaced. The students were constantly being tested to gather “data.” Tied to the testing was the threat that schools which did not achieve high scores on the tests, would suffer by losing operating funds, risk being taken over by other entities, and teachers being fired. So, teachers “taught to the test.” If a student expected the question, “How much is 2 plus 2?” Then the teacher would teach the answer, “4,” in every way possible. But if the actual test question was, “What is 3 plus 3?” The student would be lost because s/he had not been taught HOW to add in the first place! This is the problem that Common Core seeks to overcome: Students are to be taught “critical thinking” skills. How the individual states that signed on to Common Core, (45 at last count), school districts, even individual schools teach those critical thinking skills, are up to them. The point is that they be taught. This sounds like manna from heaven, What could possibly go wrong?
The answer to that question lies in the standards themselves developed for Common Core. While it is true that Common Core requires testing, and is data-driven as was, “No Child Left Behind”, there is a difference. The testing focuses on understanding. . .but understanding as permitted by the standards. It is good that students must develop a hypothesis (called a “claim” in teacher-speak), search for evidence to support the claim, and develop a conclusion based on the evidence that validates the claim. This forces students to write, thereby improving their vocabulary, their grammar, and logical thinking skills, including structured argumentation. This is its method. But there is another part to it: The CONTENT.
Content is something that is most valued by textbook publishers. All the prior books need to be replaced with texts that follow Common Core standards, and emphasize information at the expense of classical prose. Publishers see dollar signs and they rush to pump out texts to support this “new” learning style. Electronic media is emphasized requiring that students use computers to take exams as well as to complete class assignments. Some of this “how to” knowledge is valuable and is not to be condemned. But using electronic tools is not education. It is a means to access information and obtain an education.
So, who develops the content that the students see on their tablets and laptops and smart phones? This is where many believe the core of Common Core is little more than an empty shell with minimal “core value.” Critics of Common Core do not appear to differentiate between “Standards,” “Method”, and “Content.” They look at the content and label the whole pedagogical technique as evil. The more suspicious do dive more deeply into the inner workings of Common Core, but there they see collusion between Microsoft Corporation, Pearson Publishing Co., and the federal government. Since Common Core was ostensibly developed by private interests under the eye of the National Governors’ Association, the federal connection is unclear. Unless government money is dangled in front of the state schools, “Adopt Common Core and you get the goodies!”
And with that connection, comes content written to warm a progressive bureaucrat’s heart. The so-called “informational” readings would have students accept as truth various tracts written from a decidedly biased angle. There is a word for such readings –“propaganda.” And that is what has conservative critics up in arms. They are not placated by bland statements of how the states are not “forced” to accept Common Core, or that they can opt out. It is all about money and control. Further, there are questions about how confidential student records really are. Since testing for Common Core is conducted online, there is significant opportunity for student information to come under scrutiny of public agencies or even hackers. We have recently read or heard of
scandals involving the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative organizations, or of government wiretapping, and of retail companies where millions of customer records were illegally accessed.
The concept behind Common Core is admirable. Idealism has to take a back seat to reality, however. And the reality is that Common Core must be monitored carefully in every state, in every school district, and by every person concerned with the quality of education, as well as what our young people are being taught. If you are alarmed, here is what you can do:
1. Read more about Common Core, what it is and what it promises to do.
2. If you agree that Common Core will benefit students across America, do nothing. If you feel that your constitutional rights are being eroded by its implementation in your school district, you need to find and join organizations fighting against Common Core.
3. If you have school-age children, examine their lessons very carefully. Challenge the school over materials that you believe are inappropriate or unsuitable.
4. Pay attention to developments involving Common Core. Do so frequently. Complacency is a luxury that just costs too much.