Common Core: The Background

If there is one thing that has united conservatives and liberals, it is opposition to Common Core.  Both sides oppose it for different reasons.  On the Left, the opposition is practical while on the Right the opposition is philosophical and, in some cases, practical.  The Left opposes Common Core because it offends a key constituency of that group- teachers and teacher unions.  Part and parcel of Common Core is alleged accountability built in through a series of testing regimens that determine if students are meeting the standards.  As a subdivision of this mindset, there are proposals that teacher evaluations use these test results to determine a teacher’s effectiveness.  While we can certainly all agree that student performance should play some role in a teacher’s evaluation, placing too much emphasis on these standardized tests is clearly wrong for a variety of reasons.

Meanwhile on the Right, there is a recognition that America has slid backwards or stagnated in many areas when it comes to education.  Most of this is predicated on the belief that we are not keeping up with foreign counterparts. And let’s agree that there is a problem in education as evidenced by declining student performance, SAT scores, graduation rates, etc. The major differences are in how we achieve improvement.  For that reason, Common Core fails miserably.  The second philosophical difference is that conservatives generally disfavor a top-down approach to resolving a problem.  To the conservative, those problems can be best resolved at the state and local level since K-12 education was historically a state/local concern and that changed with the passage of ESEA in the 1960s.  In fact, we can draw a straight line between federal interference in education and the stagnation and decline in academic performance.

And the Right does not deny that some areas are financially under-served, but by the same token the Right does deny that throwing money at the problem is the solution in all cases.  A perfect example is New Jersey where poorer districts- the so-called Abbott districts- received greater proportions of state aid with no improvement.  This is clear evidence that liberal policies alone are not the answer.

The national solution is Common Core.  In 1996, the state of Massachusetts revamped their curriculum at all levels to make it more rigorous.  They also attached a testing system to the program.  This is the framework upon which Common Core is based and is the first nail in its coffin.  It makes the erroneous assumption that what worked in Massachusetts will work elsewhere in the country.  By 2007, Massachusetts was held out as the shining example of what can be achieved with strengthening standards, revamping the curriculum and then rigorously testing students.  The following year, Achieve, Inc. proposed national standards allegedly benchmarked against foreign students.  With massive funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Achieve, Inc. became the prime mover behind Common Core.

In 2009, the Renaissance Group held a meeting in Washington DC where Achieve, Inc. unveiled a presentation called “Common Core States Standards Initiative.”  The three keynote speakers at this meeting were Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Undersecretary Martha Kanter, and University of Chicago professor Bill Ayers.  At that time, Ayers had very close ties with Linda Darling-Hammond whom Ayers suggested should get the job that eventually went to Duncan.  Darling-Hammond eventually became head of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) which has received over $175 million in federal dollars to gauge student performance.

Prior to her work on Common Core, Darling-Hammond was a member of Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) which was based at the University of Chicago.  CASEL, in turn, had as one of its stated goals “teaching children to be global citizens.”  Earlier still, she was in charge of the National Equity Project, a foundation dedicated to education reform under the premise that poor-performing schools are so because of a lack of funding and the reason they are under-funded is because of societal racism.  To combat that racism, Darling-Hammond believe there is an “education debt” payable to minority students to overcome this institutional racism.

Her association with Ayers comes via the Small Schools Movement (SSM) which Ayers created along with Mike Klonsky, a former member of the Students for a Democratic Society and an avowed Communist.  The SSM not only focuses on small class size, but also on focusing the curriculum on issues of “equity, war and violence.”  One of their basic beliefs is that the United States is a racist society and has done irreparable international harm.  Their “meaningful” curriculum emphasizes “critical thinking” over “memorization and rote learning.”  Not coincidentally, that is the philosophical underpinning of Common Core.

Clue #1 as to why Common Core should be rejected is that its very purpose- critical thinking- has been tried and tested in the real world through SSM programs.  Darling-Hammond created the Stanford New Schools program based on SSM curriculum which mirrors Common Core.  For its part, it achieved the dubious distinction of being in the lowest 5% of schools in all of California in student achievement.  Who cared what 5+5 was as long as you can critically articulate a reason for getting to the wrong the answer, and you viewed the United States as a racist rapist of international proportions?  Ayers also tried these methods through the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and even their own final report indicated  it was a huge failure.  But what is a few million dollars as long as the students feel comfortable in their stupidity and hostile towards their country?

Enter David Coleman who authored the Language Arts section of Common Core.  He is the son of Bennington College President Elizabeth Coleman who flatly rejects the notion of expertise in any area and claims that academia should not be neutral, but an “engine of social change.”  David Coleman, it should be mentioned, has never set foot in a classroom as a teacher.  Coleman’s main mentor is David Sherman, a high-ranking member of the Amercan Federation of Teachers (AFT).  Sherman is also a board member of Teachscape, an organization that designs measures of teacher effectiveness and has received huge funding from the Gates Foundation.  At this point, it should become obvious that Common Core arose from a failed educational reform movement designed by some radicals creating a bizarre incestuous relationship among its founders.

Coleman’s track record is no better than that of Ayers in Chicago or Darling-Hammond in California.  For example, he was on the board of directors of New York’s Equity Project Charter School where only 31% of students passed in the 11th grade.  More scary, he is now President of the College Board and is overseeing a rewrite of both the ACT and the SAT to bring them into alignment with Common Core.  Along with Coleman, Jason Zimba (a Bennington College math professor) and  Susan Pimental founded Student Achievement Partners- an organization dedicated to Common Core.

Coleman and Zimba had previously worked on the Grow Network which emphasized use of assessment techniques for both student performance and teacher effectiveness.  In fact, through the Annenberg Project, they received a contract with Chicago to put their techniques into effect.  Unfortunately, we see the results in Chicago today where their public school students are among the worse in the state and many of their teachers have retired.

So how did this bizarre series of relationships become introduced to American schools?  In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, Congress passed the stimulus bill.  Many states were strapped for cash when the Department of Education created the Race To the Top program with stimulus funds.  In order to be eligible for these grants, the state had to essentially adopt the Common Core standards.  In need of money, 45 states did so.  In short, the liberal mantra of “never putting a crisis to waste” was adopted and Common Core was rammed down the throats of the states.

What is the most disturbing aspect of Common Core is that it adopts the language of conservatism to promote a liberal ends.  It fashions itself a program of raising academic standards which is something the Right has been calling for for many years.  It fashions itself as having a system of accountability through its testing regimen.  It fashions itself as giving teachers choice in what is read or taught.  With regards to standards, the Fordham Institute- a backer of Common Core- has noted that the standards in place in many states that adopted Common Core were as good or better than Common Core.  As for the testing regimen, existing metrics were adequate to gauge student performance without linking it to teacher evaluations.  Most states had their own test already and the NEAP allowed comparisons across state lines.  As for teacher choice, Common Core and its proponents note that suggested reading lists are just that- “suggested.”  However, the entire Language Arts curriculum is geared towards technical reading and non-fiction, as are the tests.  If the test asks 80% non-fictional questions, a teacher will adapt and focus 80% of their teaching on non-fictional choices.  This is especially true if the teacher’s evaluation is partly based on a student’s performance and this is done out of self-preservation.  Its a “suggestion” with a loaded gun to one’s head like the bank robber “suggesting” everyone remain on the ground or they will get their head blown off.

While the Left rails against Common Core in the interests of a key constituency, the Right has the more correct reasons for opposing Common Core with the added effect of actually protecting teachers.  The Left has created and unleashed a monster that will eventually result in a lowering of standards across the board in order to justify the existence of Common Core’s existence.  It is no surprise that the creator of the PARCC test- the major gauge of performance adopted nationally, Pearson- also now has created and sells educational material to help teachers achieve success with the Common Core standards and curriculum.  By setting up for failure, they insure future sales of their material.  The Left has released a bad genie from the bottle in their effort to essentially brainwash America’s students into becoming “global citizens.”  As usual, it up to the Right to clean up the mess the Left has left behind.