Under the Radar: Common Core in Our Schools Print
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Written by Kathleen McCarthy   
Tuesday, 26 November 2013 09:17

As Americans, we had better revisit what the Bill of Rights means to our country’s future, because the individual protections that the Bill of Rights provides each of us are in real jeopardy. There has been a slow creep by our legislative, judicial, and executive branches to erode these protections in favor of administrative rules and regulations that instead protect the growth and continuity of government.

The federal government has gone so far beyond what was originally intended for our republic that there will be no stopping it from the top down. The only hope we have to preserve our future as an open society is to get involved in our local county and city governments, including our school districts, where we can fully participate, oversee, and influence the politicians and bureaucrats who are our friends, family, and neighbors.

Common Core is the new national education initiative of curriculum and standards that were developed by two private trade groups, in cooperation with Achieve, Inc., with the majority of funding provided by the federal government. Additional financial assistance came from the Bill & Melinda Gates and Eli & Edythe Broad foundations, which contributed $60 million, and General Electric, which gave $18 million. The two trade groups’ names – the National Governors Association and the Chief Council of State School Officers – mislead the public into falsely thinking Common Core was developed by each states’ elected representatives.

Rather, the entire curriculum is privately owned and copyrighted, giving sole control over its content to a small cadre of developers, who will also reap massive profits for manufacturing all new Common Core-approved textbooks, training materials for teachers, and national-testing components that will dwarf previous testing practices in America. These no-bid contracts are worth billions to private and quasi-public corporations, such as Pearson, Core One Press, and Achieve.

Several weeks ago, I attended a public presentation on Common Core in Peoria, Illinois. The facilitator queried the audience of approximately 200 people on whether they had heard of Common Core prior to the event. About half the audience raised their hands. He then asked how many present knew of Common Core when the state adopted it in 2010. No hands were raised!

Common Core was implemented through state education boards in 45 states, including Illinois and Iowa, without legislative authority or oversight. Nor did its development include input from school districts or the academic community at large. Parents were not notified of the adoption of these new standards, and it is still difficult to get substantive information from schools on the components of Common Core. Additionally, the mainstream media has given Common Core precious little coverage, further shrouding the program elements from public awareness.

Common Core has slipped in under the radar of parents and teachers across the country, and represents a sea change in education that is mostly experimental, with virtually no substantive evidence that its controversial methods are effective in teaching our children. This extraordinarily high level of risk deserves participation from all stakeholders, but almost none were engaged.

The following is a list of need-to-know aspects of Common Core:

• Not a single certified academic participated in the development of Common Core.

• Common Core standards for math and language arts were published on June 2, 2010. (Science and other academic categories are still in development.) Yet most states had already signed on without knowing Common Core’s content so that they could be eligible for exemptions from No Child Left Behind or for a portion of the $4.2-billion in stimulus money allocated to Race to the Top.

• After development, a validation committee was empaneled to review the Common Core standards that included five academics, all of whom refused to sign off on the curriculum because it fell far short of current standards, both domestic and international. Two academics, Stanford and NASA mathematician James Milgram (math curriculum) and University of Arkansas Professor Emerita Sandra Stotsky (language-arts curriculum) are now active opponents of Common Core.

• Schools in Common Core states agree to establish a “longitudinal database” to track every student from pre-K through post-graduation. The database includes information far beyond scholastic data, such as birth weight, parents’ voting preferences, miles to school, and family food-consumption habits. It is illegal for the federal government to have a national student database, yet the states are collecting the same data as defined in Common Core, and are able to share their interoperable databases across state lines. When, in 2011, the Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the Department of Education over unlawful collection of student data, a federal judge dismissed the case, claiming the organization had no standing (EPIC.org/apa/ferpa).

• Schools can collect and distribute a massive amount of private data without parents’ permission.

• The Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA) protects student information from being shared in the same way the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects health information. However, Common Core has been given an exemption from FERPA, allowing schools to share student information with multiple governmental agencies (even across state borders) and private-sector corporations.

• Common Core programming provides for intensive surveillance of students while at school – including cameras in the classroom, wrist sensors, chair sensors, and mouse sensors – to collect physical and psychological data for specific types of academic and labor-related profiling.

• The Common Core curriculum replaces learning fundamentals (reading, writing, arithmetic, critical-thinking skills) with an experimental focus on “processes.” For example, “estimative math” is concerned with the student’s thought process in deriving an answer, even if the answer is incorrect. If a student can make a case for 2 times 2 equals 5, the student is considered successful in the lesson, regardless that the answer is wrong. “Faction writing” allows the student to use a combination of facts and fiction in writing research papers/essays on factual/historical events. As long as the process is believable, the work is acceptable regardless if facts are wrong or nonexistent. Common Core’s deliberate departure from empirical answers as the primary objective in learning is arguably irrational and potentially dooms students to an inferior knowledge base.

• One of the architects of Common Core, David Coleman, is also the president of the College Board, which provides the SAT college-entrance tests, ensuring that curricula will have to conform to Common Core for students to score well on the SATs.

• Common Core testing is actually data-mining that, instead of testing what students actually know, tests for beliefs, attitudes, habits, and actions.

• Cursive writing is eliminated from the Common Core curriculum.

• Reading requirements are based on a percentage ratio of literature (fiction, poetry) to informational texts (nonfiction), decreasing the percentage of literature and increasing informational texts as the student advances in grades. The result of this, according to language-arts academics, is severely diminished critical-thinking skills that are specifically developed through exposure to literary texts.

• Common Core methodologies are so different that teachers require extensive re-training to implement the curriculum. Teachers’ compensation will be tied to testing results.

• Common Core is not the product of legislative action. It is being implemented solely through administrative procedure using federal dollars as the incentive for states to adopt its programming. This is a monumental change in education policy, yet state legislators had no say or oversight in its development or implementation. Fifteen states are introducing legislation to remove Common Core from their schools, including Michigan, Georgia, and North Carolina.

• School districts are technically not mandated to adopt Common Core, because it is illegal for the federal government to involve itself in state school-curriculum testing. It gets around this prohibition by allowing the states to determine proficiencies and then ties dollars to minimum proficiencies that incentivize lower standards across the nation. Because it is voluntary, communities can engage and accept or reject Common Core according to their judgment. But this requires that parents, teachers, and administrators fully investigate its merits or lack thereof.

• Common Core is basically a repackaging of George H. Bush’s outcome-based education, whose curriculum was resoundingly defeated when the Christian community rallied against it in the early 1990s. The objections then were similar, including an excessively intrusive government agenda, pre-determining students’ career pathways, and a disturbingly inappropriate focus on influencing students’ value systems at the expense of scholastic achievements. Common Core is this same program on steroids because of the advances in technology and behavioral science, and the increasing erosion of parents’ rights. Because Common Core is regulated via administrative procedure, it is not answerable to the U.S. Constitution. Ponder that while you still have critical-thinking skills to do so.

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