The Illinois State Board of Education has begun the process of informing taxpayers of the new federally benchmarked Common Core Standards Initiative that has been adopted by 45 states (including Illinois) and the District of Columbia. Implementation of Common Core by these states came about as a result of the $4.5 billion "Race to the Top" stimulus spending as it was rolled out by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan back in July of 2009. "Race to the Top" is a contest that was created by the Department of Education to allegedly spur creative solutions to education problems at the state and local levels of government.
By accepting funds from the Department of Education, states had to agree to the Common Core standardized testing as a way of determining the effectiveness of "Race to the Top." In addition to stimulus funds, states also received "No Child Left Behind" waivers if they agreed to adopt the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
The Illinois Board of Education offers a webpage which describes the need for the Common Core testing standards that will eventually lead to dictated curriculum models from the Department of Education. The entire point of this stimulus spending was to break the states' monopolies on education by using federal purse strings to bribe states into handing over control of curriculum standards to the Department of Education. The New Illinois Learning Standards page of the Illinois Board of Education explains the Common Core emphasis on standards in this way:
- Fewer and clearer
- Internationally benchmarked
- 21st century skills
- Evidence based
That's exactly quoting from the website and the ambiguity of the minimalistic "evidence based" may leave you with a touch of vertigo, but if you are wondering what on earth these four bullet points compare to as this information is apparently not worth including on the Board of Education website, then you will be happy to know that you are not alone.
Truth is, sadly, that the standards are not "fewer and clearer" as much as they are under-publicized. Much like the healthcare bill, the testing standards for Common Core had to be adopted before we could know what they are – this was part of the quid pro quo for receiving the stimulus money back in 2009 and that was well before "Race to the Top" had the proposed Common Core testing available for public consumption.
Interestingly, the new standards have been sold as "rigorous" and "internationally benchmarked" but the Common Core Validation Committee…I love the unyielding names of these layering bureaucracies, don't you? Makes you long for the simplicity of the Politburo. Anyway, the Common Core Validation Committee was shown no evidence in support of this theoretical international benchmarking so now the Common Core website no longer makes this claim to fame even as the Illinois Board of Education continues to do so. I guess Gery Chico didn't get the memo.
The Common Core website now promises that the standards are "informed" by the standards of other countries….whatever in the world that is supposed to mean. If this is the kind of communication skillset that our state's top educators are demonstrating to the taxpayers, then I'd say that we now have a better understanding of why schools in Illinois continue to underperform.
And of course, "rigorous" clearly resides in the eye of the beholder. As the testing that Common Core will require states to administer continues to shape national curriculum standards, the overall math requirement will drop so that algebra I will move from 8th to 9th grade, making calculus unachievable by anyone but AP students before graduation. Calculus is required by most four year universities.
And that may be more to the point than Arne Duncan would care to admit. When they reference 21st century skills as the goal of the Department of Education, what they really mean is that Common Core will change the learning trajectory for the great majority of American students so that most will attend two year colleges and trade schools based on career paths that they will be expected to identify by the time that they reach the 9th grade. Lord help us because we may end up with an unexpected glut of firemen and hip-hop dancers with not too few Spidermen and fashion designers thrown into the mix to make things interesting.
The real point is that since most people don't use calculus in their jobs, educators will no longer waste the time teaching those math concepts because they are not relevant in the real world. And, by the way, there won't be a glut of firemen and hip-hop dancers because children will be given career paths that will meet the needs of the global economy.
This is not unlike the pending implementation of language arts standards because the Common Core testing will be satisfied with levels that will graduate students at a 7th grade reading level. Couple that with the fact that the emphasis will shift from classical literature to non-fiction, informational texts so that students will have little hope of graduating with the critical thinking skills that the classics provide and you've got a recipe for centrally organized mediocrity. Since the average auto mechanic does not use Shakespeare in his daily life, he will not be exposed to Shakespeare.
This is what we mean when we say that we are building a system that will allow students to compete in a 21st century workforce. We will be rationing education even though spending will continue to rise and we will reserve the more exclusive education paths for those students who show promise by the time they reach the 9th grade.
More importantly still, "Race to the Top" requires states that want federal dollars to create student databases that include over 400 data points on each student. This includes test scores, disciplinary records, the child's health history, family income and religious affiliations. Common Core testing organizations are now contractually obligated to hand over this child-specific data to the Department of Education and many believe that this is in violation of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the 10th Amendment. The Department of Education can then share this information with the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services all of which claim that they must have these statistics to properly benchmark the effectiveness of their own spending.
Right now, Common Core is focused on math and language arts but the plan is to complete the roll out on these two subjects and then redirect attention to science and history as well as health and sex education. The cost of testing will quadruple from $5 per student to an estimated $22 per student although critics of the Common Core process believe that the realistic figure will be more like $100. Additionally, David Coleman (who is a chief architect of Common Core) has been appointed as the new College Board chief. The College Board is a non-profit organization that promotes:
"…excellence and equity in education through programs for K–12 and higher education institutions and by providing students a path to college opportunities, including financial support and scholarships. We also serve the education community through research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators, schools and colleges."
This is the organization that owns and operates the SAT. Coleman seeks to align the SAT so that it is more in keeping with Common Core standards.
Coleman, by the way, is the man who justified the new language arts standards of Common Core which emphasize nonfiction, informational texts over classic literature by stating "As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don't give a s*** about what you feel or what you think."
Learning from nonfiction texts and pamphlets, I am then to assume, regulates a child's creative process and lowers his expectations for himself so that he doesn't begin thinking any grand thoughts that might interfere with his career cluster – and I wish that I could make that kind of stuff up but "career cluster" is the actual term used for placing children on career paths in or around the 9th grade based on their demonstrated learning potential. 4 of the 45 states that have adopted Common Core have also adopted the career cluster concept for placing kids in desired career directions…so that they will meet the demands of our growing global economy.
Am I wrong or does it sound like Common Core is designed not so much to provide quality education for all students but more to help children embrace their assigned placement in the brick wall?