Over the last several months, Illinois Review has featured many posts regarding the Common Core standards that are rolling out in Illinois this year. There is a great deal of concern among conservative writers – not just in Illinois, but across the nation – regarding this huge departure from traditional teaching standards, but the Republican Party is by no means monolithic in its opposition to Common Core. Politicians such as Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie champion the Common Core standards as academically rigorous and a natural progression of George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" Act.
This has left some IR readers uncertain as to which position they should trust. I'm not here to tell you what you should believe. I'm here to tell you what I believe.
I would like to state for the record that my biggest concern with Common Core is the data mining that will push child specific information to the Department of Education to be disseminated across multiple agencies for the purpose of planning our labor force. Common Core advocates insist that only aggregate data will be disseminated, but that is not what the agreement that exists between states and the DOE says. The DOE will have access to health records, grades, aptitude, lunch purchases, physical fitness, library fines – you name it, they will have it – and the DOE will then be able to translate the information into a shared language that will facilitate communication to other agencies.
That's the number one reason that the Department of Education should be stripped of any meaningful power and relegated to history's trash heap of failed experiments. That is why local control of education is essential to the continuation of constitutional freedom. Common Core is quite literally the answer to every central planner's prayers because proponents of the policy view children as potential workers rather than individuals, and they see education as a means to meeting global workforce demands.
Having cleared the air on that point, it took reading the following quote from the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding Common Core in the Washington Post this week for me to finally grasp what kind of weapon the nationalization of education standards can be for those who wish to wield it.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it "fascinating" that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from "white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were."
Very disturbing words from our Secretary of Education or is it just me? I thought to myself, "Wow. That's quite a statement coming out of the Department of Education. Is Common Core about improving education standards for children? Which children? Apparently not white, suburban children."
For them, Arne Duncan is accidentally caught in a moment of truth as he is seen cheerfully reveling in candid contempt for suburban children. Do we wonder what the DOE has in mind if it's not helping each and every individual child to achieve the most that he or she can. Why does it so satisfy Duncan that mothers are afraid for their children? Exactly how much are we paying Arne Duncan a year to wage a crusade of resentment and hostility against white, suburban women?
In light of the Obama Administration's newly defined "War on Soccer Moms," the better question is why are some Republican politicians and journalists in support of Common Core? Per Kathleen Porter Magee in a National Review article dated April 3, 2013:
Here's what the Common Core standards do: They simply delineate what children should know at each level and describe the skills that they must acquire to stay on course toward college or career readiness. They are not a curriculum: It's up to the school districts to choose curricula that comply with the standards."
And right she is. Technically speaking, Common Core is not a curriculum. But as members of the Heartland Institute characterize this, these Common Core standards are being used to write the tables of contents of all textbooks for K-12 math and Language Arts classes. This will have the effect of standardizing the books, the teachers evaluations, the private and parochial school curricula, most learning materials and college entrance exams…you know, since David Coleman who is a chief architect of Common Core standards has now also been appointed as College Board Chief.
Less diversity. Less choice. Loss of local autonomy.
Again, Common Core is not a national curriculum. It's actually hard to define what Common Core is at this moment in time because the standards were written by private foundations behind closed doors offering limited accountability or communication to the public. They were tied to Race to the Top funding which was meant to provide competitive grants that encourage and reward states for creating the conditions of innovation and reform.
In the spirit of governmental dysfunction, Common Core has mimicked its bureaucratic soul sister – Obamacare – by requiring standards to be accepted by states before the states even knew what the standards were.
There has been minimal effort to keep taxpayers informed about what is merely a first step…second step if you count Common Core's predecessor No Child Left Behind…in crafting a national curriculum. The whole point of binding stimulus spending to the adoption of Common Core standards was to convince states to hand over control of state curricula to the Department of Education. If this was simply about creating national standards then the national testing program that is already in place would suffice. The National Assessment of Educational Progress accomplishes the goal of demarcating what children should know at each grade level without interfering with local control.
As we know, Bill Gates who has been instrumental in funding and promoting Common Core for a multitude of reasons argues in favor of the new standards by expressly emphasizing that Common Core would enable a national market for textbooks because, after all, "it's ludicrous to think that multiplication in Alabama and multiplication in New York are really different."
As Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review puts it, "Gates might be right that multiplication is not different across the country; but it's not different across the world either, and that doesn't mean that it's important to set policy for math instruction at the global level."
You can only imagine the outrage if the UN tried to establish an international curriculum in the United States. Why is this different then? The US Constitution expressly delegates authority over education to the state and local levels of government.
Quoting Christopher H. Tienken who is an assistant professor of Education Administration at Seton Hall University:
Whatever rhetoric the vendors use to mask the loss of local control, it is important to remember that the national test frameworks and eventually the released test items will become the actual local curriculum due to the stakes attached to the test results. Local control will become an endangered species at that point.
We are, therefore, closing the door on innovation by shutting down the thousands of scholastic laboratories across the nation that can nimbly adapt to the needs of children within particular districts. But what if an experiment doesn't work? What if the school district of Bumbleflop, Arkansas decides to teach math in a way that leaves their children unprepared for the needs of a twenty-first century workforce? What then. Isn't this the argument in favor of Common Core standards…that some school districts are just too stupid to do what is right by their own children?
My friends, it is easier to reverse the direction of a tugboat than it is to reverse the Titanic. Once districts are locked into Common Core standards, we will have further displaced parental authority over curriculum and we will reduce input from teachers, school boards and the states. The levels of government that are most aware of the needs of the voters and their children will be excluded from any process improvement attempts. If a parent notices her child struggling with the DOEs chosen method of teaching, she will not be able to petition the teacher for help.
Interestingly, the so called rigorous academic standards present in Common Core are the reason that there are a growing number of moderate Republicans who support this movement. Unfortunately, as the testing that Common Core requires begins to shape the national curriculum, the overall math requirements will drop. Algebra I will move from eighth to ninth grade. This will make calculus unachievable for anyone but AP students before graduation. Calculus is required by most universities so this will drastically change the learning trajectory for a huge majority of American students. Career paths will be identified for them by the time they reach ninth grade.
Since most jobs don't require the use of calculus, we will no longer waste precious time or resources teaching calculus and children will not even understand the reduction in their career options because they will be geared toward not reaching beyond their state approved career path. We will set a course for the rationing of education even though spending will continue to rise. We will reserve the more exclusive careers for those students who show promise by the time they reach the ninth grade.
All well and good if education is merely an assembly line where children are sized, sorted and directed into optimal career clusters, but that's not how education has ever worked in the history of America. Public education exists to develop citizens – not worker bees.