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Common Core Curriculum

Rotten to the Core

by Chris Corlett


What is Common Core curriculum, and why is it effective in uniting parents, professionals and politicians in such a protest?

In September 2013, police arrested a Maryland parent for questioning the Common Core curriculum (“Common Core”) and disrupting a school function. All charges against Robert Small were subsequently dropped, but he faced up to ten years of jail time if he was convicted.[1]

Teachers from New York State protested the Common Core and its implementation at a meeting with New York State Education Commissioner John King at a rally in November 2013. Signs reading “$tudent$ Common Core Cash Crops” and “End Fed Ed” summed up the mood and message of the majority of attendees.

Christina Bangel, longtime middle school social studies teacher and parent of two children, had this to say:

> Tell the assembly (legislature) we’re coming for them. We’re coming for them, we’re angry and we vote.[2]

Politicians from both sides of the aisle decry Common Core. New York State Assemblyman Al Graf argues:

Government is forcing educators into a box, and it is setting our children up for failure… Rigorous one-size-fits-all testing requirements are forcing teachers to teach to a test rather than using their own creative ideas and expertise… If we don’t change the way we operate, our children will be the ones who pay.[3]

What’s the Problem?

What is Common Core, and why is it effective in uniting parents, professionals and politicians in such a protest?

One website—with an endorsement from the National Governors Association—claims Common Core is a set of standards which is “the first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education (that results in)…American students fully prepared for the future (so) our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”[4]

The reality of Common Core includes an erosion of local community control of education, endless testing of our students, and the reduction of teaching professionals to module and testing supervisors.

There are four reasons—funding, federalization, focus, and fallout—that lead this educator and author to give the Common Core a failing grade of “F.”

Funding

The Gates Foundation underwrote the organizations writing the Common Core standards: the National Governors Association, Student Achievement Partners, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve. Teacher and self-motivated investigator Mercedes Schneider sums up what she found:

In total, the four organizations primarily responsible for CCSS—NGA, CCSSO, Achieve, and Student Achievement Partners—have taken $147.9 million from Bill Gates.[5]

Private dollars—along with federal dollars appropriated through President Obama’s Race To The Top[6] competitive grant—fund the bureaucratic reform of education called for by so many stakeholders engaged in this dialogue. Common Core is the latest step in this reform effort.

I am bipartisan—I believe both parties have contributed to the mess in which taxpayers find themselves immersed. [Bush[(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_W._Bush)’s No Child Left Behind served as the forefather of the current “reform-ania” gripping politicians at all levels. In a conversation with a student over a decade ago about the real threat to freedom in America, I opined:

Some are afraid of big government; others point the finger at big business. When both of these ally, that becomes the real threat.

In Common Core, this alliance is funding the problem and, instead of providing a brighter future for today’s students, it is saddling today’s children with tomorrow’s burgeoning bureaucracy and debilitating debt.

Federalization

Public education throughout the decades relied on local autonomy and community approval to elect people, create policy and fund programs. The late 1970s birthed the United States Department of Education. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo supported and signed legislation in 2011 establishing a “tax cap” which requires a 60% supermajority to override this cap on local property tax bills. In effect, “40% plus 1” of the electorate determine the local component of school district funding.

With No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top propelling this tendency away from local control, American parents and students face an educational system influenced and even controlled by federal funding, for-profit textbook and assessment companies, and well-paid lobbyists.

Along with the growing option of online educational services, local influence continues to erode. There is a vast difference in education from the one-room schoolhouse of yesteryear to today’s institutionalized and increasingly privatized instruction and assessment.

The state of Texas provides a glimpse of this national future for those who investigate. A biology textbook, published by Pearson Education, is under scrutiny for its handling of the status of evolution as a fact rather than a theory.[7]

This debate occurs on the state level with little local autonomy. Should this sort of debate reach Washington, DC, what sort of traction will local values and opinions get? Is the beltway currently promoting or reflecting your values on other important issues? Is it reasonable to suspect that “Fed Ed,” as one sign read, is the best approach to public education?

Focus

The prevailing sentiment among Common Core proponents claims students benefit from drilling deeply into fewer topics and from learning thoroughly about certain “core concepts.” “Education should no longer be a mile wide and an inch deep” serves as the tagline for this position. Those familiar with the Trivium[8] might endorse this concept. The Trivium begins with Grammar,[9] follows with Logic and culminates in Rhetoric. Grammar focuses on knowledge; Logic develops reasoning; and Rhetoric ties all this together in debate.[10]

Less time is spent classically on learning “a lot of content” and instead, a deliberate model incorporates information acquisition as only a part (albeit a primary one!) of the complete education of the student.

New York State public schools for decades had two levels of high school diploma—one that relied primarily on local assessments and one that relied on state Regents assessments. Conferees of a “Regents diploma” held a certificate that enjoyed a reputation of additional rigor, oversight and status.

As part of an earlier bureaucratic reform of education, the two diploma levels were melded into one. Insufficient space prevents any thorough analysis of this development. May it suffice that, while this effort did raise the bar for the previous local diploma candidates, it had the inevitable and antagonistic effect of lowering the rigor on the traditional Regents diploma candidates.

Fallout

Along with the battle in the court of public opinion, endless personal stories emerge from this relentless and reckless reform. Teachers are leaving the profession, no longer able to accept the political pounding on education at the expense of the profession and the students.

Students take tests primarily designed to evaluate teacher performance and populate statewide databases. Students come home confused and in tears. In one area school, two professionals left the building in an ambulance with symptoms attributed to the stress of conflicting and changing regulations and hasty reforms.

Much like “Obamacare,” proponents of Common Core try to divert the conversation to poor implementation, not poor legislation. With some thought, the reader can identify good legislation that was poorly implemented and poor legislation that was effectively implemented.

Common Core is faulty legislation for (at least) four reasons—funding, federalization, focus and fallout—that is being hastily and clumsily implemented. This article serves as a reminder to be like the sons of Issachar,[11] to understand the times and to engage effectively in shaping the educational future of our children.


  1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/23/parent-arrested-at-school-meeting-robert-small-maryland-video_n_3975658.html.  ↩

  2. http://www.stargazette.com/article/20131126/NEWS10/311260015/?nclick_check=1  ↩

  3. http://www.fixnyschools.com/author/admin/  ↩

  4. http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards  ↩

  5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-ravitch/bill-gates-common-core_b_4079447.html?utm_hp_ref=email_share  ↩

  6. New York State received some $700 million from this process, which resulted in changes in professional evaluation (which resulted in more student testing) and an increase in the statutory cap on charter schools.  ↩

  7. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/23/education/texas-education-board-flags-biology-textbook-over-evolution-concerns.html?_r=0  ↩

  8. The reader can start researching this at: http://www.triviumeducation.com/  ↩

  9. From which comes the somewhat antiquated phrase “grammar school.”  ↩

  10. Incidentally, this loosely mirrors the three tracks of Koinonia Institute—Berean, Issachar and Koinonos.  ↩

  11. 1 Chronicles 12:32.  ↩


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