Education Opportunity Network

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Common Core Meets The Education Spring

With the 59th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education rapidly receding, it’s important to remember that the original purpose of federal intervention in local education was to guarantee access and equity. Any Southerner on the front lines of that effort can attest to what that intervention produced in terms of progress for the least-served children of the American community.

Today, that whole notion has gotten turned on its head as federal intervention for the sake of access and equity has gotten remade as a strategy to enable all sorts of bad actors who have very little regard for how schools actually serve the least-served children.

So many ideas masquerading as “civil rights” causes or platforms putting “students first” are proving to be vehicles for political agendas.

Into this maelstrom of contradiction and confusion comes the Common Core State Standards. Standards-based reforms, in general, have been posed as a necessary part of closing the nation’s achievement gap between minority students and their more affluent white peers.  And because the Common Core has been described as being more “rigorous” and “advanced” than existing state standards, then there’s a strong implication they’ll be gap narrowing.

Yet now the standards find themselves as targets of forces both from the left and the right of the political spectrum.

Resistance to their implementation is “spreading across the nation like a summer wildfire,” according to a recent news report from the latest state, North Carolina, to get embroiled in the resistance to the standards.

The reporter, Jane Stancill of the Raleigh News and Observer, recapped the scene: “The K-12 learning standards known as ‘Common Core’ have been adopted by 45 states after being in the works for several years. But recently there has been a growing chorus of tea party and other opponents who say the standards should be dumped. Republican governors in Indiana and Pennsylvania have hit pause buttons, and the state Senate in Michigan approved a budget that would prohibit funding for Common Core implementation.”

Conservative Origin Of National Standards

America’s current obsession with a standards-based approach to educating its children was an imperative born during the presidency of Ronald Reagan who at first advocated abolishing the Department of Education but then backed off the idea when he realized what a useful purpose it had for bullying the nation’s educators with the fraudulence of the now infamous A Nation at Risk report.

Conservatives have long called for a national school test that would necessitate a national curriculum.

Yet now, national standards are being targeted by those individuals and organizations associated with the right wing and the tea party. According to a recent article in The Washington Post, tea party opposition to the Common Core has given the movement “a renewed sense of purpose and energy” and “a cohesive goal” it has lacked “since it coalesced in 2010 in opposition to Obama’s health-care initiative.”

According to the Post reporters, Peter Wallsten and Lyndsey Layton, the specific objections tea party members have to the new standards are that their implementation amount to a “federal takeover of education in a country with a long tradition of local control over public schools.” They see the “data sharing” that the standards enable “as a Big Brother intrusion.” They charge that the standards were thrust on the public with “little debate” after being developed by opaque “boards” rather than through a transparent legislative process.

The Left’s Objections

Back before it became fashionable for conservatives to protest the Common Core, progressive educators were lonely leaders of the opposition to the new standards. Outspoken critics of the Obama administration’s education policies such as Alfie Kohn were calling the standards “a push for standardization . . . more of the same” and “more economic than educational in their inspiration, more about winning than learning, devoted more to serving the interests of business than to meeting the needs of kids” and a “21st-century façade on a hoary, dreary model of school as employee training.”

Education blogger and public school activist Anthony Cody compared progressive complaints about the Common Core to the emerging agenda of the tea party’s and found that right wing criticism “aligns pretty well with what many of us a bit more to the left have been saying for years.”

According to Cody, both progressives and conservatives object to:

  • The Common Core’s plans “to collect massive amounts of data, which will be housed in a cloud-based databank maintained by inBloom” and to share the data with “third party developers of all sorts, with no guarantees of privacy.”
  • The “hubris” of Common Core’s origin in “a small group of people … working largely in secret.
  • The “extensive federal support” for the standards which appear to be in conflict with the Constitution.
  • The Common Core’s emphasis on “preparing students for the workforce” at the expense of critical thinking and creativity.
  • The role that private foundations, particularly the Gates Foundation, have had in creating and promoting the new standards.

Where opinions on the Common Core from the left and right diverge, Cody found, is in the role of government in education and the need to support public schools as a common good rather than a private enterprise.

Not Left/Right, But Inside Vs. Outside

Regardless of political philosophy, however, arguments against the Common Core, at the most basic level, are being propelled by widespread distrust in those who are driving education policy.

For instance, education historian Diane Ravitch – after years of claiming to be “agnostic” about the standards – ultimately decided to oppose them not because she found them to be essentially bad standards, but because of how they were conceived and are being imposed.

“They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools,” she wrote. “We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.”

This sense of being the helpless object struck by the blunt force of education mandates is echoed in widespread public resistance of all kinds – from protests of school closures to opt outs of standardized tests to school walkouts in defiance of budget cuts.

What’s certain to come is a narrative from the political class that opposition to education mandates, particularly the Common Core, is an “extremist” agenda. Already, those objecting to what’s being forced on public schools are being labeled “outside groups.”

But those of us on the “outside” are the ones affected most by what the “insiders” – including drivers of the Common Core – are doing. All too often we’ve seen the once liberating force of the federal government become a tool for oppression and private enrichment at the expense of taxpayers. We’ve seen the bad results of where these education ventures are taking us.

And we’ve had enough.

  • Leigh Hill says:

    Rampant paranoia is not a good thing to behold. I have been working in a California school district office for the last several months trying to put together bridges for five different grade levels to get teachers from old textbooks and ways of thinking & teaching to newer textbooks that either don’t fully implement the philosophy behind the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or can’t be afforded at the present time.
    I am a math teacher, not an administrator or a government functionary. Beyond hearing the name, I didn’t really know anything about the CCSS. In my initial research, I found all sorts of griping about the “new”, some of which manifested the same things you have blogged about, and some which thought that it was an extension of the efforts to privatize schools, and was being masterminded by ALEC.
    Among the many reasons the efforts were made to create national education standards were that students move to states that did not have the same progressions of units in particular subjects, which lead to having them either be way ahead or way behind in their new schools; and the widely differing curricula made it extremely to compare between states and districts to see what was working and what was not.
    The CCSS are NOT being “imposed” on anybody. The individual states had a choice to ignore or accept them, and tweak them. Individual school districts have a choice in what to emphasize and in how to put different units together. Individual teachers will still have their own different techniques and materials. The thing I like most about the CCSS and its underlying philosophy is that, at least in math, it gets away from students being thought of as receptacles to fill up with facts and techniques, without being given a chance to think about the underlying structures of mathematics and come to their own answers and questions through meaningful tasks (which are sometimes disguised as games and puzzles).
    The quote about Tea Party objections from the Washington Post reporters shows the total lack of understanding of the process in putting the CCSS together. “They charge that the standards were thrust on the public with “little debate” after being developed by opaque “boards” rather than through a transparent legislative process.” The people on the “opaque boards” are well-known to mathematics teachers and long-standing organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). These experts have crafted a much needed framework for understanding the of the importance of depth in investigations of the structures of math. Most current curricula are often characterized as being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The U.S. has been cramming too many “standards” into a school year, without giving enough time to understand where these “standards” fit in the overarching mathematical domains. You can have all the materials to build a house, but unless you know the plans and procedures, you won’t be able to construct something that will stand the tests of time.
    And as for a “transparent legislative process’ — anybody who knows the political process knows that it is usually the antithesis of transparent. Legislators have no place in this intellectual endeavor – they would be like the blind men inspecting an elephant, all coming up with different descriptions based on small parts of the animal, and with no concept of the whole.
    I don’t really understand the particular axes you have to grind, but I can tell you that if a lot of people take on the views that you espouse, this country will wind up with a massive epidemic of rectal-cranial inversion.

    June 8, 2013 at 7:20 pm