What Is Common Core?
Common Core describes itself as “a set of high-quality academic standards,” or “learning goals,” which detail “what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade” (K-12) in both Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA). These standards “were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.”
Lamenting that “the academic progress of our nation’s students has been stagnant and we have lost ground to our international peers,” the creators of Common Core claim that “one root cause” of this negative trend “has been an uneven patchwork of academic standards that vary from state to state.” Indeed, state education standards were first put into effect in the early 1990s, and within a decade every state in the Union had developed and adopted its own specifications indicating precisely what was expected of students at each grade level.
“Recognizing the value and need for consistent learning goals across states,” the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) in 2009 coordinated what they depicted as “a state-led effort” to develop the Common Core State Standards. According to Common Core, these standards draw on “the most important international models” as well as “research and input from … educators from kindergarten through college, state departments of education, scholars, assessment developers, professional organizations, parents and students, and members of the public.” For grades K-8, Common Core specifies grade-by-grade standards in ELA and Mathematics. For grades 9-12, the standards are grouped into two-year grade bands—9th & 10th grades in one band, and 11th & 12th grades in the other.
Notably, Common Core takes pains to point out that its standards do not in any way constitute, or promote, any particular curriculum or academic content: “While the standards set grade-specific goals, they do not define how the standards should be taught or which materials should be used to support students.” Rather, “it is up to the states to define the full range of supports appropriate for [their respective] students.” This distinction between standards and curricula is significant because the U.S. Constitution guarantees states’ sovereignty over the education of their children, and federal law actually forbids the establishment of a national curriculum.
Common Core’s Mathematics Standards
“Research studies of mathematics education in high-performing countries,” says Common Core, “have concluded that mathematics education in the United States must become substantially more focused and coherent in order to improve mathematics achievement in this country.” Toward that end, Common Core places greater emphasis on “mathematical understanding” than on “procedural skill” in obtaining the correct answers to given problems. From kindergarten through grade 12, children in Common Core math classes are taught, sequentially, various aspects of the following:
For a detailed, year-by-year breakdown of Common Core’s Mathematics Standards, click here.
By emphasizing process over content, Common Core has substantively changed the methodology for mathematics. Thus, by logical extension, it also has changed what teachers teach and how they present the material. As a National Review analysis puts it, Common Core’s “elevation of concept over computation” alters traditional instructional practices.
Perhaps most significantly, Common Core eschews rote memorization of math formulas and multiplication tables. It also turns away from traditional methods of computation—which it disparages as “shortcut methods”—for allegedly failing to create “demonstrated understanding.” To address this purported shortcoming, Common Core requires students to provide written explanations or justifications for their answers, and to thereby display evidence of the “deeper thinking” that the new standards require. New York schoolteacher and author David Bonagura points out a potential drawback to this approach:
“Common Core’s most distinctive feature is its insistence that ‘mathematically proficient students’ express understanding of the underlying concepts behind math problems through verbal and written expression. No longer is it sufficient to solve a word problem or algebraic equation and ‘show your work’; now the work is to be explained by way of written sentences…. This prescription immediately dooms grammar-school students who have reading difficulties or are not fluent in English: The mathematical numbers that they could have grasped are now locked into sentences they cannot understand.”
Common Core’s ELA Standards
Common Core’s ELA Standards establish guidelines for English Language Arts—which encompasses reading, comprehending, and writing—in grades 1 through 5. Then, beginning in grade 6—when history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are incorporated heavily into ELA classes—Common Core’s standards extend also to literacy in those subject areas. As children progress through the educational system, Common Core requires them to devote an ever-increasing share of their class time to reading informational texts—as opposed to classic literature. Whereas informational material comprises 50% of all reading and writing tasks in the elementary grades, that figure rises gradually to 70% by the twelfth grade. It is important to note, however, that the grades 6-12 literacy standards in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are meant only to “supplement content standards in those areas, not replace them.” And ultimately, the individual states “determine how to incorporate these standards into their existing standards for those subjects, or [to] adopt them as content-area literacy standards.”
The philosophical underpinnings of Common Core were articulated several decades ago by the education thinkers E.D. Hirsch, Mortimer Adler, and Allan Bloom, all of whom waged public campaigns for the restoration of classical liberal arts standards in American schools during the late 1970s and early ’80s. Hirsch, for his part, in 1986 put forth a Core-Knowledge Foundation rooted in the belief that “shared knowledge, a shared narrative, and shared ideals of liberty and tolerance” are “indispensable ingredients for effective citizenship and … the perpetuation of our democratic institutions.”
Taking the bold step of attempting to implement the type of knowledge-centered and content-rich education model that Hirsch advocated, Massachusetts Governor William Weld in 1996 approved a “common core”-type framework for his state’s K-12 public schools. This framework featured new statewide curricula that were attached, for purposes of evaluation, to the rigorous Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams. The eminent Dr. Sandra Stotsky, then-senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education, was largely responsible for establishing the state’s Language Arts Standards.
The results of the Massachusetts experiment were a spectacular success: For 13 consecutive years the SAT scores of high-school students statewide rose steadily and significantly. And from 2005-08, the state’s elementary and middle-school students began to register the highest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam scores in the country. As the Massachusetts model continued to burnish its credentials year after year, education reformers began to posit the possibility of using it as a template for a broader, national plan. And in 2007, CCSSO administrators initiated such a process. The following year, the Washington, DC-based contractor Achieve, Inc.—which employs and collaborates with many left-wing education reformers who for decades have been advocating a national “standards-based education” system that would transcend state lines—articulated its own vision for Common Core in Benchmarking for Success. This document recommended that all U.S. states should follow “a roadmap for benchmarking their K-12 education systems against those of top-performing nations.”
Before long, Achieve, Inc.—with the help of massive funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—would play a key role in creating the new Common Core State Standards.
Bill Ayers and Linda Darling-Hammond
In October 2009 the Renaissance Group, a consortium of schools of education based at approximately 30 mid-sized universities across the United States, sponsored a three-day conference in Washington, DC that examined how issues of poverty, diversity, and multiculturalism affected the educational experiences of nonwhite children—and how white teachers were allegedly incapable of dealing effectively with those issues. At this conference, Nevin Brown of Achieve, Inc. made a presentation on the “Common Core State Standards” Initiative.
Aside from Brown, the Renaissance Group conference featured three keynote speakers: (a) U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (appointed by President Barack Obama); (b) U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter (also appointed by Obama); and (c) Bill Ayers, the communist revolutionary, former Weather Underground terrorist, and longtime political ally of Barack Obama. What Ayers spoke about at this conference was never publicly revealed, but his participation as a keynoter clearly indicates that his opinions were given considerable weight. Moreover, there is little reason to believe that Ayers’s views on education were at odds, in any significant way, with those of Achieve, Inc.—a leading force in the creation of the Common Core State Standards. As Georgia college professor Mary Grabar writes, “If Achieve [Inc.] has ever disavowed Ayers or his teaching methods, we could find no evidence of this on the public record.”
Highly noteworthy, at that time, were Ayers’s close ties to the radical left-wing educator Linda Darling-Hammond, who, that same year, spoke hopefully about the Obama Administration’s golden “opportunity” to effectuate “a set of ambitious plans to transform American education on a scale not seen since the days of the Great Society.” Further, Darling-Hammond was poised to become the assessment creator for the soon-to-be-unveiled Common Core State Standards. Today she is in charge of content specifications at the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which has received at least $176 million in federal funds to develop tests on Common Core benchmarks. Moreover, Darling-Hammond is a member of the Governing Board of the Alliance for Excellent Education, Inc., which received a $500,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “to advocate for high-school reform at the federal level in order to educate federal policy members about Common Core standards.”
Prior to her work with Common Core, Darling-Hammond served as education advisor to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and then as education director for Obama’s White House transition team. She also has been a board member of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a University of Illinois-based group that focuses, as Mary Grabar puts it, on “making students global citizens.”
In addition, Darling-Hammond is a longtime advisory board member with the National Equity Project, (NEP, formerly known as the Bay Area Coalition of Essential Schools), an organization whose activities are rooted in the premise that urban, nonwhite children “have been historically underserved by their schools and districts”—notwithstanding the fact that those schools typically siphon up more taxpayer dollars than do their counterparts anywhere else on earth. NEP’s perspective is entirely consistent with Darling-Hammond’s contention that American society, racist to its core, is replete with “white privilege.” And to combat that perceived injustice, Darling-Hammond calls for the repayment of what she terms “an education debt” that America owes to black people—a view that was also espoused by the late Derrick Bell, godfather of Critical Race Theory.
Darling-Hammond once published some of her work in a collection edited by Bill Ayers, who in 2009 stated that she (Darling-Hammond) was the singular individual best qualified for the post of U.S. Secretary of Education—though President Obama did not nominate her.
Both Darling-Hammond and Ayers are leaders in the so-called Small Schools Movement (SSM), which Ayers himself created in collaboration with the hardcore communist Mike Klonsky. The SSM not only calls for schools to limit the size of their student bodies as much as possible, but also pushes pupils to tackle specific political themes such as “issues of inequity, war, and violence.” A leading objective of the SSM is to teach young people that American capitalism is a racist, materialistic doctrine that is inherently antithetical to “social justice” and has done incalculable harm to societies all over the world. Moreover, the SSM pushes for the implementation of a “meaningful curriculum” that emphasizes “critical learning” over “memorization and rote learning”—an emphasis shared by Common Core.
It is noteworthy that neither Ayers nor Darling-Hammond have had success in improving students’ academic achievement or test scores. Darling-Hammond, for her part, created the Stanford New Schools, which targeted low-income Hispanic and black students and ranked in the lowest-achieving 5% of all schools in California. Meanwhile, Ayers’s Chicago Annenberg Challenge was a 1990s initiative that provided major funding for the Small Schools Movement. The American Thinker notes that because the Chicago Annenberg Challenge focused so heavily on the radicalization, rather than on the education, of students, it “failed to produce any measurable academic gains, according to [its] own final report.”
David Coleman, Jason Zimba, and Susan Pimentel
David Coleman, Jason Zimba, and Susan Pimentel are the three principal authors of Common Core’s State Standards.
Coleman, for his part, has never been a classroom teacher. Like Ayers and Darling-Hammond, he believes that “a massive social injustice” pervades the United States, and that education can rectify this by serving as “the engine of social justice.” He is a board member of the Teachers Union Reform Network, which supports the pro-socialist movement known as “new unionism.”
The strongest intellectual and ideological influence on Coleman has been his mother, Bennington College president Elizabeth Coleman, who flatly rejects notions of “expertise” or “neutrality [as] a condition of academic integrity” and seeks to “make [society’s] political-social challenges themselves the organizers of the curriculum.” Formerly a professor of humanities at the far-left New School for Social Research, Mrs. Coleman founded the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, a “social justice” initiative that “invites students to put the world’s most pressing problems at the center of their education.” Eschewing “fundamentalist,” or traditional, values as being akin to the repugnant “absolutes of a theocracy,” Mrs. Coleman emphasizes an “action-oriented curriculum” where “students continuously move outside the classroom to engage the world directly”—i.e., they become activists on behalf of radical political and social causes.
David Coleman’s self-identified “mentor,” David Sherman, has been a high-ranking official with both the American Federation of Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers for many years. He was appointed to the U.S. Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking Committee on Title I and No Child Left Behind, and he currently sits on the board of directors of Teachscape, a company that develops measures by which to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Teachscape has also received large amounts of funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a major financial backer of Common Core.
Like Bill Ayers and Linda Darling-Hammond, Coleman’s track record as an education professional is bereft of academic success stories. He currently sitson the board of directors of the Equity Project Charter School, a New York City-based middle school where only 31.3% of all students received passing grades in English during the 2010-11 academic year. He is also president of the College Board, a role in which he has been busy overseeing the rewriting of the ACT and SAT exams, so as to bring them into alignment with Common Core.
Joining David Coleman as the principal figures behind Common Core’s State Standards are its two other lead writers: (a) Jason Zimba, a Bennington College math professor who headed the process of establishing Common Core’s State Standards for Mathematics; and (b) Susan Pimentel, who assisted Coleman in writing Common Core’s ELA Standards. Neither Coleman nor Pimentel have ever taught English at any level, nor has either ever published any serious work on K-12 curriculum and instruction. In 2007, Coleman, Zimba, and Pimentel co-founded Student Achievement Partners, an organization whose mission is to “help all students and teachers see their hard work lead to greater student achievement,” and to disseminate Common Core content as “as widely as possible.”
Prior to collaborating on Student Achievement Partners, Coleman and Zimba in 2000 co-founded the Grow Network, an organization committed to maximizing the usefulness of student-assessment results for teachers, parents, and pupils alike. Less than a year later, the Chicago Public Education Fund—a creation of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge board of directors, whose members included such notables as Bill Ayers and then-state senator Barack Obama—began negotiating a contract with the Grow Network on behalf of Chicago Public Schools.
Another a major supporter of Common Core is Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington, DC’s Public Schools and the founder/CEO of StudentsFirst, an organization whose mission is to “pursue transformative reform” in education. Two of Common Core’s lead writers hold high-ranking positions with StudentsFirst: David Coleman is its treasurer, and Jason Zimba is its director.
StudentsFirst is a proponent of Regionalism, a strategy highly favored by the Obama Administration as a means of essentially eliminating America’s suburbs as independent entities by blending them, economically and politically, into the cities which they border. The objective of this policy is to redistribute large portions of property-tax and school-tax revenues from affluent suburban areas to poorer neighboring cities.
In a December 2009 talk sponsored by The Economist, Rhee introduced what she termed the “incredibly important set” of “Core Common National Standards” and a corresponding “national test” that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan were preparing to implement. She also suggested that an effective way to improve American public education would be to make all private schools “illegal”: “That would mean every ambassador’s child, every CEO’s child, every Congressman’s child and the President’s children would all get assigned to a DC public school by a lottery which would mean a huge percentage of them would be going across the river to Anacostia every day.” By Rhee’s reckoning, such an arrangement would eliminate any existing disparities between education-related spending in wealthy suburbs vs. education-related spending in impoverished inner cities: “[Y]ou would never see a faster movement of resources from one side of the city to another in that circumstance.”
Most States Adopt Common Core in 2010
Forty-five U.S. states adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010. Only four states—Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia—elected not to adopt them at all. A fifth state, Minnesota, adopted the English Language Arts (ELA) Standards but not the Mathematics Standards.
The Debate Over the Efficacy of Centralization
Prior to the advent of Common Core, each state in the Union was responsible for establishing its own academic standards specifying the knowledge and skills that all children were expected to possess by the end of each grade level. Each state also created its own tests to assess whether students were meeting those goals. At the same time, national exams like the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Stanford Test allowed education professionals to compare students’ abilities across state lines.
Proponents of Common Core argue that the adoption of national standards will improve the performance of American students as compared to their counterparts in other countries. The Heritage Foundation, by contrast, rejects the notion that “top-down, uniform standards and assessments—driven by federal bureaucrats and national organizations—are preferable to … state and local reform efforts guided by input from parents, teachers, and taxpayers.” Says Heritage:
Other critics of Common Core contend, similarly, that a “free-market” approach allowing states to operate independently, and to develop methods that work best for their own respective students, is preferable to an approach that imposes a one-size-fits-all teaching plan on 15,000 school districts across the U.S. A number of years ago, for instance, when Florida passed legislation to create the nation’s most favorable climate for the establishment of charter schools that were free to innovate as they saw fit, student test scores soared. In an analysis of the effects of the Florida legislation, education policy expert Matthew Ladner observed:
“In 1999, when these reforms were enacted, nearly half of Florida fourth-graders scored ‘below basic’ on the NAEP reading test, meaning that they could not read at a basic level. But by 2007, less than a decade after the education reforms took effect, 70 percent of Florida’s fourth-graders scored basic or above. Florida’s Hispanic students now have the second-highest statewide reading scores in the nation, and African-Americans score fourth-highest, when compared with their peers.”
Emphasizing Process Over Content
In the tradition of the philosopher/educational reformer John Dewey, Common Core assigns greater importance to “critical thinking” and an appreciation of multiple “perspectives” than to the mere accumulation of “facts.” Indeed, Common Core bills itself as a program that emphasizes “skills” more than content. These skills, however, do not necessarily correlate to an identifiable body of knowledge vis à vis literature, history, social studies, or science. Even in mathematics, children are awarded points, or partial credit, for their reasoning, even if they fail to compute the correct answers. Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, a Democrat whose state was one of the original four that elected not to adopt any Common Core Standards in 2010, objected to the fact that the new standards were focused on “strategies and approaches, not content outcomes.”
A similar value system undergirds Common Core’s ELA Standards. In an April 28, 2010 article in Education Week, Linda Darling-Hammond, the assessment creator for Common Core, explained that the new assessment system would be “designed to go beyond recall of facts and show students’ abilities to evaluate evidence, problem solve and understand context.” As Georgia professor Mary Grabar observes, “Such buzzwords thinly disguise an agenda of replacing the objective measurement of knowledge and skills with teachers’ subjective appraisals of students’ attitudes and behavior.” This approach is consistent with that of Bill Ayers, who has long likened the testing of students for their knowledge of “facts” to an oppressive and stifling factory or prison system.
Another well-known opponent of academic testing, Columbia Teachers College professor Lucy Calkins, is likewise an ardent supporter of the Common Core State Standards. In 2012 she co-authored the popular Pathways to the Common Core, which repeatedly inveighs against “skill-and-drill” while promoting “deep reading” and “higher-level thinking,” but lacks specificity in defining what this means and how it is to be achieved.
Is Common Core a Set of Standards, or a Curriculum? Or Both?
Brad McQueen, author of The Cult of Common Core, objects to the centralization of academic standards on grounds that “the U.S. Constitution guarantees that the states have sovereignty over educating their children, and there is even federal law forbidding the setting up of a national curriculum.” This, he explains, is why Common Core supporters “robotically repeat the mantra that the federal government is not mandating a curriculum, because it is illegal.” But Thomas Meyer of the conservative Fordham Institute rejects McQueen’s implication that Common Core’s self-identification as a set of standards, rather than as a curriculum, is essentially a distinction without a difference. By Meyer’s telling, “there is no such thing as a Common Core curriculum.”
To be sure, Common Core professes to be concerned only with standards of knowledge and skills, and not with micromanaging content, curriculum materials, and teaching methods—which are purportedly left in the hands of the states and school districts. Yet Common Core does in fact suggest an actual curriculum that the states are strongly “encouraged” to follow in order to help ensure that students will perform well on the standardized tests that will be administered to determine if they are achieving their various benchmarks.
The alignment of Common Core standards with assessment exams that ask questions about specific pieces of information can be a highly effective way of creating a de facto national curriculum without technically mandating it. As Amy Skalicky writes in her 2013 book, Common Core and the Truth, “The standardized assessments are built directly from the standards, making it necessary for the curriculum to speak to the standards.” Bill Gates, whose charitable Foundation has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the effort to develop, implement, and promote Common Core, puts it this way: “When the tests align with the standards, the curriculum will have to align as well.”
Dr. Mercedes Schneider, a public-school teacher and Common Core historian, says it is a fallacy to suggest that the “standards” of Common Core are separate from the “curriculum.” “Some of the standards dictate how you teach,” she explains. “And we are so marketed for curriculum materials.” The fact that “some of the curriculum publishing companies are also creating the Common Core assessments,” adds Schneider, increases the likelihood that specific content will gradually become embedded in a Common Core curriculum.
Economics and sociology professor Dean Kalahar elaborates further on the process described by Schneider:
“[T]he U.S. Department of Education has started a Common Core ‘technical review process’ of test ‘item design and validation.’ The test writing stage is where the specifics of content, or in this case progressive ideologies, are inserted. Test questions need content and context, and since Common Core is about subjective processes, the content can be added without ever notifying the public. This is where the sleight of hand occurs. After content is tied to test questions, textbook manufacturers will write the necessary content into their products, the teachers will teach the progressively-driven textbooks and the circle will be complete. Herein we see the dirty little Common Core secret, controlling what is tested is the methodology of controlling the curriculum.”
Standards Were Created With Little Input from Legislators, Teachers, School Boards, & Parents
According to Common Core’s website, “The federal government played no role in the development of the Common Core.” Rather, “States across the country collaborated with teachers, researchers, and leading experts to design and develop the Common Core State Standards…. Teachers have been a critical voice in the development of the standards.”
These claims, however, are somewhat deceptive. In reality, Common Core’s educational standards were initially put together with no input whatsoever from teachers, principals, superintendents, local school boards, parents, or even state legislators.
The foundational Common Core Standards were developed in secret, starting in July 2009, by the aforementioned organization Achieve, Inc., working in close alliance with a 29-member Standards Development Work Group. The latter consisted of 14 representatives from testing companies (the SAT, ACT, College Board), 10 representatives from Common Core groups (Achieve Inc., Student Achievement Partners), 2 representatives from a textbook company (America’s Choice), 2 educational consultants, and 1 university professor (from UC Davis). Among these 29 individuals, of course, were Common Core’s three lead writers—the previously cited David Coleman, Jason Zimba, and Susan Pimentel. But the Standards Development Work Group did not include a single K-12 educator with teaching experience.
In the highly secretive process of creating Common Core, Achieve, Inc. received much input from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a pair of DC-based trade organizations that ultimately approved the new standards before they were even finished being written. But we know nothing about the day-to-day processes and deliberations in which these parties engaged, since they are all private organizations and thus are not subject to Freedom Of Information Act requests.
Moreover, the Common Core State Standards were adopted without a field test of any kind. As educational policy analyst and former assistant U.S. secretary of education Diane Ravitch puts it, “[W]e are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time…. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?” “There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core,” adds Ravitch. “Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states.”
As for teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, and parents—none of these even knew about the existence of the new standards until after the latter had been accepted by the National Governors Association. It was only thereafter that teachers were brought in to “provide regular feedback on drafts of the standards” and to give “input on the Common Core State Standards during the two public comment periods.”
The veteran teacher, administrator, and curriculum designer Marion Brady states that the formulation of Common Core “was done with insufficient public dialogue or feedback from experienced educators, no research, no pilot or experimental programs—no evidence at all that a floor-length list created by unnamed people attempting to standardize what’s taught is a good idea.”
It should also be noted that the NGA and CCSSO copyrighted the Common Core State Standards which they helped to formulate, meaning that those standards now cannot be changed; teachers in states that have adopted Common Core are not free to alter them in any way, or to inject their own standards into the mix.
The Role of the Teachers’ Unions
Common Core takes pains to note, proudly, that powerful labor unions such as the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) “were instrumental in bringing together teachers to provide specific, constructive feedback on the [Common Core] standards.” But a strong case can be made that the American public-education system’s long track record of academic mediocrity and fiscal profligacy can be attributed, first and foremost, to the policies and priorities of these selfsame unions.
Most significant are the 3.2 million-member NEA and the 1.5 million-member AFT. Devoted to promoting all manner of left-wing political agendas, these unions rank among the most powerful political forces in the United States. The NEA, for instance, employs a larger number of political organizers than the Republican and Democratic National Committees combined. Key among those organizers is a corps of directors, known collectively as UniServ, who assist local teachers’ unions with collective bargaining and the dissemination of the NEA’s political messages. UniServ has consistently been the NEA’s most expensive budget item.
Fortune magazine routinely ranks the NEA among the top 15 in its “Washington’s Power 25” list of organizations that wield the greatest political influence in the American legislative system. The Association has earned that rating, in large measure, by making dozens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions to political candidates since the early 1990s. The AFT, for its part, has given nearly as much to its own favored candidates. And these donations are above and beyond expenditures on such politically oriented initiatives as television ads or get-out-the-vote efforts. Of the many millions of dollars in combined campaign donations that the NEA and AFT have made in recent years, some 95% has gone to Democrats.
The NEA derives most of its operating funds from the member dues that, in nearly every U.S. state, are deducted automatically from teachers’ salaries. In 2010, these dues accounted for $357.5 million of the union’s $376.5 million in total revenues. Because member dues constitute the very lifeblood of the teachers’ unions, the latter strive mightily to avoid losing any of those members, regardless of their professional competence or lack thereof. The unions also fight, tooth-and-nail, against any efforts to implement school voucher programs designed to empower low-income parents to pull their children out of failing public schools and to send them, instead, to private schools where they might stand a decent chance of actually receiving a quality education.
Common Core Standards Were Not Internationally Benchmarked
Yet another major claim of Common Core is that “international benchmarking played a significant role in both sets of standards” (Math and ELA). But Amy Skalicky, author of Common Core and the Truth, points out that “not one Common Core standard can be matched to any other standard in any other country.” Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the onetime senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education and a member of the Common Core Validation Committee, concurs that “no material was ever provided to the Validation Committee or to the public on the specific college readiness expectations of other leading nations in mathematics” or other subjects.
How Rigorous Are the Standards?
Common Core’s claim that its new standards are more rigorous than all previously existing state standards has been the centerpiece of much debate. A 2010 study by the Thomas Fordham Institute, an education-policy think tank, found that the standards in 15 states as well as the District of Columbia were either equal to, or more rigorous than, those of Common Core—meaning that the standards in 35 states were less rigorous. This would seem to suggest that the claims of Common Core, in this regard, are more accurate than not.
The North Carolina-based Hunt institute, which describes itself as “a strategic catalyst for transforming public education,” views the Common Core State Standards as “the foundation for an education system that demands excellent teaching, high-quality professional development, rigorous curricula, and dynamic assessments.”
But there are many differing opinions on this matter. Ze’ev Wurman, a prominent software architect, electrical engineer and longtime math advisory expert in California and Washington, says: “I believe the Common Core marks the cessation of educational standards improvement in the United States. No state has any reason left to aspire for first-rate standards, as all states will be judged by the same mediocre national benchmark enforced by the federal government.” Economics and psychology professor Dean Kalahar, for his part, notes that Common Core’s standards are “vague” and “subjective”—a fact that, in his view, pleases “the unions who are looking for a way around their pay being tied to teacher performance evaluations.” Professor Jonathan Goodman of New York University says that Common Core’s Mathematics Standards impose “significantly lower expectations with respect to algebra and geometry than the published standards of other countries.” And the aforementioned Dr. Sandra Stotsky was one of five Common Core Validation Committee members who ultimately refused to sign off on the new standards because she, too, considered them to be academically inferior.
Professor R. James Milgram of Stanford University, the only mathematician to sit on the Common Core Standards Validation Committee, likewise refused to sign off on the Math standards because, in his estimation, they put students two years behind their counterparts in countries with track records of high math achievement. Milgram especially objected to the elevation of process over accuracy: “How can you have mathematics problems that don’t have a single answer or correct answer—any answer is correct?” he asked. “Well, of course the answer is mathematically you can’t, and all of this is just a repeat of what went on 20 years ago in California—but this time, it’s national…. All of this should really make you angry at the people who are responsible. According to Milgram, most of the 28 members who served alongside him on the Validation Committee were focused on “things like making the standards as non-challenging as possible” and “making sure their favorite topics were present and handled in the way they liked.”
Yet Milgram’s assessments of the Common Core State Standards are not, by any means, uniformly negative. Indeed he said, on another occasion: “The reality is that they are better than 85 or 90 percent of the state standards they replace. Not a little better. A lot better. [But] that’s really a comment on the abysmal quality of these state standards.”
Federal Financial Rewards for States That Adopt Common Core
As noted earlier, 45 U.S. states—all except Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia—adopted both the ELA and Mathematics education standards of Common Core in 2010, while a 46th state—Minnesota—adopted the ELA standards but not the Math standards.
Proponents of Common Core argue that when this overwhelming majority of states signed on to the new standards, they did so voluntarily and without any compulsion whatsoever. While that is technically true, the fact remains that any state which elected not to adopt Common Core knew that by making that choice, it would, by definition, be leaving large sums of federal money on the proverbial table. This is because the governors of each state, in exchange for signing on to the new Common Core Standards, not only became eligible to receive “Race to the Top” educational grants drawn from a $4.35 billion pot of federal funds made available by the Stimulus Bill of 2009, but also could obtain waivers relieving their states of the onerous, compliance-associated financial burdens imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act regulations that had been enacted eight years earlier.
Whenever a state signed on to Common Core’s standards in ELA or Math, it was required to adopt all of those standards in their entirety. Further, each Common Core state was compelled, by mandate of the federal government, to also sign on with one of two testing consortia: the Partnership for Assessing Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia (SBAC). The assessment tools created by these two entities, which received a combined $300 million in federal funds to develop Common Core-aligned tests, are virtually identical.
Eventually, Common Core technocrats agreed to permit states to have limited input into some “state specific” components of the new State Standards, so long as Common Core’s copyrighted standards comprised at least 85% of the finalized State Standards.
On August 12, 2012, the Department of Education announced that yet another $400 million in Race-to-the-Top funds were being put up for grabs to help local school districts “personalize learning, close achievement gaps, and take full advantage of 21st century tools.” This competition for federal funds succeeded in enabling individual school districts to adopt Common Core standards even if the state in which the districts were located had already decided to reject Common Core.
A number of analysts have pointed out that many Common Core-aligned instructional materials and lesson plans contain unmistakable elements of political and ideological indoctrination. According to public-school teacher and Common Core historian Mercedes Schneider, for instance, “The message going out to students is that government is good, big government is good, Obama is good, the president’s doing a good job.” Along those lines, Common Core ELA assignments for second-graders at a number of schools present children with texts that assert: “A president’s job is not easy…. He makes sure the country’s laws are fair…. The commands of government officials must be obeyed by all.” Some fourth-grade students in Illinois, meanwhile, are given a lesson depicting the federal government as a type of extended family that cares deeply and personally about the well-being of each of its individual members.
Another Common Core-aligned lesson plan for children in elementary school is based on an animated video presentation that features a reading of the Nikki Grimes book, Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope:
Such examples of classroom-based indoctrination have prompted economics and sociology professor Dean Kalahar to write that “the foundational philosophy” of Common Core is not to give students deep knowledge of subject matter, but rather “to create students ready for social action so they can force a social-justice agenda.” “Nationalizing education via Common Core,” adds Kalahar, “is about promoting an agenda of anti-capitalism, sustainability, white guilt, global citizenship, self-esteem, affective math, and culture-sensitive spelling and language. This is done in the name of consciousness raising, moral relativity, fairness, diversity, and multiculturalism.”
Discovery Education: Common Core Lesson Plans
Discovery Education, a company dedicated to creating “digital content [for] school districts large and small,” has worked extensively with the developers of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), especially in the areas of providing “quality content and curriculum expertise”; “support[ing] teachers as they shift their instructional practice to meet the demands of the CCSS”; and helping teachers “assess, measure, and demonstrate student growth and performance based on the new standards.” Following are some examples of Common Core-compliant lessons by Discovery Education that contain clear elements of indoctrination:
* A lesson for grades K-5, titled “Learning to Respect Each Other,” is designed to make students aware of the insidious racism and white privilege that allegedly pervade American society. Using Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech as a pedagogical springboard, teachers are instructed to create a “mock segregation experiment” in their classrooms where the “majority” are awarded certain “privileges” while the “minority” are denied those privileges. The lesson emphasizes that:
Further, teachers are instructed to tell students that racism “can grow from assumptions and stereotypes,” as in the case of European settlers who “believed that because the Native Americans looked different, spoke a different language, practiced different customs, and worshiped God differently, that they were somehow not as good or as ‘civilized’” as the settlers themselves.
* A lesson for grades 2-5, titled “Christopher Columbus and the New World,” teaches that Native Americans were forcibly and unjustifiably pushed off their lands by European usurpers who slaughtered them in massive numbers. “The changes begun by Columbus were mostly good for the huge numbers of Europeans who settled in the Americas and got rich on gold and farmland,” the lesson explains, “but they were mostly bad for the native Americans who lost both their lands and their lives to their new European rulers. The changes were also bad for the millions of Africans that were brought to the New World to be slaves.”
* A lesson for grades 6-8, titled “Islam: History, Society, and Civilization,” scrubs the Muslim faith of all its radical elements. Specifically, the lesson informs students that the major teachings and beliefs of Islam are “charity, discipline, basic human rights, tolerance for other religions, [and] responsibility to the poor.” It states that while women in many Islamic cultures “may wear veils,” they nonetheless “share many of the same responsibilities and rights as men.” And it instructs teachers to have students write a brief essay addressing “whether all Muslims can be fairly judged based on [an] extremist group” like the Taliban.
* A lesson for grades 9-12, titled “Islam,” provides links to three websites that likewise offer a highly sanitized view of the faith. These websites are:
* A lesson for Grades 9-12, titled “9/11 Backlash: Being Muslim in America,” instructs teachers thusly: “Discuss the ways different ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, and Muslims, are portrayed on television and in the movies. Do students notice any trends or patterns? For example, do they think that African Americans are often presented as bad guys? Are white people usually the heroes?… What about other ethnic groups, such as Muslims?”
* A lesson for grades 9-12, titled “Native American History,” quotes an American Indian stating: “I want the white people to understand my people. Some of you think an Indian is like a wild animal. This is a great mistake…. Our fathers gave us many laws, which they had learned from their fathers. These laws were good. They told us to treat all men as they treated us; that we should never be the first to break a bargain; that it was a disgrace to tell a lie; that we should speak only the truth….” Then, to further “debunk myths about Native Americans,” teachers are instructed to “initiate a class discussion about how th[is] piece might have surprised listeners because instead of reinforcing stereotypes of Native Americans as wild, uneducated people, it shows a Native American as apparently well educated in the English language and in Christian-like thinking.”
* A lesson for grades 9-12, titled “Lyndon B. Johnson,” lauds the Johnson Administration “for having passed the most comprehensive and far-reaching civil rights legislation since the post-Civil War era.” Cited among the list of Johnson’s major achievements was his signing of the Immigration Act of 1965, which reoriented immigration policy away from European ethnic groups; made “family reunification”—including extended family members—the key criterion for eligibility, thereby creating an endless cycle known to sociologists as the immigration chain; and radically changed the ethnic composition of the United States by giving preference to immigrants from the Third World rather than from Europe. At the end of the lesson, students are asked: “In what areas has civil rights legislation been successful? To what extent is there still discrimination against minority groups or women? What else needs to be done?”
* A lesson for Grades 9-12, titled “Racism: Law and Attitude,” asks students to address the question: “Even when the law seems to grant full and equal rights to all people, how are some groups of people disenfranchised or discriminated against? Why do you think this happens?”
* A lesson for Grades 9-12, titled “The Cold War and Beyond,” discusses “concerns with the Reagan presidency” over such matters as “the Iran-Contra affair”; notes that “many people in the European community object[ed] to [Reagan’s] deployment of American missiles in Europe”; and credits Mikhail Gorbachev for being the man chiefly responsible for the eventual thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations. Students are asked such questions as:
Additional Common Core Lessons That Indoctrinate
* In a tenth-grade lesson about the forces that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, Pearson/Prentice Hall’s book Literature, Grade Ten (Common Core Edition) features a New York Times editorial written in 2000. “[T]hat it came down as bloodlessly as it did 10 years ago this week is largely a tribute to one leader,” said the Times piece. “Today Mikhail Gorbachev is a political pariah in Russia and increasingly forgotten in the West. But history will remember him generously for his crucial role in ending the Cold War and pulling back the Iron Curtain that Stalin drew across Europe in 1945.” Further, the editorial credits Gorbachev for his “enlightened” and “pragmatic” brand of “idealism,” and for having displayed “a wisdom and decency that is sadly rare in international power politics.” Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan’s name is not mentioned even once in any of the Common Core documents concerning the Berlin Wall’s dismantling.
* Rutgers professor and self-identified “Common Core consultant” Marc Aronson, who describes Common Core as “a magnificent opportunity” for American education, markets a Common Core-aligned lesson plan on the Cold War for middle- and high-school students. In this lesson, Aronson uses the 2012 book which he authored, Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies, as an “informational text” tailored for ELA classes. Specifically, Aronson mocks FBI Director Hoover’s own 1958 book, Masters of Deceit, which described and warned about Communist subversion in the United States. The author portrays Hoover (falsely) as a closeted homosexual who cynically stoked and exploited Americans’ irrational fears about communism.
* In a Common Core-aligned lesson for tenth-graders in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa, students read and discuss excerpts from Nickel and Dimed, a 2002 anti-capitalist screed penned by the socialist author Barbara Ehrenreich. In her book, Ehrenreich contends that low-income workers in America are not fairly compensated for their labors, and she deplores the U.S. for failing to do what “most civilized nations” do—that is, “compensate for the inadequacy of wages by providing relatively generous public services such as health insurance, free or subsidized child care, subsidized housing and effective public transportation.”
* In a Common Core-compliant lesson for eleventh-graders, students are taught extensively about the United Nations‘s Millennium Development Goals, which advocate massive levels of international wealth redistribution as a means of “radically transform[ing] the economic systems and assumptions that have brought … vast inequality between the rich and the poor.” The Millennium Goals also call for a commitment to “environmental sustainability,” to be achieved by such measures as placing strict regulations on industrial activity and carbon dioxide emissions, taxing alleged polluters, and using those tax revenues to compensate poorer, non-industrialized societies around the world. In a Unit titled “Solving the World’s Problems,” these and other UN Goals are enumerated as though they are necessarily in the best interests of every country on earth (including the U.S.), and students are asked to consider their implications from a global perspective.
* A Common Core-approved high-school workshop on the Middle East conflict titled “Whose Jerusalem?” portrays Israel and America in a negative light while cultivating sympathy for the Islamic terrorist group Hamas. The “Whose Jerusalem?” curriculum was created by Boston University professor Carl Hobert, who describes the goal of his program as “educational civil disobedience, where students are learning about the Middle East and they’re putting pressure on our government to create a Palestinian state.” Students participating in the program are assigned to portray various parties to the Middle East conflict including Arab, Israeli, and American leaders, and to negotiate an agreement on how to divide Jerusalem.
Describing how he uses the program to influence students’ thinking, Hobart explains: “When a student goes, ‘I am devoutly Jewish and I’ve got family members in Israel, [and] I would like to be a member of Likud Party,’ guess what we make that student? A member of Hamas.”
A video expose released by the pro-Israel organization Americans for Peace and Tolerance, describes how Hobart’s program deliberately misleads students by “falsely claiming that Fatah and Hamas are comparable to the major political parties in democratic Israel… they learn that Hamas and Fatah are two thriving Palestinian political parties that have chosen to support change in the Gaza strip and parts of the West Bank by more peaceful means than Intifada.” The brutal terrorist acts committed by Hamas and Fatah, and the role these Palestinian parties play in the violent repression of their own people, are minimized or omitted entirely, as is Hamas’ call for the slaughter of all Jews.
Nor is the program intended to be entirely theoretical. “What they have to do by the end is come up with a letter of recommendation on how to bring more effective peace to the Middle East,” Hobart explains. “We mail it to George Mitchell, our special envoy to the Middle East, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Barack Obama.”
Indoctrination in Science
At a 2010 Sustainability Education Summit in Washington, DC, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement foreshadowing the degree to which political and ideological indoctrination would thenceforth, as a matter of government policy, pervade science education in American public schools. “Educators … teach students about how the climate is changing,” said Duncan. “They explain the science behind climate change and how we can change our daily practices to help save the planet… We at the Education Department are energized about joining these leaders in their commitment to preparing today’s students to participate in the green economy, and to be well-educated about the science of sustainability. We must advance the sustainability movement through education.” Meanwhile, Duncan made no allowance whatsoever for any consideration of the large body of scientific evidence indicating that no “global warming” has taken place since at least the late 1990s, and that the sun, rather than human industrial activity, plays by far the largest role in earthly temperatures.
In her book Common Core and the Truth, author Amy Skalicky addresses this theme at some length:
“Global warming is a topic that is strewn all through curricula for most grade levels. The material provides the approach that global temperatures are increasing, followed by two theories that explain it—human industrial activity and population growth. However, the curricula omits the existence of other scientific data and theories, for example, the normal cyclical nature of Earth’s climate and the impact of solar activity on Earth’s temperatures. Instead, it remains focused on man-made global warming, politicizing the ‘scientific’ presentation of information and promoting the very view that politicians who have a vested interest in tightening government regulations, allowing for greater control over the economy, translating to greater control over people’s lives. Typically students are asked to write about how ‘human activity has directly contributed to the rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere,’ using ‘multiple pieces of evidence from the text to support their answer.’ The text is limited to one group’s views, presented as truth, and the students are forced to accept it. Indoctrination.”
Consider what occurred recently at Fremont Elementary School in Colorado, when a fifth-grade reading assignment in a workbook aligned with Common Core curriculum guidelines described global warming as an anthropogenic, potentially cataclysmic phenomenon destined to destroy humanity and the natural environment if left unchecked. Titled “Homework from the Future,” the assignment told the fictional story of a visitor to the year 2512 who discovered that, as a result of man-caused global warming, the entire eastern portion of the United States was under water and the country’s population had been greatly reduced. Said the story:
“By the early 21st century, people knew that the massive use of fossil fuels was heating up the planet. But people didn’t stop their destructive lifestyles. They just kept using up Earth’s resources. The ice sheets melted, and Earth’s crust shifted.… In 2130, the oceans began to rise over farmland and cities. In 300 years, most of the eastern United States was covered with water.
After reading the text, students were instructed to answer such questions as: “What caused all the problems on Earth?” and “How could the problems have been avoided?”
Another assignment in the same workbook tells the fictional story of a character named Farmer Laura, who wins the coveted “Farmer of the Year” award by establishing an organic farm that consumes no fossil fuels. “Global climate change is a serious problem,” the story says explicitly.
In March 2013, New Readers Press, a publishing division of ProLiteracy—the world’s largest organization of adult basic education and literacy programs—released a Common Core-aligned “scientific text” stating that global temperatures are rising as a result of industrialized societies’ profligate use of fossil fuels coupled with irresponsible deforestation. The students are then asked to spend ten minutes writing an essay explaining “how human activity has directly contributed to the rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere,” using “multiple pieces of evidence from the text to support their answer.”
Achieve, Inc. recently gathered a group of 18 experienced science, math, and engineering teachers and administrators to formulate the so-called Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which are slated to constitute the next phase of Common Core. Aiding Achieve, Inc. in this process are the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The new NGSS standards call for “performance expectations” that—in a manner reminiscent of Common Core’s Mathematics standards—“focus on understanding and applications as opposed to memorization of facts devoid of context.” Georgia college professor Mary Grabar writes that the NGSS standards “explicitly call for including ideological lessons, such as ‘Human impacts on Earth systems.’” In grades K-2, for instance, a major objective is to make students understand that “things people do can affect the environment, but they can make choices to reduce their impact.” Similarly, in grades 3-5, students learn that “societal activities have had major effects on the land, ocean, atmosphere, and even outer space.” Says Grabar: “’Human impacts on Earth systems’ are huge topics, when approached legitimately. They present quandaries to scientists at the top levels. Yet NGSS imposes them on kindergartners. The objective, of course, is not teaching legitimate science, but indoctrination.”
According to longtime public-school teacher and author Brad McQueen, Common Core’s intellectual leaders are quite comfortable, by and large, in the role of indoctrinators. McQueen reports, for instance, that during his time as a participant in committees that were tasked with reviewing a Common Core/PARCC test, one Common Core handler told him: “We don’t ever care what the kids’ opinions are. If they write what they think or put forth their opinion then they will fail the test…. We want students to repeat the opinions of the ‘experts’ that we expose them to on the test.” “This was not just some irritated, rogue Common Core handler,” McQueen emphasizes. “Rather, this was a philosophy I heard repeated again and again.”
The Debate Regarding Informational Texts & Classic Literature
Numerous detractors of Common Core have charged that under its new State Standards, children’s exposure to classics of Western literature will be either eliminated or greatly diminished in favor of “informational texts” or technical material like government documents, court opinions, IRS forms, EPA regulations, and user manuals for consumer electronics, etc. Commonly, these critics object to the fact that from grades 6 through 12, such informational texts constitute an ever-increasing percentage of all reading materials in ELA classes—growing from about 50% in grade 6, to approximately 70% in senior year of high school.
A dispassionate consideration of the facts, however, seems to discredit this particular concern. For instance, in an April 2014 analysis of New York State’s official version of the Common Core Standards, Manhattan Institute scholar Sol Stern points out that the actual list of “exemplar” 11th-grade informational texts reads as follows:
“Is this list as damaging to a good liberal arts education as [critics suggest]?” asks Stern. “Does it really make any sense to dismiss works by Thoreau, Emerson and de Tocqueville on grounds that they are merely ‘informational’ and not ‘literary’? Knowledgeable parents are likely to appreciate that, taken as a whole, these non-fiction readings, some of them American classics, are more academically rigorous and come closer to reflecting our nation’s republican experience, than anything their children have been offered up to now in their junior year in high school.”
As Stern makes plain, warnings that Common Core will necessarily cause important writings to be discarded in favor of an endless parade of government documents, tax forms, and technical manuals, are unfounded. Further, the Common Core Standards make it clear that 11th-grade teachers are not required to teach any one of the particular texts in the list above; rather, the list is meant only to suggest “text exemplars illustrating the complexity, quality, and range of reading appropriate for various grade levels.” Moreover, the Standards document emphasizes:
“While the Standards make reference to some particular forms of content, including mythology, foundational U.S. documents, and Shakespeare, they do not—indeed cannot—enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn. The Standards must therefore be complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum consistent with the expectations laid out in this document.”
Stern likewise rejects “similar baseless horror stories about the Standards’ ‘displacement’ of great literature” that “have appeared on a regular basis … in both conservative and liberal publications.” He then reproduces the entire list of exemplar literary texts for the 11th grade:
Novels and Stories
Common Core’s Treatment of Historical Texts
According to a study by the Boston-based Pioneer Institute, “Common Core’s standards writers … call for the ‘cold reading’ of historical documents” like Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or the Declaration of Independence, meaning that they are to be presented to students without explanation of the context or background from which they emerged. Adds the Institute: “David Coleman, the principal author of the Common Core ELA standards, says that excluding texts’ historical context helps ‘level the playing field.’”
The Pioneer Institute’s report was indeed an accurate portrayal of Common Core’s methodology when its State Standards were first unveiled. In a Common Core lesson about the Gettysburg Address, for instance, teachers were explicitly instructed to: refrain from providing any historical background prior to the lesson; read the speech without feeling; and omit its religious references. This prompted critics to complain that such an approach made it impossible to convey the immense significance of the document itself. As Mary Grabar put it: “The strategy puts the Gettysburg Address on the same plane as other ‘informational texts,’ say about frogs or snakes.”
Similarly, Stanford University’s “Reading Like a Historian” Project offered Common Core teachers a lesson plan on the Cold War featuring four major documents: excerpts from Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, the Truman Doctrine speech, a telegram sent by Soviet Ambassador Nikolai Novikov to the Soviet leadership in 1946, and a modified letter written by Henry Wallace shortly before President Truman asked him to resign. The “Guiding Questions” for this lesson focused on “close reading” and “context.” But students were given very little information about the political backdrop behind these documents. Thus when they were asked in the final question, “Who was primarily responsible for the Cold War, the United States or the Soviet Union?” they were likely to assign an equal share of blame to both parties.
In response to widespread criticism of this method of teaching about historical documents, the Common Core writers (including the aforementioned Susan Pimentel) subsequently loosened some of their strictures against providing students with context for their reading assignments—so long as the teachers refrained from revealing the main points of a complex text before the pupils attempted to tackle it themselves. “There were a lot of things said early on while Common Core was coming out that haven’t passed the ‘sniff test’ with teachers,” says Scholastic Education president Margery Mayer. “The whole idea that there should be no background knowledge … I don’t think teachers bought that, and they modified it and clarified it.”
Common Core’s Focus on Short Reading Passages
Another noteworthy characteristic of Common Core is that it places greater emphasis on “in-depth” reading of short passages, than on long fictional or historical narratives. The purpose of this approach, as explained in the Publisher’s Criteria, is the expectation that a focus on short texts will be more likely to equalize outcomes among students of different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. This ideal of ensuring that no individual student advances too far beyond his or her peers is further promoted by the recommended technique of gathering students into groups to collaborate on the short passages.
Common Core’s Search Engine
Common Core has developed its own search engine, called ProQuest K12/SIRS Knowledge Source (SIRS), specially designed for student research. Featuring a portal to what Common Core calls “relevant, credible information carefully hand-selected by our SIRS editorial staff,” this search engine allows students to conduct broad-based searches of all its databases. Alternatively, students may also conduct more targeted searches within a particular, more narrowly focused database:
Notably, the SIRS system is only available to students at their schools. Neither students nor parents can access the search engine from their homes. Some critics assert that this violates the Protection of Pupil Rights Act, which grants parents the right to inspect all instructional materials to which their children are exposed.
Those Who Profit from Common Core
Many supporters of Common Core are corporations and non-profits that collaborate with the U.S. Department of Education and stand to reap huge sums of money from their efforts to help implement Common Core-related texts, tools, curricula, and professional development programs. One such company is the Grow Network, which provides customized test reports and instructional materials for educators as well as for students and their families. The Grow Network’s CEO is David Coleman, one of the three principal authors of Common Core’s State Standards. As schoolteacher Chasidy Miroff has noted, “The creators of the Common Core standards have now taken jobs with testing companies which stand to make millions of dollars developing tests based on the standards they created.”
Educational testing has become a very big business in recent years. Studies conducted by the Pew Center on the States and the Brookings Institution indicate that between 2001 and 2012, annual state spending on standardized tests increased from $552 million to $1.7 billion. This huge increase was due chiefly to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and its heavy emphasis on standardized testing. But according to Dr. Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, the testing-related expenditures associated with Common Core will soon dwarf those of NCLB. Krashen predicts that under Common Core, such spending will multiply another twenty-fold.
Two consortia of states (SBAC and PARCC) have already received a combined $360 million in federal funds to create national Common Core-aligned tests and “curriculum models.” Moreover, corporations such as Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the multinational textbook company Pearson LLC are also competing for the lucrative rights to design Common Core tests. The ties between these companies and Common Core’s central figures are tightly woven. In October 2012, for instance, David Coleman became President of the College Board, which administers tests designed by ETS (like the SAT). The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, meanwhile, has partnered with Pearson LLC to create online curricula for Common Core. Pearson and other publishers of educational materials are constantly promoting new Common Core-compliant products such as textbooks, workbooks, videos, software programs, and other instructional aids. This in itself has become a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Collection of Personal Information
A particularly controversial feature of Common Core is its Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS), which collects personal information on individual students and then archives it an ever-expanding data-stream file, essentially creating a dossier of students’ beliefs and behaviors that will follow them throughout their lives.
The initial groundwork for SLDS was laid in 2011, when the U.S. Department of Education declared that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which spelled out existing education privacy regulations, should be “reinterpreted.” Access to children’s centralized personal data—which traditionally had been limited to classroom teachers only—would now be extended to also include any organization even tangentially involved in a child’s education—e.g., research, testing, technology, and textbook companies. Moreover, parental notification or permission would no longer be required in order for a school to share students’ personal data with such outside groups or companies. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put it, laws requiring parental permission for the sharing of a child’s data “do not apply to the collection, disclosure, or use of personal information collected from students for the exclusive purpose of developing, evaluating, or providing educational products or services for or to students or educational institutions.”
Because of this policy change, untold numbers of companies and organizations now have access to large amounts of information pertaining to millions of American children (and, where applicable, their parents)—e.g., date of birth, place of birth, Social Security Number, mother’s maiden name, home addresses, names of classroom teachers, school enrollment histories, graduation/dropout histories, program participation records, demographic characteristics (race, ethnicity, etc.), school transcripts, standardized test scores, behavioral issues, discipline history, cognitive abilities, school attendance records, medical records, nicknames, religious affiliations and practices, political affiliations, extracurricular activities, bus stop times, sex behavior or attitudes, mental and psychological evaluations, feelings of abandonment due to a parent’s divorce, feelings about parents’ political leanings on a multitude of topics, family income and public-assistance status, whether the household contains such appliances as a clothes dryer or dishwasher, number of bedrooms in the student’s home and who sleeps in each one, languages spoken in the home, and critical appraisals (by educators) of other individuals with whom students have close family relationships.
The U.S. Department of Education recently sponsored a study titled “Tenacity, Grit, and Perseverance,” which made recommendations on how Common Core might collect and use additional “non-cognitive” data about schoolchildren nationwide. For example, the report recommended that:
On page 44 of its February 2013 report, the U.S. Department of Education displayed photographs of “four parallel streams of affective sensors” that, in an ideal world, could be hooked up to schoolchildren in order to “provide constant, parallel streams of data.” In conjunction with the aforementioned “data-mining techniques and self-report measures,” such sensors would theoretically yield insight into children’s patterns of “frustration, motivation/flow, confidence, boredom, and fatigue.”
The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based research organization, reports that Common Core also aims to track assessments of children’s “flexibility,” “cultural awareness and competence,” “appreciation for diversity,” “empathy,” “perspective taking,” “trust,” and “service orientation.”
The storage place for whatever information is collected under the auspices of Common Core via the various methods described above, is a private database called InBloom, which is funded mainly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. There are already several instances on record, most notably in New York, where the personal information of students archived in InBloom has been compromised. In response to revelations of these privacy breaches, the CEO of InBloom stated dismissively that his company had never issued a guarantee of data security.
Opponents of Common Core’s data-mining practices (coupled with InBloom’s data-storage service) point to the possibility that this voluminous information on students and their families could someday be used for political purposes by candidates, parties, or nonprofit activist groups seeking to discredit, embarrass, or intimidate their political opponents. As public-school teacher and author Brad McQueen writes: “Wouldn’t it be helpful to an establishment political group to release some behavioral records or therapy session notes during your rebellious period in high school should you ever challenge or threaten their positions? Add on to that having access to all of your medical records aggregated under Obamacare and the Internal Revenue Service. This would make for a pretty compliant electorate.”
There are also monetary motivations to consider. It is quite conceivable that the student information stored by InBloom could be exploited by businesses seeking to reach target markets with carefully tailored advertising messages for various products and services. “The end purpose,” warns Amy Skalicky, “is to be able to inventory and monitor the human capital, our children. Major corporations have invested a lot of money in [Common Core] education and they are expecting a return on that investment.” Bill Gates himself, when interviewing InBloom’s CEO during a panel discussion on technology in education, openly marveled at the prospect of being able to use all of that collected data to tap into the estimated $9 billion market that is represented in K-12 classrooms.
States That Have Dropped Common Core
As of September 2014, three of the original 46 states that signed on to the Common Core State Standards had officially repealed them. Those three states were Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Indiana. In addition, 34 states had introduced various pieces of anti-Common Core legislation; 16 states had either withdrawn or were in the process of withdrawing from the Common Core test consortia; and 27 states had introduced legislation to ban the use of SBAC or PARCC assessments.
* This overview of Common Core was produced by Discover The Networks in September 2014.
Common Core and the Centralization of American Education
By The Heritage Foundation
March 24, 2016