Common Core: Historic Detour

, Mary Grabar, Leave a comment

Stanley Kurtz, in his latest book, Spreading the Wealth, maintains that a nationalized curriculum is part of an effort to replace local governments with regional boards, which would disburse local tax dollars equally among school districts. Once all schools are the same—with the same curriculum and the same funding—people will no longer have the incentive to move to good suburbs.

While Obama’s community organizing mentor, Mike Kruglik, implements the regionalism advocated by the Gamaliel Foundation through Building One America, Ayers’ close associate, Linda Darling-Hammond, exercises “de facto control” through education.

Both Ayers and Darling-Hammond were leaders in the small schools movement. She has published a collection edited by Ayers. Both have been advocates of ending funding disparities between urban and suburban schools, ending standardized testing, and attacking “white privilege.”

She has been a board member of CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), a group housed at the University of Illinois at Chicago, that provides studies of, and services for, Emotional Intelligence in schools—but really emotional manipulation aimed at making students global citizens.

Both also failed to improve schools or test scores. Ayers’ Annenberg Challenge failed miserably. The school created by Darling-Hammond, Stanford New Schools, which targeted low-income Hispanic and black students, had the distinction of making California’s list of the lowest-achieving five percent. Much of the reason may be her “five-dimensional grading rubric” of personal responsibility, social responsibility, communication skills, application of knowledge, and critical and creative thinking.

Yet, Darling-Hammond served as education director on Obama’s transition team. In a January 2, 2009, Huffington Post column, Ayers argued for her nomination as Education Secretary. That summer, Darling-Hammond pushed Common Core in the Harvard Educational Review.

Darling-Hammond is in charge of content specifications at the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which received $176 million of federal Race-to-the-Top money to develop Common Core testing. She appears frequently as a speaker and board member of other affiliated organizations. For example, she sits on the Governing Board of the Alliance for Excellent Education, Inc., recipient of a $500,000 Gates grant “to advocate for high school reform at the federal level in order to educate federal policy members about Common Core standards. . .”

In the August 2009 Harvard Educational Review, Darling-Hammond gave a preview of new standards as she argued for “deep understanding” and advancing beyond “the narrow views of the last eight years” by “developing creativity, critical thinking skills, and the capacity to innovate.” New assessments would use “multiple measures of learning and performance.” These would presumably emulate “high-achieving nations” that emphasize “essay questions and open-ended responses as well as research and scientific investigations, complex real-world problems, and extensive use of technology.”

In an April 28, 2010, Education Week article, “Developing an Internationally Comparable Balanced Assessment System,” Darling-Hammond claimed that the new assessment system is “designed to go beyond recall of facts and show students’ abilities to evaluate evidence, problem solve and understand context.” Bill Ayers, throughout his writings, likens the testing for “facts” to a factory or prison system, and agrees with Darling-Hammond’s emphasis on criteria like “student growth along multiple dimensions.” Such buzzwords thinly disguise an agenda of replacing the objective measurement of knowledge and skills with teachers’ subjective appraisals of students’ attitudes and behavior.

Former testing foes, like Columbia Teachers College professor Lucy Calkins, now advance Common Core standards. Although long an incubator of anti-testing advocates, Columbia has produced the authors of the popular Pathways to the Common Core (2012), one of them Calkins.

Pathways is maddening in its lack of specificity.

Repeatedly, the authors inveigh against “skill-and-drill” and favor “deep reading” and “higher-level thinking”; but they fail to say how this will be done or even what it means. They discuss “read[ing] within the four corners of the text” and having readers get “their mental arms around a text,” but offer no specific, much less tested, strategies for improving reading comprehension. They contradict themselves when they cite studies that show that students who read fiction improve reading levels and then promote nonfiction. When examples of informational texts are given, they are most often from left-leaning publications, often on trivial subjects.

Common Core thus promises to eliminate the idea of a common core of knowledge—through the privileging of leftist “informational texts” and material presented in a scattershot manner. The national and cultural identity that is conveyed through a wide and interconnected exposure to literary works from Mother Goose to Shakespeare will be undermined.
While proponents tout a close, critical reading of short texts, or excerpts, the truth is that the approach lends itself to infinite interpretations wildly off the mark. The approach—where uninformed groups of students speculate about “original documents”—is intended to make them radically skeptical of any historical legacy.

Original documents are presented in such a manner as to actually diminish them. For example, a sample exercise about Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address threw teachers into confusion when they were instructed to refrain from providing background and to read the speech without feeling. In this way, this pivotal document is stripped of its historical significance and eloquence.

Nor are the religious references, so important to Lincoln’s speeches, to be mentioned. The strategy puts the Gettysburg Address on the same plane as other “informational texts,” say about frogs or snakes.

Mary Grabar, Ph.D., is founder of the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., which is committed to “resisting the re-education of America.” Sign up for “dispatches” at www.dissidentprof.com. Her other publications can be found at www.marygrabar.com and include Accuracy in Media, PJ Media, Weekly Standard, Minding the Campus, and many others. She teaches English at Emory University.

 

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