“Race to the Top” required that states commit to yet-to-be-written Common Core standards in math and English/Language Arts (ELA). Today, Common Core has the support of Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and was included in the platform of the Democratic National Convention. It was embraced by former Republican Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, much to the consternation of Tea Party groups, who see this as an unconstitutional federal takeover of education. The Republican Party is divided.
Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins, in their white paper “Controlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core Is Bad for America,” describe the pressure and sleight-of-hand that led governors to sign onto a commitment that was then changed before the ink had fully dried. They reveal that rather than being a state-led reform initiative, as touted, the new standards were written by a few well-connected, but non-qualified, education entrepreneurs. The history goes back decades, but in the most recent phase, the vision for Common Core was set in 2007, by the Washington-based contractor, Achieve, Inc., in a document entitled Benchmarking for Success.
The question is: Why was Bill Ayers keynoting a conference attended by the two highest officials in the Education Department and by Achieve, essentially the project manager of the nationalized education curriculum? It may be years before we know how often Ayers visited the White House, but the Ayers educational brand or philosophy is all over Common Core.
Some states are waking up. Virginia pulled out when Governor Bob McDonnell was elected. Georgia, Indiana, Utah, South Carolina, and others have begun the effort to extricate themselves.
When South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said she would support a state legislative effort to block Common Core, which her predecessor had instituted, Education Secretary Arne Duncan dismissed her concerns about nationally imposed standards as “a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy.”
But it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to realize that Common Core will ultimately dictate the curriculum. Two consortia of states (SBAC and PARCC) have been given $360 million in federal funds to create national Common Core-aligned tests and “curriculum models.”
Well-connected companies, such as Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the multinational textbook company Pearson, are in competition to design the test. David Coleman, a chief architect of the Common Core standards for English/Language Arts, recently was named President of the College Board, which administers tests, including those designed by ETS, like the SAT.
The Education Department on August 12, 2012, announced another competition for $400 million in Race-to-the-Top funds for local districts to “personalize learning, close achievement gaps and take full advantage of 21st century tools.” Such a competition cleverly bypasses recalcitrant states and lures individual districts into the federal web.
The feds’ announcement echoes Common Core’s emphasis on personalized learning and leveling of achievement through technology and collaboration (the “21st century skills”). Common Core emphasizes “in-depth” reading of short passages, rather than long fictional or historical narratives.
The Publisher’s Criteria reveal that a focus on short texts will equalize outcomes. Text selection guide B mandates that “all students (including those who are behind) have extensive opportunities to encounter grade-level complex text” through “supplementary opportunities.” The strategy of gathering students into groups to collaborate on short passages ensures that no one advances beyond others.
In the tradition of John Dewey, multiple “perspectives” and “critical thinking” are emphasized over the accumulation of “facts.” Common Core advertises itself as promoting “skills,” rather than content. The skills, though, do not promise to make students more knowledgeable about literature or history, but to make them “critical thinkers” in the tradition of the radical curriculum writers who are selectively critical of the U.S. and the West.
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.