Editor’s Note: The original post was published by the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.
James O’Keefe’s undercover videos reveal what activists have been saying for years: Common Core is a set of standards written not for the benefit of students, but to enrich crony capitalists, such as mega-curriculum companies, Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt, Pearson, and National Geographic Education.
The latest, the fourth video, records former Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt executive Gilbert Garcia describing the constant “politicking” among school board members and superintendents, and former Pearson employee Kim Koerber describing how the 2013 $1.3 billion contract for supplying I-Pads to the Los Angeles school district was “written for Pearson to win.” After an FBI investigation into bid-rigging, Pearson, in 2015, agreed to pay the district $6.4 million in a settlement.
Pearson issued a statement calling remarks in the videos “offensive,” asserting that they do not reflect the values of the company’s 40,000 employees.
But the Big Government-Big Education alliance has also had positive trickle-down effects for professors, who have benefited with publishing contracts and grants for their institutions. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the biggest funder of Common Core, continues to support universities that help in implementing their education initiatives. To name a few, in November, the Foundation announced a grant of $34.7 millionfor “transformation centers” to improve teacher preparation programs on the campuses of the University of Michigan, Texas Tech University, and the Relay Graduate School of Education, as well as at the National Center for Teacher Residencies, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. That same month, a grant of $1,799,710 was awarded to “support collaboration between Vanderbilt [University] and the Tennessee Department of Education in the area of education research and improvement,” and$764,553 was awarded to the University of Florida for “teacher leader fellows.”
Professors hopped on the Common Core gravy train at the get-go, as I described in 2012, in my report for Accuracy in Media, “Terrorist Professor Bill Ayers and Obama’s Federal School Curriculum.” There was the curious fact that Bill Ayers gave a keynote address at the 2009 convention of the Renaissance Group, “a national consortium of colleges, universities and professional organizations” dedicated to teaching and education. Of course, I made no claim that Ayers wrote the standards; I just noted that he appeared at this conference in Washington with then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, his under secretary, and a representative from Achieve, the company that orchestrated Common Core. Ayers’s close colleague, Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, led Obama’s education transition team and oversaw one of the two national Common Core tests.
Less well-known professors, who had bristled at the imposition of “standards,” suddenly began embracing Common Core standards. This was the case with education professor Lucy Calkins and her colleagues at Columbia Teachers College, Bill Ayers’s alma mater, long a bastion of anti-testing/anti-standards. These professors began writing teacher guidebooks, and presenting talks and workshops. Since co-authoringPathways to the Common Core, Calkins continues to do work for the publisher, Heinemann, a part of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her “Units of Study” curriculum is described by the publisher as a bestseller. She also writes performance assessments, including the Grade 1 “Units of Study” in “Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing.” (Yes, students in first grade are expected to write op-eds.) In a short video, Calkinsexplains her teaching philosophy that involves mini-lessons and group work.
In 2012, Marc Aronson, a lecturer in communications and information at Rutgers University, was advertising himself as a “Common Core Consultant,” speaker, and author. Today, he describes himself on his personalwebsite as an “author, professor, speaker, editor and publisher who believes that young people, especially pre-teens and teenagers, are smart, passionate, and capable of engaging with interesting ideas in interesting ways.”
Aronson apparently believes that pre-teens and teenagers are smart enough to weed out the lies in his Common Core-compliant middle school and high school textbook, Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies. As I noted in my report, Aronson presents the KGB-fabricated lies about the FBI director’s homosexuality as probable. For the benefit of 11-year-olds, he posits that photographs of Hoover with his friend Clyde Tolson “might be seen as lovers’ portraits.” The book is filled with sexual innuendo and dwells on such irrelevant details in order to ascribe motives to Hoover for his presumably unfounded fears about the communist threat. The accompanying discussion guide is a masterpiece of disguise: as ideological questions bearing their own answers.
It is therefore not surprising that Aronson would now write an article in the School Library Journal casting a skeptical eye on O’Keefe’s undercover videos and asking readers to “consider the source,” as the subheading to the headline, “Is Common Core Just a Scam to Sell Books?” asks. He distances himself from the sales executives but never directly names the “source” that one should “consider.” (Innuendo seems to be his modus operandi.) The implication is O’Keefe. Aronson admits, “As a nonfiction fan, author, and editor, I have a stake in this.” He denies that his stake is in the rise in nonfiction sales that have come as Common Core standards have edged out literature in favor of “informational texts.” No, Aronson fell “in love with the standards” when he first read them, “years before they had any impact on royalty statements.”
Aronson also claims to have served recently on the New Jersey team that evaluated that state’s English Language Arts (ELA) and Math standards. Contrary to the executives’ statements captured in the videos, his “team” carefully examined the standards “one by one, grade by grade, and listened to extensive comments from teachers, administrators, parents, professionals, and business leaders.” He claims that he saw “commitment, not greed.”
He presents a “guiding principle” that sounds very familiar to those of us whose eyes have glazed and brains have flopped like dying fish from the Common Core sales literature: “From the first, our guiding principle was this: What will someone awarded a high school diploma be ready for? The group looked at each educational stage and benchmark to consider what students would need to know to be ready for the next step, and the next, so that after graduation they would have the skill set to begin the next phase of their lives.”
Aronson’s team included comments by Amy Rominiecki, a Certified School Library Media Specialist, on behalf of the New Jersey Association of School Librarians, in their report. (He links back to her statement when she testified in support of Common Core.) The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also funded studies for the American Library Association (the parent organization of the American Association of School Librarians) on such things as Technology Access, training, and participation in the federal E-rate program.
Aronson attributes the continuing low performance of 12th graders in math and reading to economic inequality, stating, “If more students had more resources (social, emotional, financial, cultural, and technological), more would be ready to meet the challenges and opportunities that follow after secondary education.”
Of course, this author and educational entrepreneur has only the purest motives: “the children.” Money may be important, “yet, there is a role for standards to play.” To that end, “as educators and communities who care about our nation’s youth, it is necessary we establish a path that’s best for as many students.”
Such bromides bring big bucks in the education world. I am reminded of words by Bill Ayers at an education conference in 2013, something about being finite creatures hurtling through infinite space. Now if we could only learn how much Bill Ayers was paid for that keynote speech in Washington in 2009.
Mary Grabar, Ph.D., taught college English for 20 years. She is now a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. She founded the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., a 501(c)(3) education reform initiative that offers information and resources for students, parents and citizens. The motto, “Resisting the Re-Education of America,” arose in part from her perspective as a very young immigrant from the former Communist Yugoslavia (Slovenia specifically). She writes extensively and is also a published poet and fiction writer. Ms. Grabar is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.
Photo by woodleywonderworks