All about Obama Core

Jul 22, 2013 by

Robert Nemeth – While Obamacare, the president’s controversial health care reform, has been widely debated, little has been said about Obama Core, another federal intervention with significant consequences. That’s unfortunate.

When the Common Core of State Standards — new national norms in math and English curriculum — was unveiled three years ago, it was expected to elevate the United States from academic mediocrity to international prominence. But it wasn’t the prospect of academic excellence that persuaded school boards and governors in 45 states to jump on the bandwagon. It was a huge federal carrot the Obama administration dangled in front of their noses in the form of a $4.35 billion stimulus program, titled “Race to the Top.” It is the successor of “No Child Left Behind,” another federal boondoggle with a catchy title.

Major disenchantment with Common Core has set in only recently, as implementation hit the district level. The opposition has been sudden and potent. Several states are considering legislation to delay or end implementation. Indiana, Pennsylvania and Michigan have officially suspended it, with more states likely to follow.

There are good reasons for the backlash. People now realize that the new standards violate the tradition of debate and citizen control that are supposed to govern public education. The standards were developed behind closed doors by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — private organizations — and copyrighted. Adoption was then strongarmed by the Obama administration via stimulus programs and waivers that the feds granted to states.

According to a Stanford University study, the new math standards would put kids two years behind their top-scoring international peers by grade seven. They have been characterized as “fuzzy math” that offers very little arithmetic or standard algorithms.

The English and literature standards are even worse because they de-emphasize classical literature in favor of nonfiction and informational reading. Even though analyzing great literature gives students all the critical thinking they need, Common Core promotes reading non-traditional authors from Africa and the Far East rather than Western classics.

It is easy to understand why the White House promotes the Common Core. If President Obama wants to “fundamentally transform American society,” as he promised in 2008, nothing could be more effective for that purpose than nationalizing the country’s system of education. The Core is the backbone of an education agenda that seeks to narrow the “achievement gap” between groups of students by lowering standards, doing away with meaningful achievement tests such as MCAS, and relocating investment in schools.

The U.S. Department of Education, under the leadership of Arne Duncan, another product of Chicago politics, has established an Equity and Excellence Commission, charged with “finding ways to restructure school finance systems to achieve equity distribution of education resources and further student achievement and attainment.” Translation: Take money from the suburbs and give it to urban school systems.

The strategy, promoted by the White House, is to bring local education under federal control through enforcing a national curriculum, bypassing parents, state and local school boards. The new standards are to replace existing curriculums and are locked in by tests called “assessments.”

Because federal laws prohibit the central government from directing funding or controlling any state or local education standards, the White House uses surrogates — commissions and foundations — as well as financial pressure to coerce states to adopt the Core. The U.S. Department of Education is paying others to do what it is forbidden from doing. For example, $362 million in federal grants went to two national consortia for developing methods to help states with the transition.

Even though supporters claim the Core is “internationally benchmarked,” they can’t name any country to which it is pegged. Nor is there any evidence that setting national standards yields superior outcomes. Some countries that beat us on international exams have national standards. But so do most countries that finish below us.

Moreover, making standards uniform across the country reduces the benefits of competition between states and districts, which vie to attract residents and businesses. Worse yet, Common Core cripples individual choice, which is highly concerning because all children are unique and need different things. Even autonomous charter schools, which already must use state standards, will become more similar to one other.

Nowhere is the problem more evident than in Massachusetts, where the Education Reform Act of 1993 produced remarkable improvement. High standards, mandatory testing, and the commitment of huge sums of money propelled the Bay State to national prominence in teaching and learning.

With its one-size-fits all, politically driven agenda, Obama Core threatens to sacrifice decades of progress.

Massachusetts, the birthplace of many great writers and poets, has been known as the cradle of American literature. The 1993 reform law was carefully crafted to nurture that legacy. Obama Core gives the humanities short shrift in favor of “soft skills” and “practical disciplines” such as global awareness, media savvy and cultural competence.

That’s too bad because an enlightened society needs intellectual depth to flourish.

via All about Obama Core – Worcester Telegram & Gazette –

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