An Interview with Emmett Mc Groarty and Jane Robbins: Comments on Common Core

Jan 22, 2013 by

Core logoMichael F. Shaughnessy –

1) As you know, there is much debate and discussion over the Common Core system, what are your main concerns?

Answer: Our concerns fall into six categories1:

  • Manner of creation and propagation – The national Common Core standards (CC) were not created by the states, but rather by private organizations in Washington, DC, with lavish funding from private entities such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The U.S. Department of Education (USED) then used legally suspect means – the Race to the Top competition and the promise of waivers from No Child Left Behind – to impose CC on the states. This effort has been accompanied by a misleading campaign to present CC as “state-led” and “voluntary.”
  • Mediocre quality — The CC standards, which are intended to prepare students for nonselective community colleges rather than four-year universities, are inferior to those of some states and no better than those of many others. CC’s English language arts (ELA) standards consist of empty skill sets that, once implemented, might not require reading skills any higher than middle-school level. Furthermore, their de-emphasis of the study of classic literature in favor of “informational texts” abandons the goal of truly educating students, focusing instead on training them for static jobs. Among the many deficiencies of the mathematics standards is their placement of algebra I in grade 9 rather than grade 8, thus ensuring that most students will not reach calculus in high school, and their mandate to teach geometry according to an experimental method never used successfully anywhere in the world. Contrary to previous claims by their creators, the CC standards are not “internationally benchmarked.”

  • Illegal direction of curriculum and usurpation of state autonomy – The point of standards and assessments is to drive curriculum. By imposing CC on the states, and by funding the aligned assessments and imposing those on the states as well, USED is violating three federal statutes prohibiting its direction, supervision, or control of curriculum. In addition, because states that adopt CC must accept the standards word for word and will have little opportunity to add content, the states must relinquish their autonomy over public education, all to the denigration of parents’ rights.
  • Vague and unaccountable governance – It is not clear what governance structure will be created in the future to address issues related to CC. What is clear is that the standards are owned and copyrighted by nongovernmental entities unaccountable to parents and students in individual states.
  • Costs – The most thorough national study done of the potential costs of implementing CC and the assessments estimates nationwide costs of almost $16 billion over seven years. Continuing costs will be substantial, especially with respect to professional development and technology maintenance and upgrades.
  • Threats to student and family privacy – USED is using the standards and the assessments as vehicles to mandate the construction of massive state student databases. USED has also gutted federal student-privacy law to allow greater sharing of student data with other government agencies and private entities. Partnering with the U.S. Department of Labor, USED seeks to build a data system that allows tracking of individual students from preschool through the workforce. This vision not only creates substantial risks of privacy breach, but also encompasses a worldview that is greatly at odds with American founding principles.

2) Many individuals are upset that this Common Core determines what children learn, and who teaches them. What are the issues in this regard?

See third bulleted paragraph above. CC proponents claim that these are just standards, not curriculum, and that states will still control the curriculum. But as the CC-aligned assessments are implemented, the federal government (which is paying for the assessments) will be able to determine what is taught in the schools – what’s on the test is what’s taught in the classroom. The assessments are high-stakes, meaning that teachers, schools, districts, and states will be evaluated according to how students perform on the tests. Moreover, the two consortia developing the tests with federal money are also developing curriculum models to align with the tests. The coupling of the standards and assessments means that states have effectively lost control of their curriculum. A national standardized curriculum is coming.

3) Now, in terms of freedom of information what child and family information can the federal government  collect and share. How does this fit into the picture?

See sixth bulleted paragraph above. USED encourages states, through the National Education Data Model, to include over 400 data points in their student databases – everything from health status to disciplinary history to family income range and religious affiliation.2 Then, even though it is forbidden by statute to maintain a national student database, USED is coercing the states via federal grants – and the CC-aligned assessments – to share this data with USED. The Department can then share this data with other agencies and even private entities as long as it claims the sharing is in furtherance of “research” or an “audit or evaluation” of a federal program. This new “flexibility” in data-sharing results from USED’s wholesale rewriting of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) through new regulations in early 2012.3

4) I understand that this week Indiana is considering a bill to reverse the implementation of the requirements in favor of local control. Who is involved in this and how did this come about?

Indiana State Senator Scott Schneider introduced a CC-withdrawal bill last year after being approached by two of his constituents, Heather Crossin and Erin Tuttle, who were concerned about the CC-aligned math being taught in their children’s school. The bill didn’t make it out of committee because there was so little information about CC, but over the summer a groundswell of opposition to CC developed as the public learned more about it. This month Sen. Schneider reintroduced withdrawal legislation. A hearing was held before the Senate Education and Career Development Committee last Wednesday, preceded by an anti-CC rally that drew over 500 people. The vote in the committee has not yet been taken.

5) What is this American Principles Project?

APP was founded in 2009 to reinvigorate and restore the principles that made our country great. We defend and promote the universal truths that we are all “created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Please visit our website, http://americanprinciplesproject.org/about-app/what-is-at-stake/. We work as the people’s think-tank, doing research and policy analyses that parents and other citizens need in order to most effectively defend their liberties.

6) Tell us about this  co-authored  piece for The Blaze  which seems to target a particularly egregious component of the Core:  the English Language Arts (ELA) standards

The ELA standards are premised on the idea that even English education should be geared toward workforce development – not educating students as complete human beings, but rather training them to be cogs in the global economic machine. To this end, the ELA standards diminish the study of classic literature in favor of nonfiction “informational texts” that supposedly will better prepare students for the types of reading they will do in their future jobs. In the first place, there is no historical or empirical evidence supporting the proposition that students become better readers by being exposed to dry nonfiction rather than great stories; in fact, the evidence is all to the contrary.4 In the second place, the “informational text” mandate opens the door for curriculum producers to push bias and indoctrination into the English classroom.5

7) Now, many principals and teachers are aware of the continually increasing number of students with special needs- autism, emotional disturbance, intellectual disabilities, head injury, and health and medical needs. It seems that at a time when more and more children have special needs that the government is demanding more and more of teachers—or am I off on this?

No, you are exactly right. And this situation reinforces the folly of CC – the idea that education can be standardized for 300 million people, and the standardized model imposed on every school. The Bill Gates premise (CC was largely financed by the Gates Foundation) that we can have one “Common Core operating system” for more efficient functioning of schools is simply misguided. At the heart of it, teaching has to do with the care of the person, just like the medical and legal professions and just like coaching and the ministry. No one would ever argue that those professions should be hinged on a single operating system, and neither should teaching.

8) Many literature teachers are flustered and exasperated by demands of the Common Core to require them to focus less on creative literature and more on nonfiction “informational texts.” So instead of teaching Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, they must spend more time on less classic American literature. Who decides what kids are going to read?

See response to question 6 above. Although CC proponents claim that state and local officials and teachers will still decide what students will read, the ELA standards make this pretty much impossible. A teacher who wishes to teach Paradise Lost may theoretically do so, but because CC discards British literature (except for a little Shakespeare), that material will not be on the national tests. And because so much of the class (half, or more) must be devoted to informational texts, a teacher simply will not have time to assign complete novels such as Huckleberry Finn. Her operating margins will be very small. For an account from a college English professor about the result of this scheme, see http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2012/humanist-where-art-thou.html.

9) That about history texts and reading- what is required in that realm?

Theoretically, CC covers just ELA and mathematics, not history, science, etc. However, the ELA standards also cover “literacy” in “history, social studies, science, and technical subjects.” This means that texts from those subjects will be included and that, supposedly, English teachers will be held accountable for how well students grasp them. For a list of the types of history texts that are recommended, see http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_B.pdf (these include such stimulating texts as documents from the Federal Reserve). Curriculum models that are being offered by various publishers include lessons about the US’s shared responsibility for the Cold War and about the effect of J. Edgar Hoover’s repressed homosexuality on his irrational fear of Communism.6

10) What have I neglected to ask?

You might ask about “fuzzy math.” CC’s math standards eventually teach the standard algorithms (i.e., the standard means of calculating addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), but they delay those lessons until after students have been taught “alternative” ways of working the problems. The alternatives are the “fuzzy math” that was the rage in the 80s and 90s. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

If you think of other questions, please call Emmett McGroarty (202.503.2010) or Jane Robbins (404.697.3885).

2 See http://nces.ed.gov/forum/datamodel/eiebrowser/techview.aspx?instance=studentElementarySecondary.

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