An Interview with Jane Robbins: Reflections on the Common Core

Jul 22, 2013 by

…threat posed by Common Core to local and parental control over education.

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico 
1)        Jane, first of all, tell us about yourself-your education and experience.
I’m a graduate of Clemson University and Harvard Law School, and I formerly practiced labor law with an Atlanta firm and then taught legal writing. For the last 2+ years I’ve been a senior fellow with the American Principles Project, which is dedicated to restoring America’s founding principles in government and civil society. Most of that time I’ve worked on the threat posed by Common Core to local and parental control over education. 
Among other papers, I co-authored (with Emmett McGroarty) the APP/Pioneer Institute white paper “Controlling Education From the Top: Why Common Core Is Bad for America.” I’ve testified before the legislatures of six states about the problems with Common Core.
2)        Now, your global, general reaction to “ Common Core “.
Common Core is a workforce-development model, not an education model. The standards represent a centralized, top-down approach to converting public (and ultimately private) education to an industrial framework – to prepare students for nonselective community colleges or entry-level jobs, not for true college coursework. And of course, control over the standards rests with anonymous, unaccountable private interests in Washington. 
The result will be that parents and teachers who wish to weigh in on the deficiencies of the standards will have no recourse.  States that have adopted Common Core have completely relinquished their constitutional autonomy over the English language arts and math education of their students (and eventually over other subjects as well).
3)        Jane, I may be getting old, but I have seen so many changes since the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s and so on. Is Common Core just another fad that will fade ?
I’m hesitant to say that. Unlike other fads that have come and gone, Common Core could become so entrenched in American education that it becomes very difficult to dislodge. The reason is that through Common Core, the “reformers” aren’t just advocating changes in pedagogy, but rather establishing a radical new structure under which control over education is transferred from parents and local authorities to (as mentioned) unaccountable private interests with their own agendas. 
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been and are being invested to make sure Common Core endures.  The amount of money poured into this reflects their realization that if they can seize control over education, other goals will be more accessible. The stakes are high.
4)        Now, how can we be sure that this “ Common Core “ will bring about better writers, better thinkers, better readers, better spellers etc? Is there any proof or evidence?
There is no evidence for this. The standards have never been piloted or tested, and in fact, all the evidence (empirical and historical) refutes Common Core’s central ELA principle that students will become better at all this if they are redirected from classic literature to nonfiction “informational text.” Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. Mark Bauerlein explained this in a paper for the Pioneer Institute last fall. See The Common Core creators really aren’t interested in developing truly educated citizens; they are interested in developing workers.
5)        On step further, there seems to be some people who think “ Common Core “ will address religious and spiritual issues—who are these people and what the heck are they saying?
ELA standards writer David Coleman is now lobbying evangelical Christians to persuade them that students “educated” under Common Core will be better able to read and reach a deeper understanding of Scripture.  
Suffice it to say that, given Common Core’s emphasis on technical documents that may show up on a future job, rather than the type of literature that constitutes the bulk of Scripture, Coleman’s claim is borderline bizarre.
6)        I know Sandra Stotsky and Mark Bauerlein and have the utmost respect for their thinking and work. What do they have to say about this gobblegook ?
See the paper referenced in Question 4.
7)        It seems that we are in a quagmire of sorts—politicians keep trying to “ raise the bar “ yet, the number of children with special needs seems to  be increasing exponentially. Your thoughts?
I’m not qualified to comment on special-needs education. What I can say is that Common Core won’t really “raise the bar” – it will lower the bar so that more students can be deemed “college- and career-ready” even without a meaningful education.  The goal is to re-shape American education – from pre-K through college – so that students will be given what they need to function in the managed economy, but no more. Thus, politically connected corporations will have a steady stream of entry-level workers they don’t have to train, and we as a society won’t “waste” resources on developing citizens who are capable of thinking more deeply than required for their static jobs.
8)        What have I neglected to ask ?
Perhaps about the data-collection aspects of Common Core. Though the standards themselves don’t require data-collection, the schemes of which they’re a part – the Stimulus bill, Race to the Top, and the national assessments – certainly do. States that received federal grants through either the Stimulus or Race to the Top were required to construct massive student data-collection systems (which would compile data far beyond academic information, such as health-care history, disciplinary history, religious affiliation, etc.). Any of that data that goes to the national-testing consortia (we don’t yet know how much data that will be) will then, because of a cooperative agreement between each consortium and the US Department of Education, be turned over to the federal government. 
 And since the US Department has gutted federal student-privacy law, this personally identifiable student data can then be shared with literally anyone in the world, as long as the US Department uses the right language to justify the sharing. Parents not only will have no right to object – they probably will never know it happened. With daily revelations about governmental data-mining – in connection with ObamaCare, NSA telephone/email screening, etc. – parents should be alarmed at still more data-collection and –sharing on their children.
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