Jane Robbins: Common Core and the Contents are not so Common.

Nov 5, 2014 by

An Interview with Jane Robbins: Common Core and the Contents are not so Common.

Michael F. Shaughnessy

  1. Jane, first of all, tell us a bit about yourself, your background, experience and involvement in Common Core.

I am an attorney and senior fellow with the American Principles Project, which was founded by a law-school classmate of mine (Prof. Robert George of Princeton). My bio follows:

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project in Washington, DC. In that position she has crafted federal and state legislation designed to restore the constitutional autonomy of states and parents in education policy, and to protect the rights of religious freedom and conscience. Her essays on these topics have been published in various print and online media. With Emmett McGroarty she co-authored the APP/Pioneer Institute report, Controlling Education From the Top: Why Common Core Is Bad for America, and with McGroarty and Joy Pullmann the Pioneer Institute report, Cogs in the Machine: Big Data, Common Core, and National Testing. She has written numerous articles about the problems with Common Core, threats to student privacy, and usurpation of state sovereignty over education and has testified about these issues before the legislatures of nine states. She is a graduate of Clemson University and the Harvard Law School.

  1. This is an old question- but your fresh perspective is welcomed. Where does it say in the Constitution that the Federal government can tell the states what curriculum to follow?

It doesn’t. The Constitution gives the federal government no role at all in any aspect of education. Regarding curriculum specifically, the Common Core proponents claim that CC is “just standards, not curriculum,” but they and we know that the point of standards is to drive curriculum. The Pioneer Institute has published a report showing exactly how the federal government will, illegally, dictate curriculum through Common Core: http://pioneerinstitute.org/download/the-road-to-a-national-curriculum/. And some of the pedagogy of Common Core, particularly in math, is so prescriptive that teachers are told exactly how they must teach. Being allowed to choose one Common Core textbook over another Common Core textbook isn’t much of a choice.

  1. What does Common Core have to do with privacy?

Common Core is part of a much larger scheme that requires states to implement CC standards and aligned curriculum, administer CC-aligned assessments, and build out their state longitudinal databases (financed substantially by the federal government through the Stimulus bill and Race to the Top). The state data systems must be built to identical specifications to facilitate sharing data across state lines. A direct connection to CC is through the CC-aligned assessments (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), each of which has a cooperative agreement with the US Department of Education requiring the consortium to allow student-level data to be made available to the US Department “on an ongoing basis.”

Another, more nebulous but equally dangerous, connection: CC is essentially a recycling of the discredited Outcome-Based Education from years ago. That is, it diminishes academic knowledge in favor of instilling the “correct” mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors in children. It thus is perfect for ushering in the interactive “digital learning” platforms, which are focused on exactly the same thing. These platforms can compile essentially personal profiles on students through the “fine-grained” information the students give off as they interact with the platforms. My testimony on all this is attached to the email. Also see a thorough discussion in this report: http://pioneerinstitute.org/download/cogs-in-the-machine-big-data-common-core-and-national-testing/.

  1. Let’s get to some common ground here. We have states as disparate as Alaska and Hawaii. Should these states have exactly the same curriculum?

Only if you believe, as Bill Gates does, that every child in every school in every state should be trained (not to be confused with “educated”) in exactly the same way, because that would be much more efficient. Why not have a Common Core Operating System? Why do we have 50 states anyway? That’s so inefficient!

  1. Has anyone in the Common Core movement thought that perhaps we need to increase the school day or school year in order to assist students with this new approach?

This issue hasn’t come up much in connection with Common Core, but the Obama administration advocates increased school time: http://www.eduinreview.com/blog/2009/03/obama-proposes-longer-school-days-extended-school-year/. Arne Duncan also wants schools to become “community centers” that will be the hub of students’ lives all the time (instead of students’ being with their families, or involved in church or other activities): http://teach1776.ning.com/video/secretary-arne-duncan-says-schools-should-be-the-center-of-americ.

  1. Teachers already have quite a full agenda every day. Who is providing support for this apparently massive change in curriculum?

The states will have to shoulder the responsibility of providing costly professional development, which they are doing with varying degrees of success (or failure). Of course, no amount of PD can add hours to the day. I know a Georgia teacher of gifted math students who recently retired, partly because she was overwhelmed by the new requirements – for example, having to spend 2-3 hours each night inputting student data.

  1. Jane, this entire issue reminds me of the fight between states regarding slavery. While some may see this as a stretch, is the issue surrounding Common Core one of ” states rights” to provide their own perspective on education?

The Constitution certainly contemplates that each state will control its education system. By centralizing control in both the federal government and unaccountable private interests, Common Core is inconsistent with the constitutional scheme. The difference is that in the slavery situation, some states were trying to retain power to deny fundamental rights to certain human beings. With Common Core, by contrast, parents in individual states are objecting to the denial of their fundamental right to control their children’s education.

  1. Let’s also face some facts- taxpayers pay for books, teacher’s salaries, indirectly, the buildings. Have taxpayers been assessed as to anything about Common Core?

Taxpayers haven’t yet experienced the full weight of the costs that will be imposed by Common Core. The testing hasn’t gone into effect – testing that will require enormous expenditures for technology infrastructure. See this report for an overview: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=pioneer+institute+costs+common+core.

The only other thing I would add is that Common Core doubles down on all the progressive policies that have damaged public education over the last 50 years – centralization, standardization, outcome-based education, fuzzy math, diminished study of classic literature, etc. I don’t think doing more of what manifestly doesn’t work will result in success this time.

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1 Comment

  1. everyonesfacts

    “Only if you believe, as Bill Gates does, that every child in every school in every state should be trained (not to be confused with “educated”) in exactly the same way, because that would be much more efficient. Why not have a Common Core Operating System? Why do we have 50 states anyway? That’s so inefficient!”

    Well, should they all learn how to read well, write well, speak well, and cipher well?

    That is a question you could have asked.

    CC standards show a clear way to do that. Now, is it achievable? That is where the rubber hits the road.