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Jerry Brown’s Costly Common Core Blunder

May 17, 2013 by

Bill Evers – California Governor Jerry Brown has proposed a new funding formula for public schools. It gives extra money to urban and rural districts. The big winners will be long-tenured (but not necessarily high-performing) teachers in big cities. The new formula also short changes charter schools that have concentrations of significantly disadvantaged students.

But the headline new development is the Governor’s earmark of $1 billion of the money from Prop. 30 for the Common Core national curriculum-content standards. This is supposed to be one-time-only money, but districts would have wide discretion on how they spend it over the next two years.


The Common Core national standards are a catalog of what schoolchildren are expected to know in each grade. They were created by a consortium of trade associations of state officials and of “Beltway Bandits” (consulting firms in the Washington, D.C. area). The national standards were quickly endorsed by the Obama administration when it came into office. The administration also used stimulus money to encourage the standards’ adoption by the states and to pay for the creation of national tests. The Obama administration’s role in dragooning the states into the Common Core has been aptly described as using “the carrot that felt more like a stick.”


The 2012 Democratic national platform credits President Barak Obama with encouraging the states to adopt the Common Core national standards and claims that the national standards “raise” the academic expectations in the states and that the standards had already resulted in “groundbreaking reforms” that promise “better education.” This partisan exhilaration neglects certain rather important facts, namely, that the national standards are a step down for California and that federal direction of curriculum is illegal and forbidden by three federal statutes.

Governor Brown’s $1 billion is a colossal waste of money, and persisting on the Common Core path may cost significantly more in the future. The California Department of Education had previously estimated costs of between $1.36 and $1.56 billion, and the pro-Common Core Fordham Institute had estimated a similar amount (assuming public-school institutions remain the same). The Common Core-skeptical Pioneer Institute estimated $2 billion in costs for California. Another Common Core critic Ze’ev Wurman argues that Pioneer low-balled the technology costs (for the national tests) and that the true costs for California will be higher than $2 billion. We will see if this supposedly one-time-only $1 billion is all that Governor Brown ever asks for to pay for this counterproductive boondoggle.


The national Common Core testing starts in 2014-15, and California is not prepared. School districts do not have teaching materials, teachers haven’t been trained, and sufficient computers are not in place for the tests.


Nonetheless, as quickly as possible, California districts are buying Progressive Education teaching materials and training teachers in their use. You will know that the Common Core has come to a classroom near you when you hear about teaching practices in math that are opposed to memorization, learning facts, and standard algorithms and in in favor of “deep understanding” and “higher-order thinking” – as well as “critical thinking.” The mistakes of the 1990s in math instruction (even some mistakes of the 1960s) are back with a fervor.


California is in the process of changing its testing law to emphasize the fact that the aim of the national tests is to shape and model teaching practices. However, although tests should certainly reflect the content that is taught, tests should not coerce teachers by prescribing Progressive Education teaching methods for the classroom.


California used to have the best math curriculum-content standards in the United States, In contrast, the Common Core national math standards are mediocre and are not at the level of high-performing countries abroad. Putting California students on track to take algebra in ninth grade (rather than in eighth, as we do today) retards our state’s progress. A policy of algebra in ninth grade abandons the children (especially black, Latino and low-income children) who benefited from California’s most successful academic reform (Algebra I in eighth grade) in the past half-century.


The Common Core prescribes unproven methods for K-12. For example, it calls for teaching similar and congruent triangles using “rigid motion,” an experimental teaching method that has never been successfully used in K-12 education.


The California State Academic Standards Commission in 2010 had attempted to fill in the gaps in the Common Core math standards, but Jerry Brown’s State Board of Education has discarded all too many of these important fixes.


Before the Obama administration, America had a system of “competitive federalism” in K-12 education under the Constitution designed by James Madison. But under Common Core — which nationalizes curriculum content in the hands of a federally-supervised cartel of the states — American parents and children lose out on state-level innovation and healthy competition between states.


Instead of California having the most challenging content standards in the country and endeavoring to bring our children up to a world-class level, California schools will now have as their job covering the same mediocre subject-matter content found in almost every other state.

In sum, Governor Brown wants to waste at least $1 billion to pay for transition to the Common Core. The Common Core itself is a watering-down of California’s academic expectations. The Common Core will turn out to be a costly blunder that only harms California’s K-12 teachers and students.

Bill Evers is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a member of the Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education.  He served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education in the George W. Bush administration.  He also served on the California State Academic Standards Commission in the late 1990s and

Jerry Brown’s Costly Common Core Blunder – FlashReport – Presented by Jon Fleischman.

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