Rotten to the core? America’s new curriculum project

Apr 13, 2016 by

A seasoned educationist explains why the Common Core should be abandoned.

For the first time in history Americans face the prospect of a unified set of national academic standards for schools from kindergarten to the end of high school. The Common Core is touted as a system that can narrow the achievement gap and make all students “college and career ready”. Most states have bought into it, but many educators regard it as a disaster for American education and an unconstitutional bid for centralised control. Among its most trenchant critics is Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars and editor of a recently published book: Drilling Through the Core: Why the Common Core is Bad for America. In the following interview with MercatorNet he explains what exactly is wrong with a project backed by one of America’s smartest – and richest – citizens: Bill Gates.

MercatorNet: What is the Common Core?

Peter Wood: The Common Core is short for the Common Core State Standards, CCSS. The Common Core was first conceived in 2007 by David Coleman, head of the newly created Student Achievement Partners (SAP), which was funded by the Gates Foundation. Coleman stood in a long line of people who had sought to reform American schools by creating some kind of national curriculum. All of the earlier efforts, stretching back over decades, had been stymied by the US Constitution, which leaves schools to the states and localities, and by federal statutes that explicitly prohibit the federal government from setting curricula. Coleman’s breakthrough idea was a way to get around these legal obstacles. His idea was to get all the states individually to adopt the same curriculum. If that could be arranged, the United States would have the unified national curriculum the reformers had long sought, without running afoul of the law.

To accomplish this, Coleman persuaded two other private organizations, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), to endorse the idea. In December 2008, these two bodies released a report, Benchmarking for Success, which called on the states to create such a “common core.” Six months later they announced that 49 states had joined the effort to write national standards that would cover education from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Does the federal government support it?

The standards had not yet been written when President Obama took office in January 2009, but he soon linked the concept to the expenditure of federal funds. Congress had approved a giant spending bill, “The Stimulus” in fall 2008, and the President was in search of “shovel-ready projects” on which the money could be spent. In July 2009, the Department of Education announced one of the ways that the Stimulus money would be put to good use. Parts of it would be handed out as prizes to states that endorsed school reforms that matched a certain profile–a profile that fit the still unwritten “Common Core State Standards” and nothing else. This competition among the states for Common Core stimulus money was called “The Race to the Top.”

In September 2009, the first and incomplete draft of Common Core was released to the public for a 30-day comment period. In January 2010, the first Race to the Top applications were due. Forty states and the District of Columbia applied. But it wasn’t until two months later that the first complete draft of the Common Core was released. In other words, those forty states and the District of Columbia had committed themselves to a radical reform of their schools’ curricula without knowing what exactly the reform entailed.

Is it a national curriculum or not?

In the end, the Common Core consisted of two “sets of standards,” in mathematics and the “English language arts.” The terminology here is pregnant with meaning. Common Core advocates argue fiercely that the Common Core consists of “standards,” and is not a “curriculum.” That distinction matters to them because part of the sales talk for the Common Core is that it leaves a great deal to the discretion of the states, the schools, and the teachers. Critics, however, point out the areas of discretion are severely restricted by the fine-grained Common Core standards. Moreover, the whole Common Core was tightly integrated with national tests to be administered by two new private entities, the Smart Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). These tests implied a very high degree of standardization across state lines. The Common Core is plainly a curriculum in the two areas it focuses on–mathematics and English–though it leaves other subjects to be filled in later.

Whose initiative is it?

David Coleman. The Gates Foundation. SAP. NGO. CCSSO. President Obama. The Department of Education. Numerous state governors in 2009. It is creature born of ideology and politics that bears the fingerprints of thousands of people. The principal actors were Coleman, Gates, and Obama, and among the governors and former governors, James B. Hunt, (Governor of North Carolina 1977–1985, and 1993–2001) and Jeb Bush (Governor of Florida, 1998-2006) were the most prominent.

Source: MercatorNet: Rotten to the core? America’s new curriculum project

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Lady Ella-Rebecka Marlen-Summers

    Our mainstream education systems are ‘rotten to the core’, not just the ‘curriculum’…….
    To make ‘education’ age-based compulsory is ‘rotten to the core’.
    To confuse ‘education’ and ‘schooling’ is pathetic.
    To suppose that people perform best when herded en mass,is just wrong..
    To make judgements upon a persons abilities based on their output on one exam, one day, or one project even, is completely unrealistic.
    To expect that the human species will progress healthily and happily under the current outdated regimes, is just stupid.

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