Is Common Core a Tool or Weapon?

Will Common Core Standards be a good thing for America? Maybe, but only if we understand the proper use and potential abuse that could easily occur if we aren’t watching closely. After all, WE are the ultimate check-and-balance. WE had better understand the circles of influence because influence is power that can turn to control.

Many think as Bill Gates expressed in the September 23, 2007 Parade Magazine, “It’s incredible that we have no national standards.” And there is some soundness to the idea, but, standards-based “reform” has only been proven NOT to work in America with No Child Left Behind being the most current example.

So, is Common Core a “national” standard? Not yet, but only because some states said “no thank you,” at this time.

So the argument goes:

Common Core is a state initiative. That “fact” you will have to decide for yourself. Is it state-led or Gates-led?

Standards are not curriculum. True. Standards are a teaching guide to help ensure all children are taught what we judge to be most important. But as the sequence of events goes; we develop standards, we develop tests to match those standards, and then what we teach and how (the curriculum) is aligned with the tests. Standards will direct curriculum so that makes it important to see how promoters of Common Core see the role of the federal government as compared to former lawmakers.

Back in 1965, Congress was influential in putting federal education law into place and clearly expressing within it the federal role as investment in children from low-income families whose needs were not being addressed by localities. And the testing of these children was to ensure the extra funds were serving the children’s learning needs. This law carefully explained the federal limits. Section 604 of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act read:

“Federal Control of Education Prohibited

Nothing contained in this Act shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other print or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system.”

Things have changed. By 2006, three circles of influence were explained through the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center in a paper titled – INFLUENCE (see chart page 21). Those organizations most influential were the United States Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In this same report, Mr. Gates was declared the most influential person in education reform — ahead of President George W. Bush.

Since then, the Gates’ tentacles of influence expanded to include not only the National Governors Association and Achieve (a Gate’s supported “standards-setting” service) but also the Council of Chief State School Officers as one of its many corporate partners.

Please note as you read the following that the first line is why “they” call it Common Core “State” Standards

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and The National Governors Association (NGA) state in their Common Core Standards Memorandum of Agreement:

 “Federal Role. The parties support a state-led effort and not a federal effort to develop a common core of state standards; there is, however, an appropriate federal role in supporting this state-led effort. In particular, the federal government can provide key financial support for this effort in developing a common core of state standards and in moving toward common assessments, such as through the Race to the Top Fund authorized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Further, the federal government can incentivize this effort through a range of tiered incentives, such as providing states with greater flexibility in the use of existing federal funds, supporting a revised state accountability structure, and offering financial support for states to effectively implement the standards. Additionally, the federal government can provide additional long-term financial support for the development of common assessments, teacher and principal professional development, other related common core standards supports, and a research agenda that can help continually improve the common core over time. Finally, the federal government can revise and align existing federal education laws with the lessons learned from states’ international benchmarking efforts and from federal research.”

“They” redefined the federal role for us, told the federal government what to do, how to spend our federal recovery dollars, and what “they” said was done by the Department of Education; under the influence?

We should probably know who “they” really is. The original 135 member Common Core development group was heavily stacked with people associated with Gates-funded organizations and many members with connections that read like a list of Wall Street financial corporations in addition to global research & development, and technology companies already heavily invested in our defense, security, and energy information.

The two “consortiums” in the country that will offer the “Next Generation Tests” both have associations with Gates and received federal Recovery Act funds. “They” will be directing the show and we are told that “they” are the states; this is “state-led.”

Outside the circle of influence, there is talk about another way to use standards. We can probably all relate to this. A lesson is taught, quizzes are given, an opportunity to self-correct or re-learn is provided and, eventually, a larger test is given —and the student is given a grade. Add periodic standardized tests (4th, 8th, and 12th grade) where the only “test-prep” is reminding kids to make sure they do their best. This is honest testing with honest results and you have an “assessment system” without high costs and with less danger of inappropriate use of data. Back when we were kids, standardized tests were used properly — as a snap-shot for systemic guidance and some comparisons. We can adopt standards without adopting the testing and centralized data collection that is currently planned for us.

With the Department of Education under Gates wing, and federal education law (No Child Left Behind – NCLB) due to be re-written, we should pay attention to the “new deal” CCSSO and NGA have for the last circle of influence — Congress. Their plan for NCLB is to use our federal dollars to improve data systems, assessments, and consolidation of “reporting to a single office in the U.S. Department of Education [ED] that manages all data requests and collections…”(with good intentions, of course – page 9,#10 ). Plus, “they” suggest some new power be given to the Secretary to approve “new policy models” in our states in the name of “innovation.”

Are we setting up a system that is vulnerable to the further corruption of power?

The good and bad of it — Common Core can be one powerful tool for improvement of instruction, or, one ultra-powerful weapon to be used at will.

The last instrument of influence over public education that we the People have – as a nation – is Congress through No Child Left Behind. What is the will of the People?

(Originally posted as an article in April of 2013 on the Federalist Papers Project site under current events. More recently, I found time to go back and look at the origin of Common Core and have had a personal encounter that prompted me to look closer at the Common Core story. )

Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ’It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” Fred Rogers

When we have under-performing schools anywhere in our country, do we see it as a systemic problem? Do we think it is our shared responsibility to support the educational and developmental needs of all children where and when they need us to do so?

The education reform war reached a new crescendo over “accountability.” We have come to talk and think in terms of “accountability” but the word is interchangeable with “responsibility.”

I have come to believe that we need an accountability system that respects the local responsibility, has true state accountability for equitable resources, and recognizes a federal duty to monitor progress for the purpose of providing guidance and support.

So if we want to continue to look at the issue of “improvement” in terms of “reform,” school reform is a local responsibility. States are charged with an accounting of inputs and outcomes to provide meaningful oversight. And the federal government should oversee the broader topic of “education reform” as it applies to the necessities of maintaining a strong republic based on equal opportunity and American excellence.

Everyone should know by now that top-down education mandates for accountability tied to higher “achievement” scores has only furthered our resistance to change, made a bad situation worse for many, and escalated the education wars. The scholars are fighting over issues the people can’t understand, while citizens are growing frustrated and walking away. This fighting must end.

Children need us to form partnerships. Partnerships aren’t a way to shift responsibility; they are a way to share it.

If we see educating children as a societal obligation, if the focus is children, our responsibility is to be responsive to them.

What now? Lives lost but not the innocence of our next generation.

What now?

They need us to negotiate a truce.

 

 

A Public Trust

When you look at the words “Education is Too Important to Be Entrusted to Government,” what do they mean to you? Do you see the statement as right or wrong, true or false, or somewhere in between?

If not government, then who?

If not government, then who?

Words are meant, among other things, to make a statement, persuade or to sell an idea. So with the re-writing of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) being debated in the Senate Education Committee, now would be a good time for the country to discuss entrusting government to run the institution of public education.

With the damage inflicted upon schools through NCLB, money wasted on Race to the Top grants, and the chaos created through NCLB waivers, the government owes its people an explanation as to what was learned and give us reason as to why we should trust them to move forward.

The reality today is that testing every child, in every school, every year has left us financially unable to address the dire needs of every child. This situation was created by government as directed by the education industry.

State government took on the responsibility to provide public education. The quest for quality used to be an American principle we could rely upon. When equal access for the poor and minorities was seen as another principle of our republic, the federal government became the engine for equality.

When the United States of America was entrusted to be a country of the people, by the people, and for the people, we could trust government because we could trust ourselves through representation of our ideals.

The trust has not really been lost; it has been sold. Let us hope there is a reclaiming process in the very near future. Our children are depending on it.

 

Spring Cleaning: Letter Discovered

My Message to Parents and Other Concerned Citizens:

This current standards and testing movement that began 30 years ago is a bipartisan effort to make the “outcome-based” model for education “work.” The education industry has done quite well while our children have not.

The goal set by law, in No Child Left Behind, is unrealistic, unattainable, and frankly undesirable. Our American character embodies the ideals of freedom of thought, equality of opportunity, pragmatic resourcefulness, and individuality. This law standardizes the education “outcome.” Who defined this outcome for our children?

The role of the federal government must be defined by us.

The role of the state must be defined by us.

Locally, it’s time to take back our schools.

At all levels, it is our right to know the facts, to hear the truth, to be informed. It’s time to use politics to take politics out of the education equation. As a nation, we must press our candidates and those already in office to answer to us. Accountability starts with them, not our children’s test scores.

No Child Left Behind is the national education issue worthy of our undivided attention.

With Heartfelt Sincerity,
Victoria M. Young

Hear Yourself, Mr. President

“Smarter government, “invest in the best ideas,” “partners for progress.”

“It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States.” December, 2008.

487817Hear yourself, Mr. President, and listen to a variety of perspectives as you said you would. “The time has come for a president … who will listen to you and learn from you even when we disagree…. I will be that president for America.” — Obama, after winning the Iowa Caucus

What makes “smarter government”?

Hear this: Some of the best ideas come from our own past by way of new and sometimes unlikely messengers. It is time for reflection on your part. What do you see as the proper role of the federal government in education?

The control and operation of education in America must remain the responsibility of State and local governments and private institutions. This tradition assures our educational system of the freedom, the diversity and the vitality necessary to serve our free society fully.

Let us put to rest the unfounded fears that ‘Federal money means Federal control.’ From The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, originally conceived by Thomas Jefferson, through the Morrill Act of 1862, establishing the still-important and still-independent Land-Grant College system, to the National Defense Education Act of 1958, the Congress has repeatedly recognized its responsibility to strengthen our educational system without weakening local responsibility.” JFK 1965

This was about partnering on way more than early childhood education.

In far too many places, local responsibility has been shirked. We need a return to the “proper Federal role of assistance and leadership.”