**Please note: Members’ views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Lincoln Club and/or it’s leadership.**
Common Core: A Trojan Horse
The deceptively innocuous-sounding name belies the crippling effects a centralized K-12 education curriculum will have on the United States once it is allowed to take effect. Ze’ev Wurman, software architect, electrical engineer and longtime math advisory expert, succinctly summarized the problem when he labelled Common Core a government-enforced “mediocre national benchmark” that “marks the cessation of educational standards improvement” and will consign the country to a non-first rate future.
Incursion by the federal government in matters pertaining to the curriculum or content in public education is prohibited by the Constitution and education reforms enacted by three US Presidents: the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the 1970 General Education Provisions Act and the 1979 Department of Education Organization Act.1
The 2001 reauthorization of ESEA, the No Child Left Behind legislation, marked a shift that squarely involved the government in establishing national education standards and student assessments. With Common Core, however, the reach and scope of federal control is breathtaking, as is the disregard for the law. This essay attempts to outline the main issues. The extended analysis the initiative merits far exceeds the scope of a single essay.
The Common Core States Initiative was part of the 2009 stimulus package. Prohibited by law from direct control of public education, it represented an attempt by the federal government to establish a straw horse that suggested the measure was initiated by the states.
Representing one of Barack Obama’s signature programs, the initiative was designed to induce states to adopt the program in order to compete for gain shares of his $4.35 Billion Race To the Top federal grant lottery. States submitted bids for RTTT funds.
CCSSI was presented as a state-led effort “coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers (two DC-based trade organizations) that was funded by Bill and Melinda Gates. To date, the Gates foundation has doled out $2.3 Billion in grants to Common Core-related projects.3
The standards, assessments, curriculum, texts and instructional materials were all developed by two independent private consortia: SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers consortium. The two groups were selected by the Department of Education which awarded them more than $300 Million in federal grants.
Although SBAC and PARCC had not yet written the standards for mathematics or the English Language Arts, the states had to commit to them sight unseen in order to receive the RTTT funds. Finding themselves in desperate financial straits due to the economic downturn, forty-five states and the District of Columbia agreed to accept CCI. NY and Florida were each awarded $700Million.
CCSSI is a national initiative masquerading as a state-sponsored program. States will be required to develop massive databases involving personal information about students and their families. This is an invasion of privacy that is prohibited by the Family Education and Privacy Act. The information will be shared with the Department of Education and the Executive office as well as other federal agencies.
The standards, curriculum and assessments in mathematics and English Language Arts were developed by a 29-member Common Core Standards Development Work Group. The members represented testing experts, professors of education, several teachers and school administrators and one mathematician.
Instead of experts in the much-needed STEM subjects (science technology, engineering and math), the work group and the 25-member Validation Committee consisted of employees of testing organizations like ACT, College Board and Achieve. The members of the two three-person committees that wrote the entirety of the national CCSI K-12 standards for mathematics and ELA were non-education professionals as well. A number of them had no experience at all in writing standards.
Sixty individuals who lacked adequate qualifications or credentials were designated by the federal government to undertake a Herculean task. That the product designed to develop critical thinking and to teach 21st century standards for college and career readiness in the global economy was accomplished without approval or oversight by the public or expert educators and has caused such furor and outrage is both understandable and appropriate.
There was only one college professor of mathematics, James Milgram from Stanford University, but no college or PhD-level professors of science, technology or engineering on the curriculum development committees.
Milgram refused to sign off on the final draft and warned that the CCSI math standards would put American students two full years behind their international peers from Singapore, Shanghai, South Korea, Japan and the other high-performing countries by the seventh grade.
John Goodman, a math professor at New York University, echoed Milgram’s concerns. He felt the CCI math standards imposed “significantly lower expectations with respect to algebra and geometry than the published standards of other (leading) countries.” CCSI experts ignored his advice and that of Doctor Milgram.
Their concerns were prompted by the shift from 8th to 9th grade for Algebra I and the reduction in emphasis in basic principles such as addition, subtraction, fractions and division in elementary school in favor of abstract reasoning and problem solving. In addition, traditional Euclidean-based principles have been discarded for an untested non-Euclidean system that was developed in Russia but discarded without ever being used. Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas expressed similar misgivings.
The ELA standards are equally sub-standard. Beginning in kindergarten through the 10th grade, 50% of the readings in classic literature will be replaced by informational texts. In the last two years of high school, 70% of what students read will consist of informational texts, political speeches and magazine articles.
Gone are Mark Twain, John Milton, Homer, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald and countless other great Western writers. Instead, a significant number of the literary selections that were chosen reflect the strong emphasis placed on multiculturalism and non-Western religions such as Islam. The de-emphasis on the two traditional Western faiths, Judaism and Christianity, is striking.
Pioneer Institute estimates the costs to implement Common Core to be $17 Billion for the 1st seven years in addition to the funds each state already allocates for education. The Congressional Budget Office was not asked to prepare an estimate lest it become obvious CCI is, in fact, a federal program.
The public is waking up to the specter of state-sponsored K-12 public education, lowered standards and a federalized system. A number of states have backed out of their commitment or refused and delayed implementation of the standards.
The effects of Common Core on student performance are dramatic. Massachusetts, the only state to score in the top three on global PISA assessments, dropped significantly in rank the first year following the replacement of its award-winning public school curriculum with the Common Core standards.
In New York, 70% of 8th graders failed the math exam and 74%, the English exam. In one Harlem school, just 7% of students passed in English and 10% in math. Pennsylvania noted a similar drop in scores. 2
Where do we go from here? There is only one answer. Michelle Malkin is correct. CCSSI is “rotten to the core.” America would do well to heed her warning that “the corruption of math education is just the beginning.” Common Core must be rejected and discarded. Our children and our country deserve better.
R. Claire Friend, MD
March 22, 2014