After a decade in the making, the Common Core State Standards are on track to replace uneven state standards in English, mathematics, and other basic academic subjects. But as a rising number of parents and elected officials question this emerging national catechism, the program is meeting new resistance.
First proposed by a coalition of governors and state school superintendents, Common Core codifies what elementary and high school students should study and know after completing each grade.
Strictly speaking, the standards are not a curriculum. Nominally, how subjects are taught and the materials used are decisions left to individual states and school districts. Supporters insist they will raise academic proficiency and ensure uniformly high standards across the nation.
The truth is: Common Core ratifies the federal takeover of elementary and high school instruction. In spite of disclaimers, it promotes a national syllabus. Testing for national standards will indirectly dictate what is taught and undermine local control of education.
Technology and testing corporations stand to be the big winners. The president of the College Board — the nation’s premier gatekeeper of admissions to higher education — is David Coleman, who is Common Core’s chief designer and first advocate.
What Common Core vividly demonstrates is the nature of contemporary political power and formation of education policy.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is Common Core’s leading force. Gates created the world’s dominant computer operating system, and he is by all accounts a technocratic genius. But his failed effort to beat back non-performance in education through state of the art facilities and smaller classes illustrates his profound naïveté in matters of culture. His foundation has spent approximately $3.4 billion since 1999 on an array of measures to try to improve public education.
Admitting defeat six years ago, the foundation subsequently turned to developing Common Core standards, spending some $250 million on their development and promotion.
As reported in an exceptional 2014 Washington Post article, the foundation then acted strategically to solidify Common Core support. Sidestepping prohibitions on political activism, it staged a stunning policy coup in education.
The Gates Foundation aggressively targeted state legislators and business leaders, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, private institutes and schools of educations, and the Obama administration.
Gates did not forget what passes for conservative voices in the education establishment. The American Enterprise Institute has received $4 million from the foundation since 2007. The Fordham Foundation, recipients of Gates largess, has produced several hit-and-run reviews of state curriculum standards.
Gates allies also took charge of the federal department of education. In 2009, the new federal education secretary Arne Duncan named Margot Rogers his chief of staff. She had been a top Gates Foundation official who Duncan worked with when Chicago public schools obtained two Gates grants totalling $19.6 million. James Shelton, a Gates program officer, served first as the department’s head of innovation and then as the deputy secretary.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush — one of the Common Core’s most vocal supporters — received about $5.2 million for his education foundation.
Gates believes that common standards will spur digital learning and make it easier for software developers — including Microsoft — to develop instructional materials. Last year, Microsoft teamed up with Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher, to make Common Core instructional materials available on Windows 8 devices.
Keep in mind, education standards are for the most part wishful thinking. The assumption that quality standards will lead to higher student achievement is faith, not fact. Tom Loveless, a former Harvard policy professor at the Brookings Institution, says Common Core is “built on a shaky theory” and perceives no correlation between high standards and student achievement.
Any national — or state — standards must soothe multiculturalism’s many disciples. Common Core standards will inevitably harden and reinforce coercive diversity.
“Common Core actually provides a path forward for students themselves to find their way back to moral facts,” the Fordham Foundation has declared. Just how, no one there is saying, if anyone even believes it. Like other agencies and corporations with their hands on the throttle, Fordham is eager for Gates dollars.
Progressive education fetishizes equality and multiculturalism. It abhors distinctions of ability and quality, especially when low test scores reflect badly on black and Hispanic students. Discover what values work for you, teachers say. Find yourself! Can educators give children any more appalling advice than this? Can any instruction be any more derelict?
Common Core is an effort to correct some of this vacant self-expression, contain activities learning, and steer students and teachers away from free-form travesties of thought. For this it deserves applause.
Jumping to conclusions, many conservatives unjustly think of Common Core as an exercise in mind control. It is not. Its prescribed reading lists contain classics amid the trendy, diversity-conscious dreck that many parents detest.
But critics are right to be troubled by the Gates Foundation’s unilateral role in its adoption. They are right to fear the power of the federal Leviathan. Forty-five states initially adopted the standards. Seven have since repealed or amended them. A dozen more states are considering revisions. Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina have backed off the standards. Texas and Virginia never signed on.
Schools today face uncooperative, disruptive thugs and slugs with no interest in learning. They poison classrooms, rendering it impossible for other students to learn. Incompetent, union-protected teachers add to the mess. Gates simply cannot understand a chaotic world where security guards roam school halls and teachers fear to turn their backs to the classroom.
In his sunny, value-free, optimism scheme, everyone can connect to each other and learn from each other. All we need is the right machinery. The facts of education and human nature indicate otherwise. Unfortunately, Common Core’s many backers treat resisters with disdain.
Facing skeptics and defections, elected officials and educational leaders insist nonetheless they can bridge the achievement gap and leave no child behind. They intone that Common Core will fix things once and for all and make schools right.
The hell of it is, many of them — along with master builder Bill Gates — sincerely believe their new elixirs will this time make magic. Realism and experience are off the table, and federal school control is an impending prospect.