“If you think education
is expensive, try ignorance.”
— Harvard President
You see that quote on
bumper stickers. I’ve seen it used as an argument against property
tax limitation, but Derek Bok may simply have been responding to
complaints about the cost of a Harvard education.
Regardless, here’s a
variation for 2014: If you think education as run by your city, town
and state is deficient, try letting the federal government run it.
Which brings us to Common Core, the latest trendy education thing
out of Washington, D.C., following No Child Left Behind and somehow
combined with Race to the Top, two of the more obviously silly
slogan-government program titles.
Clearly, many children
have been left behind since 2001, when No Child etc. was created by
the Bush administration. And the Top we are supposed to be Racing to
is already occupied by Asian children, who, the head of the Peabody
Teachers Union said at a meeting Tuesday night, are being taught the
way our students were taught 50 years ago.
This is what’s so
interesting about Common Core: It seems to be bringing together, in
common concern, a lot of people who don’t have much in common, most
notably taxpayer activists and teacher unions. This may not be
surprising when you consider what professor Sandra Stotky, guest
speaker at the Tuesday meeting in Peabody, said about the Standards
Development Work Group that wrote the new program: “High school
English and mathematics teachers, English professors, scientists,
engineers, parents, state legislators, early child educators, and
state or local school board members” are among those groups not
represented, or even asked their opinions.
Well, who wrote the
standards then? Not to encourage cynicism, but don’t be too
surprised to learn that they were written mostly by test and
curriculum developers hired by three private Washington, D.C.,
organizations (the National Governors Association, Council for Chief
State School Officers, and “Achieve Inc.”), funded for this purpose
by a fourth private entity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
We can easily follow
the money from curriculum development to those producing the
mandatory tests. But I can’t tell you why Bill Gates is doing this
except to note that just because a genius creates Microsoft doesn’t
mean he can’t be used and manipulated by government bureaucrats who
convince him he’s part of something very important.
The U.S. Constitution
doesn’t allow federal intrusion into the state/local education
arena; Common Core attempts to deal with this by using private
sector developers. Then, federal stimulus money was offered to those
states who accept Common Core, and with money comes control. The
private organizations created a Validation Committee to “evaluate
the soundness, rigor, and validity of the standards” they were
developing. No information is available on how committee members
were chosen. No transparency is required of the private sector.
qualified person was on the Validation Committee:
Sandra Stotsky, a Massachusetts expert on K-12 English
education, who was involved in the implementation of the bipartisan
Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993.
A mathematics expert
joined Stotsky as the two dissenting votes when the committee
validated the standards. In the end, Stotsky told us, it didn’t
matter, as the program that was eventually sent to the states that
accepted the federal money wasn’t the same program that had been
Common Core’s mission
is to promote common educational standards and testing in the
English and mathematics curriculum across the country. According to
Stotsky, the common standards are lower than what we already have
created in Massachusetts since the Ed Reform Act.
Pioneer Institute is my go-to group for education issues;
Stotsky serves on its advisory board for ongoing school reform.
Pioneer reasonably asks why the federal government didn’t start its
program with low-achievement states, trying to bring them up to our
standards, instead of potentially letting us drop down to their
level for the common goal.
The meeting Tuesday was
called by concerned Peabody school board member Dave McGeney, and
attended by the rest of the school board, the mayor, the three
Peabody state legislators and at least 100 concerned citizens. They
were given a fact sheet from Stotsky noting the lack of transparency
of the entire Common Core process, as well as the chief deficiencies
of the standards, notably stressing writing over reading (i.e.,
expressing opinions for which adequate information has not been
acquired), and not encouraging the higher math courses that lead to
the science and technology expertise our nation needs.
A young teacher at the
meeting validated the argument that some of the standards are
“developmentally inappropriate in the primary grades.” Stotsky
predicted that programs for gifted students will disappear in favor
of leveling the education playing field. Most ominously to me: her
argument that “Common Core reduces opportunities for students to
develop critical thinking.”
Very few adults I know
have developed much in the way of critical thinking, so the nation’s
education system hasn’t done its job for at least a few generations.
Along with our math and science deficiency relative to other
countries, it’s understandable that efforts are constantly being
made to improve education standards.
Massachusetts has seen
success with English and math testing since 1993’s education reform,
and Pioneer argues that lifting the cap on charter schools will do
far more good than letting the federal government take over. With
the growing concern among parents, teachers and local education
systems, the state department of education should put its acceptance
of Common Core on hold, as New York has. If the state department
doesn’t re-evaluate, local school boards should be allowed to opt
out as more scrutiny uncovers problems.
The federal government
taking over K-12 education: What could possibly go wrong?