Conservatives and right wingers are wont to see conspiracies everywhere:  EPA, IRS, Benghazi, Immigration, Death Panels, etc.   So far Obama has yet to be impeached like Clinton and Nixon almost, for example, but they’re working on it.  Now that Obamacare has lost its luster as the latest shiny object, (What? You mean there really AREN’T Death Panels?) immigration has pretty much replaced the ACA as the shiniest object of pursuit as we approach November’s mid-term elections.    But, Common Core is running a solid third.

Let’s look at some of the impacts that – according to the Tea Baggers and their ilk – Common Core is going to have on our children:

“It’s Dictatorship 101” “Its slavery.”  Glenn Beck

“Common Core will attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they can.” Florida State Lawmaker

“We need to repeal every word of Common Core.” Ted Cruz.

“We’re very alarmed about choice and local control being taken away from our parents and educators.”  LA Governor Bobby Jindal

“They’re comparing us to Finland!  Finland has 5 million people.  They’re comparing apples to reindeeeuh!”  Joe Rella, National Common Core critic

“This is fucking insane. It’s child abuse.”  Mark Naison, Badass Teacher’s Association Founder

(I have a particular, personal fondness for that last one, given the issue.)

Damn!  Looks like Armageddon’s right around the corner!  

Brief History of the Common Core Effort

The impetus for Common Core stems from the confusion of No Child Left Behind where the lack of uniformity across state lines (each state was left to develop their own testing and evaluation regimes) makes it virtually impossible to assess how students are  performing at a national level.  According to many in the field, it never worked and many states claimed that No Child Left Behind punished them for conditions beyond their control (poverty, single parent households, etc.) 

Back in 2000, Jason Zimba and David Coleman, two Rhodes scholars, got together and launched Grow Network designed to make sense of No Child Left Behind data.  By 2008, the two had developed a plan for overhauling education mainly by consolidating and reducing the plethora of standards used by the states, making them clearer in meaning, and more relevant for college and work, and making the streamlined standards significantly higher concerning mastery of a subject matter. *  With the assistance of the Council of Chief State School Officials (CCSSO) and the National Governor’s Association, Zimba and Coleman’s ideas became what we now know as Common Core. 

But it was with the involvement of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2008 that greatly expanded the reform effort.  This is when the Tea Party and their Big Money friends began yapping about the Federal Government and elitist ** takeover of our public education system.  (Fact: The Federal Government – aka us taxpayers – sends some $108 billion annually, about $6,000 per student, to states and local school districts with no strings attached.) Is it just a coincidence that while Common Core had already been voluntarily adopted by 46 states prior to 2008, the Tea Party’s vicious campaign against this desperately needed, multi-partisan reform movement came on the heels of Obama’s election?   Just a thought. 

What It Does

Common Core has no “standards” concerning curriculum content.  Common Core does nothing to change the current state and local education organizations or local school boards.  Common Core is not an Obama effort although the Administration has recently initiated a program to provide monetary incentives for states that do adopt Common Core.  It is certainly not a Communist plot as the Tea Party would have you believe. 

What it does do is suggest a series of reforms – emphasizing the relevance of education to real world situations, reducing the plethora of “education concepts” states and school districts adopt willy nilly, shift the focus to real leaning as opposed to rote memorization, encourages more reliance on “informational texts” – magazine articles, speeches, reports for example,  - and suggests fewer but standardized tests that can be compared across states.  None of this is new to the educational reform movement.  Such suggestions have been proposed for decades.  Initially, Governors, State legislatures, teacher’s unions, educators, teachers and administrators all supported Common Core.   They recognized that a couple of decades of declining achievement required that something be done.  (It’s ironic ((if sad)) to note that the 1983 National Commission On Educational Excellence’s report, A Nation At Risk, recommended much the same as does Common Core 20 years later.)

Why Common Core Is Important

The importance of Common Core rests in it’s emphasis on the creation of consistent educational standards, uniform testing and evaluation techniques to assess educational outcomes so that at the front end, kids in Mississippi are exposed to the same level of educational objectives and standards as kids in New York State.   At the back end, as a nation, we might better understand where we are, and maybe if we better understand where we are, we will be able to take reform measures that actually work to improve our educational system.  We might learn something.  Naturally, whenever the issue of “how to measure educational performance” comes up, toes get stepped on; axes get gored.  It’s part of the discussion.  Teachers often – wrongly, in my view - face the brunt of criticism for low student achievement.

But despite where the problems might lie, the importance of reforming public education is amply illustrated by the following:

OECD 2012 Educational Rankings (Includes 2014 Updates)

United States
South Korea
United Kingdom

This is the reality of our dismal state of educational affairs.  And, yes, I’m very much aware of the arguments against OECD and PISA – the “Well, those countries are homogeneous unlike the US,” “the US has a greater percentage of people in poverty,” etc. etc. Whatever the anomalies might be among data sets and measurement instruments, whatever the differences between us (the US) and “them socialist countries,” whatever the reasons, the fact remains that the United States of America is faring poorly and we need to do something about it.  No amount of counter argument can change that.

Who’s Against It?

Initially, and prior to the Tea Party’s anti-Common Core campaign, only four states Palin’s Alaska, Perry’s Texas,  (Why am I not surprised?) along with Nebraska and Virginia (all “Red States” by the way) opted out of endorsing and adopting the voluntary Common Core standards for their states.  The bi-partisan effort to bring some order to the cacophony of state standards and tests had succeeded.  But then enter the Tea Party with all it’s doomsday blathering’s about “government takeover” “loss of local control” “Socialist Plot” “Obama Conspiracy” and the right wing media machine and the rhetorical atmosphere quickly changed from cordial and rational to accusatory,  condemnatory and insane. (See introductory quotations.)

Today?   Sadly, nine states have formally opted out (South Carolina and Oklahoma being the latest) and many more have “dis-endorsed” Common Core or modified their adoption due to the politicized, radically negative publicity and hurling of unsupported, irrational accusations back and forth across the country among the actors. Unions too have now distanced themselves from the effort as have a number of previously supportive donor organizations.  An increasing number of national, state and local educational organizations are criticizing Common Core amidst a fierce and vocal backlash among the public who, just a few years ago, had no idea what Common Core was. 

Bottom Lines

As far as I know even with the vociferous anti-Common Core protests by the Tea Party our students are not faring any better than before.  You are free to correct me here.  And that is a tragedy.  Not only a moral tragedy but a practical one as well.  America lags behind our Western counterparts and will continue to slip and be less able to compete in the 21st Century unless our public education system is repaired.  But apparently, as is always the case, the ideological warfare engaged in by the Tea Party – their “win” for example, in shutting down the Federal Government – is front and center when it comes to the well being and competitiveness of America.  They are out to “reform” America to their ideological (read: “Family Values” image) as opposed to real, practical and beneficial efforts to actually improve America’s educational achievement standing among the world’s nations.  The Tea Party would be far less influential over the Common Core “debate” if it weren’t for the Big Money conservative donors (anonymous) who are supporting their misguided cause. 

Of course the Tea Party doesn’t believe that America needs “improvement.”  No, except for creeping, dangerous, anti-American Liberalism, they think America is just fine.  In fact, they think that if we went back to the 19th Century (or is it the 17th  or 18th Century?)  “values” – when women couldn’t vote, when Blacks were slaves, when there was no FDA and folks died from poisonous foods, no EPA when folks died from chemicals in our drinking water, when, on average, folks lived for 40 years America would be a truly wonderful place in which to live.  Yes.  This is the America that the ignorant but uber-patriotic Tea Party wants to drag all of us back to.  I, for one, wish that there was a time machine that would send each and every one of them back there.  They might learn just how good they have it in 2014. 

So a bi-partisan, multi-participant, cooperative and professional effort to improve America’s dismal public education outcomes, has suddenly morphed into a viscous, Socialist, Communist Plot by Elites and the Obama administration to enslave America at the hands of the “government” and Bill and Melinda Gates.  This, despite the fact that very few Americans (20% or less depending on the poll) actually approve of the Tea Party’s views, ideology and policies.   As a nation, the situation we find ourselves in is that a small group of well-funded uber-patriotic folks who think that life in America was so much better in “the olden days” and that 80% of Americans disagree with are forming national education public policy for all of us.  And please recall that Common Core is only one of the Tea Party’s shiny objects and they and their 20% are making public policy for the 80% of us who disagree with them. 

I call this a hijacking.  And it’s our country and our youth who are being held hostage. 

* Having worked professionally with the District of Columbia School System, I am very much aware of how different are educational plans from what actually occurs in our schools.  As the District’s Vice Principal for High School Education once put it to me – “We have the best educational system around.  On paper. The reality, however, is very different.”

** I’m wondering who it is then, if not educated, knowledgeable, professional elites who should be formulation educational standards?  Anti-Intellectuals?  Creationists? Bullwinkle maybe? 



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