It Doesn’t Take a Tinfoil Hat to Critique Common Core

Contrary to the suggestion of Kathleen Porter-Magee and Sol Stern on NRO yesterday, you do not have to sport a tinfoil tricorn to believe Common Core curriculum and testing requirements are not only low-quality, but yet another threat to the American tradition of individual liberty and limited government.

The duo, one of whom I’ve heard out, paste unsubstantiated dreams onto a project prefacing national control over education, from teacher training to hiring and firing to classroom worksheets, by outlining what schools in 46 states must teach and test in every grade in math and English. Porter-Magee should know this, since she serves on a federal panel to review the actual questions for national tests currently under development.

Why on earth do the feds need to review these tests if the entire project is, as the two insist, state-instigated and -controlled? Ah, right, because the federal government provided all the funds for these national tests, and major grants to the nonprofits who wrote Common Core. They and progressive outfits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation bankrolled this entire effort, and big businesses with significant financial stakes in national education markets helped sponsor the project and efforts to promote it to lawmakers and fellow business leaders.

The pair deceptively wrote that the Obama administration “has stated that adoption of ‘college and career readiness standards’ doesn’t necessarily mean adoption of Common Core,” but failed to mention that no standards but Common Core fit the administration’s definition of such standards. If the president has his way, states will lose federal money for setting their own standards, as they already were refused access to “Race to the Top” stimulus dollars if they refused Common Core. In January’s State of the Union address, President Obama said these federal grants “convinced almost every state” to adopt Common Core. Despite these realities, Stern and Porter-Magee fatuously assert, states can definitely set their own education standards — just as states can set their own drinking ages.

They also claim, inconsistently, that Common Core is “not a curriculum” and that it will promulgate “an academic curriculum based on great works of Western civilization and the American republic.” The standards essentially define the table of contents for all U.S. K–12 math and English texts. This may not constitute a curriculum, but it certainly defines what kids will and will not learn, especially when paired with two sets of national tests. And why should a centrally controlled, taxpayer-funded, unaccountable-to-the-public set of committees have the power to define what nearly every U.S. school child will learn?

Porter-Magee and Stern project their wishes for better U.S. curriculum onto Common Core. Works they acclaim, such as Common Sense, the Gettysburg Address, and To Kill a Mockingbird appear not on the actual standards, but on accompanying lists of book suggestions — such as California’s — that also include piles of trash schools can teach instead. I compared Common Core’s early math and literacy requirements with grade-level recommendations from Porter-Magee and Stern’s revered E. D. Hirsch, and made essentially the same finding one of Common Core’s content-level experts explained to two state legislatures, which led her to refuse to sign off on the project for obvious lack of quality and research. Calling Common Core rigorous is like calling an average high-school soccer team “world-class.” Porter-Magee and Stern’s purportedly conservative arguments essentially constitute doublespeak on every point.

There is no evidence Common Core will improve education. It’s never been field-tested, and research suggests education standards have no effect on student learning: Many states with high standards have low achievement, and vice versa. So why this horrific waste of time? Is it for the national student databases of test scores, hobbies, family income, voting status, health records, and more?

And how are all of these arrangements conducive to individual rights and limited government?

— Joy Pullmann is managing editor of School Reform News and an education research fellow at the Heartland Institute.

[First published at National Review Online, reposted with permission of author]

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About Jeffrey Horn

Jeffrey D. Horn is a father of four children, a grassroots activist, and a data scientist. He is the author of the essay "LEARNING WITH LEVIATHAN: OBJECTIFICATION, SURVEILLANCE, AND CONTROL IN A CONCEALED COMMAND ECONOMY" in the book "Common Ground on Common Core: Voices from across the Political Spectrum Expose the Realities of the Common Core State Standards." Earning his Bachelor of Science degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he also holds a master’s degree in mathematics and a Ph. D. in computer science from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. A professional programmer, he works daily to build infrastructure that can be used to leverage Big Data in improving advertising, medical decisions, investing, and more. Very conscious of the tension that exists between technology and personal freedom, he has been educating and advocating against Common Core and high-stakes testing in Wisconsin for several years. Over the course of 2013 and 2014, he spearheaded an initiative to unite a variety of organizations and individuals on Common Core related issues for the purpose of sending several open letters to state-level public officials in Wisconsin. The letters ultimately helped to ensure a series of public hearings on Common Core at locations around the state in late 2013. You can contact Jeff via email at jeffreydhorn@gmail.com or via Twitter: @jeffreydhorn

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