Archive for February 14th, 2020

“Common Core” Problems

February 14, 2020

“Common Core” Problems

Amanda, a reader of my blog, sent this article to me in a comment about the declining state of America’s culture and educational system. Amanda said that the state of our classrooms is terrifying.

The following are her remarks:

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About my blog, she said: “Everything here is true.”

“In addition, I would add:”

By the 1980’s, mental health institutions patient populations, that at one time were around 600,000 patients, began declining. Additionally, funds for community mental health agencies were cut (unlike 1963 – Kennedy’s $150 million in the CMH Centers Act). In 1999, we had the Olmstead Case, followed by Obama enforcing this and “loosening requirements for having a disability.” By 2012, prisons were seeing an increase in the number of inmates having a mental illness. To note, between 1880 and 1985 we had 7 school massacres (not all with guns, even though there were semi-automatic rifles available to civilians during this time period, we also had more mental health resources/funding). From 1985 to present, we have had 34+ school massacres (and less resources/funding for mental health).

I am not sure if you have been in a public school lately, but it has gotten significantly worse in just the last 4 years. There are many more topics of discussion regarding schools and why society is the way it is. The path we have started down is terrifying. Those who do not work in education have no clue what’s really going on.

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My answer is as follows:

Bless your heart Amanda! I thank you for your response. You have obviously done your research.

Yes, I do know what is going on in America’s classrooms as I have teachers in my extended family and I was a professor of psychology for 36 years. I saw the dramatic decline in the quality of many of our students in the closing years of my time at the university. Moreover, I have maintained a private practice in psychology for 46 years, this partially concurrent with my professorship. I have provided psychotherapy for many burned-out teachers as well as a couple of school principals. I agree that the specter of education in America is terrifying and I am fearful for the welfare of my grandchildren and their children.

Sadly, a near majority of Americans cannot see the “forest for the trees”, so to speak. They believe our destructive ultra-liberal-leftist cultural evolutions (starting in the 1960’s) were and are normal; even beneficial. If that were not enough of a threat, America’s school-propagandized-youth are increasingly in favor of democratic socialism. A form of government that has failed through history, around the world. All of the trends that I have seen (and so many more not identified here) will certainly destroy America…if not reversed very soon. Warm Regards.   Tom Mawhinney

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Amanda sent me the following article about the governmentally imposed curricula in America’s schools, called “Common Core”

She noted that the Common Core curricula would certainly have pleased Bernhard Rust.

I had no idea who Bernhard was. Upon looking-him-up on the internet, I learned that he was Minister of Science, Education and National Culture in Nazi Germany. He was instrumental in teaching Hitler’s youth the philosophy of National Democratic Socialism in Nazi Germany. It is clear that Bernhard Rust and the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, teamed-up to shaped the thoughts, beliefs and actions of the German youths and also the adult population in grotesquely destructive directions.

The following article is a long one. But it is very much worth your reading.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D., 2/14/20

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A 2013, Frank A. Fusco Washington-Hillsdale Lecture

“Common Core Common Sense: Why It’s Illiberal and Unconstitutional”

Dr. Daniel B. Coupland, Associate Professor of Education, Hillsdale College
June 4, 2013

On May 29th, 2009, Arne Duncan, the new Secretary of Education for the Obama
Administration, gave a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In the speech, he
said,
   We want to raise the bar dramatically in terms of high standards. What we have had as
a country, I’m convinced, is what we call a race to the bottom. We have 50 different
standards, 50 different goal posts. And due to political pressure, those have been
dumbed down. We want to fundamentally reverse that. We want common, careerready internationally benchmarked standards.
   In this short paragraph, the Secretary of Education identified the problems of the past and set a
new vision for education in this country. He correctly assessed the damage created by the Bush
Administration’s Education policy from 2002 known as No Child Left Behind (or NCLB). While
supporters of NCLB can point to limited success in a few areas, the Bush Administration’s
education policy left the nation’s schools in a bureaucratic mess. In the National Press Club
speech, the new Secretary of Education was arguing that the mess was created by—what he
and others have called—a “patchwork of state standards” that left states to compete in a
fundamentally flawed and unfair process for limited federal funds. Secretary Duncan’s
argument—presented at the National Press Club and elsewhere—was very persuasive to those
in the education community who had suffered under the separate and very unequal policies of
the era know as No Child Left Behind. Four years after Arne Duncan’s 2009 speech, all but a
handful of states have signed on to a common set of curricular standards known as Common
Core.
   Common Core will now provide the framework for what students learn in math and English
language arts, but it will also establish two federally funded and approved tests that will replace
what states currently use to measure students’ academic success. Afraid to be left out of the
new national education marketplace, private companies are quickly trying to align themselves
with the Common Core standards. In order to survive in the Common Core era, textbook
publishers and other education-related industries must show how their materials meet these
national standards. SAT and ACT are now aligned to Common Core. Those who think they can
avoid the Common Core by sending their children to private schools or by homeschooling
should think again. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Stanford 10—two popular tests of
private schools and homeschool parents—will also be aligned to Common Core. Within a few short years, Common Core has gone from virtual unknown to national educational
powerhouse that may influence the formal education of some 50 million K-12 students in
America. In the next few minutes, I’ll try to give you some insight on what Common Core is,
what the major arguments are both for and against Common Core, and I will also try to show
how these arguments are missing the most important ideas about education altogether. But
first, I will start with a brief history.

A Brief History of Educational Standards in America
The idea of a rich educational experience finds its roots deep in American history. The
Founders of this country believed an “informed citizenry” was necessary for good government.
In the early 1800s, Horace Mann continued this legacy by arguing for widespread public
education. Today, Horace Mann is known as the “Father of the Common School Movement.”
In the late 1800s, politicians and social leaders looked to the schools to solve pressing social
needs brought on by industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. Many leading education
theorists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century —including John Dewey, William H.
Kilpatrick, G. Stanley Hall, and others—developed or promoted progressive solutions to these
pressing social needs. For the first half of the 20th Century, progressive theories—such as childcentered pedagogy and practical/work-related curricula—dominated much of the education
landscape.
   In October of 1957, the United States was awakened from its educational malaise when the
Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik, the first space satellite, into orbit. This one event
signaled America’s educational decline and brought attention to the need for a return to rich
content—at least in the fields of math, science, and foreign languages. But these reforms were
quickly lost in the cultural turmoil of the 1960s and early 1970s, and schools once again offered
a smorgasbord of academically weak classes. Students were earning academic credit in
courses titled “personal relationships,” “what’s happening,” and “girl talk,” and they were
receiving academic credit for extra-curricular activities such as “student government,” “mass
media,” and “cheerleading.”
   In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published a landmark study on
American education titled A Nation at Risk, which warned that the country’s economic,
political, and cultural future was threatened by our weak education system. The report stated
the now famous lines,
Our nation is at risk, the educational foundations of our society are presently being
eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a
people…If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the
mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an
act of war.
   A Nation at Risk signaled a turning point in American Education and brought about a renewed
focus on what Americans should know and be able to do. E.D. Hirsch’s 1987 book, Cultural
Literacy, argued that schools should focus on the basics and pass along “core knowledge” that
every educated American should know. But many in the education establishment resisted
these content-based reforms and continued to push a progressive agenda for America’s
schools.
   With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and the end of the Cold War,
international trade boomed, and many countries had greater opportunities to participate in the
global marketplace. Globalization led to international comparisons across a variety of social
indicators—including education. Many of the Asian countries—with whom we were now
competing—seemed to move further and further ahead of the United States. One of the
obvious features of the education in these countries was the existence of clear national
education standards. Many reformers pushed the idea that if the United States was going to
compete in the international marketplace, the quality of education in the entire country would
have to improve. They also concluded that such improvement would only occur if students
were held to high academic standards.
   In 1989, President George Bush Sr. hosted an education summit for the nation’s governors on
academic standards and assessment. A charismatic governor from Arkansas named Bill Clinton
took the lead in crafting a set of goals for increasing academic achievement in America. And
when Clinton defeated Bush for the presidency three years later, the new president used these
goals to craft his signature education policy know as Goals 2000. Goals 2000 provided money
for each state to develop its own standards based on a national template. Critics of this
initiative claimed that this effort violated the longstanding principle established by the 10th
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that education is the responsibility of the states. But the
Clinton administration countered that the national standards were meant to be only a template
for the states to follow and that each state was ultimately responsible for its own standards.
Interestingly, Goals 2000 also authorized the creation of an approval board which would certify
that states standards had indeed matched the national template. This approval board,
however, never materialized because in the 1994 midterm election, Republicans gained the
majority in Congress and quickly abolished it.
   Even without the federal board, the effort to create state standards based on a national
template continued, and in the mid-1990s professional subject-specific organizations released
national standards for history, English, and math. The general public assumed that these
standards would represent the basic knowledge and skills that students would need to know in
a particular subject, but they soon discovered that these professional organizations had used
this federally funded project to push unproven and, in a few cases, radical ideas within
academic fields. Public opposition to these national standards spread quickly. Most states
avoided the controversy of the national standards by creating their own unique standards. If
there was one thing in common across state standards it was their emphasis on less
controversial skills—such as “critical thinking,” “cooperative learning,” and “shared
understanding”—rather than more concrete statements about specific ideas, people, and
books that students should read.
   In 2001, President George W. Bush pushed his education policy—known as No Child Left Behind
(or NCLB)—which—like those before it—promised to increase student achievement by
encouraging states to set high standards and to develop assessments based on those standards.
But unlike the initiatives before it, NCLB required states to test all students in particular
subjects and at particular grade levels in order to receive federal funding.
Looking back, most education experts—on both right and left—concluded that NCLB had failed
to deliver real and lasting success. NCLB created an environment where “teaching to the test”
became status quo. And what made matter worse is that from state-to-state, the tests were all
different. Under NCLB, each state had its own academic standards that it was expected to
meet. And because federal money was based on each state meeting its own standards, there
was little incentive for states to keep the academic bar high. In an effort to show higher
proficiency in student achievement, states began lowering proficiency levels in what Secretary
Duncan referred to as a “race to the bottom.” By the end of the decade, many in the education
community were looking for an alternative to the “separate-and-unequal” approach to
standards of NCLB.

Common Core
In 2007, two national trade organizations—the National Governors Association and the Council
of Chief State School Officers—started work on a common set of curriculum standards in
English language arts and mathematics. In December of 2008, these two groups produced a
document on national education standards that would guide the Obama Administration during
its transition into office. Two months later, the Secretary of Education announced a federal
education grant program known as “Race to the Top” (the name is an obvious nod to the
failures of No Child Left Behind). This program included money from the 2009 “Stimulus Bill,”
which was to be used by states to improve academic standards and assessments. In order to
receive Race to the Top grants, state had to commit to “a set of content standards that define
what students must know and be able to do and that are substantially identical across all states
in a consortium.” In 2011, the Obama administration made the decision to adopt common
standards even easier. Most states were still obligated to meet onerous NCLB requirements.
The U.S. Department of Education promised NCLB waivers to states that adopted a common set
of college- and career- ready standards and assessments. And while the U.S. Department of
Education did not require states to adopt the Common Core specifically, these standards
were—and still are—the only standards that met the Education Department’s criteria.
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia adopted the Common Core standards. Minnesota
adopted the English language arts standards, but it rejected the math. Initially, only Alaska and
Texas rejected Common Core, but in the end, Virginia and Nebraska did too.

Arguments FOR Common Core
The idea of common academic standards across all states is quite appealing to many in the field
of education because it seems to cure some obvious and longstanding problems. Allow me to
highlight two of the most important.
First, our mobile society makes it easy for families to pick up and move. As E.D. Hirsch points
out in his book The Knowledge Deficit (2006),
In a typical American school district, the average rate at which students transfer in and
out of schools during the academic year is about one third. In a typical inner-city school,
only about half of the students who start in September are still there in May—a mobility
rate of 50 percent. 
   When students move from school to school—especially when these moves are across state
lines, they often experience a fractured education filled with huge gaps or boring repetitions.
However, if all schools are meeting the same academic standards, the students have a greater
chance of finding a relatively consistent education experience regardless of where they move
within the country. In theory a student should be able to move from Maine to California with
little disruption in his education.
   Second, for years, the United States has lagged behind many industrialized nations in key
academic areas such as math and science. Since Sputnik, policymakers have tried to craft a
coherent plan to improve our country’s standing in these subjects areas, but they have
struggled to do so in light of the “patchwork of state standards.” Pointing to the failures of
NCLB, proponents of Common Core argue that having a common set of academically rigorous
standards for the entire country would allow policymakers to craft a coherent plan for
improving American education. Many corporate leaders and politicians argue that we are
unable to compete as a nation in a global society if every state is doing its own thing.

Arguments AGAINST Common Core
   As you can probably guess, Common Core has its critics, who typically focus one or more of the
following concerns.

1. Cost
Critics claim that Common Core will be very expensive to implement and maintain. The only
study on the cost of implementing Common Core standards and assessment nationwide
estimated a price tag of about $16 billion over seven years. But the truth of the matter is that
no one really knows what the final price tag for Common Core will be. For this reason—and
others—critics have already labeled this initiative ObamaCore. Critics of Common Core charge
that most states acted irresponsibly when they adopted the standards because they did not
first have a firm understanding of its price tag. Many states saw the Race to the Top funds as a
way to pay for immediate education expenses and failed to see that they were signing on to
something that would be far more expensive.

2. Quality
Critics argue that rather than pushing all states toward high standards, Common Core is
encouraging a coalescence in the mediocre middle—so, for example, while Mississippi’s
standards appear to get stronger by adopting Common Core, the standards in Massachusetts
get weaker. Several curriculum experts—including Ze’ev Wurman, Sandra Stotsky, and James
Milgram—have examined the math and English language arts standards very carefully, and they
have discovered some alarming concerns. In fact, because of these concerns and others, both
Stotsky and Milgram—who served on the Common Core’s validation committee—refused to
sign the final validation report.

3. Privacy
The 2009 “Stimulus Bill” required states to begin tracking students in a database—starting in
their preschool years to their entry into the workforce. This database will link students’ results
on Common Core-related assessments to other private personal information. This database
will be available to a wide variety of departments within the federal government. While
supporters of Common Core claim that the system employs measures to protect the anonymity
of students, critics have pointed to studies that demonstrate how these measure might not be
as secure as supporters assume. But the larger issue remains about whether collecting such
private information is consistent with the role of government expressed by the Founders.

4. Constitutionality
The biggest concern of Common Core critics to date has been the federal government’s ever increasing role in education. The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution established the
principle that the “power” to oversee education belongs to the states. This longstanding
principle of local control of education is reiterated throughout our laws and government codes.
For generations, Americans have understood that the constitutional authority for education
rests with the states, not the federal government. Critics of Common Core see these standards
as federal overreach and a violation of both the letter and spirit of federal education law and
the U.S. Constitution.
   Supporters of Common Core like to portray these critics as far-right extremists who are
paranoid about a government takeover. But this is not true. Diane Ravitch, a respected
historian of American education, is hardly a darling of the far right—especially in recent years.
On Feb. 26th of this year, Ravitch wrote the following in a piece titled “Why I Oppose Common
Core Standards.” Her comments below summarize many of the central concerns that most
critics have.
   I have long advocated for voluntary national standards, believing that it would be
helpful to states and districts to have general guidelines about what students should
know and be able to do as they progress through school.
   Such standards, I believe, should be voluntary, not imposed by the federal government…
For the past two years, I have steadfastly insisted that I was neither for nor against the
Common Core standards. I was agnostic. I wanted to see how they worked in practice…
After much deliberation,…I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core
standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been
foisted upon the nation.
   Ravitch then goes on to explain her opposition to Common Core:
Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states. In fact, it was
well understood by states that they would not be eligible for Race to the Top funding
($4.35 billion) unless they adopted the Common Core standards. Federal law prohibits
the U.S. Department of Education from prescribing any curriculum, but in this case the
Department figured out a clever way to evade the letter of the law. Forty-six states and
the District of Columbia signed on, not because the Common Core standards were
better than their own, but because they wanted a share of the federal cash.
   The response from Common Core supporters regarding federal overreach has been surprising
weak. Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the D.C. public schools and a well-known
education reformer, is a strong supporter of Common Core. In a speech last Thursday to
political and business leaders in my home state, she said, The vast majority of states have adopted the standards. I’ve heard some rumblings
from folks who say we don’t like it when the federal government is telling us what to do.
We don’t like that. You know what you should not like? The fact that China is kicking
our butts right now. Get over feeling bad about the federal government and feel bad
that our kids are not competing.
   I certainly hope that this country’s commitment to the Constitution does not simply hang on
something as fragile as a “feeling” that we need to “get over.”

Rhee’s cavalier critique of those
who are concerned about federal overreach is troubling, but I—for one—appreciate her
honesty. Most supporters of Common Core try to hide behind words like “state-led” and
“voluntary.” But anyone willing take an honest look at what transpired between 2009 and 2011
would conclude that many of these cash-strapped states already under the burden of budget
shortfalls and expensive NCLB requirements were seduced by a high pressured, time sensitive
sales pitch for adopting the standards that included relief in the form of money and waivers.
Yes, the states are ultimately responsible for selling their constitutional birthright for a bowl of
porridge, and given more time, perhaps many more states might have rejected such a poor
bargain. But perhaps, it’s not too late.

The Retreat
Initially, Common Core experienced widespread bi-partisan support. Even some prominent
Republican politicians—such as Jeb Bush of Florida, Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Mitch
Daniels of Indiana—were strong supporters of Common Core. But support for Common Core
seems to be weakening, and some states that originally adopted the standards are starting to
take a second look.
   This spring, the Michigan House of Representatives voted essentially to defund the
implementation of Common Core standards and their related tests. In Indiana, the State
Senate voted to delay implementation of Common Core so that the State Board of Education
could get a better understanding of the quality, cost, and loss of local control associated with
implementation of the standards and related assessments. In April, Indiana’s new governor,
Mike Pence, agreed to take “a long, hard look” at Common Core and quickly added that he was
one of a only few politicians initially to oppose No Child Left Behind.
Other states are considering legislative action to delay or defund Common Core standards and
assessments. Within the last nine months, the following states have held public forums or
formal legislative hearings to discuss delaying or defunding Common Core: South Carolina,
North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Idaho,
South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
   In April, The Republican National Committee passed an anti-Common Core resolution stating
that the RNC “rejects the [Common Core] plan which creates and fits the country with a
nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.”
Never to be outdone, Texas boldly reiterated its opposition to the Common Core standards. In
early May, the Texas House of Representatives formally rejected the standards by a margin of
140-2.
   Last month, a poll of “education insiders,” which included national and state education leaders,
found that support for Common Core is beginning to fade. The poll showed that 63% of those
polled believe that states will implement some sort of moratorium on Common Core.
And it would be wrong to assume that opposition to Common Core is coming only from the
right. Recently, Randi Weingarten, president of the nation’s second largest teachers union with
about 1 million members, called for a moratorium on the use of standardized tests based on
Common Core standards. Ms. Weingarten, initially a strong supporter of the Common Core
standards, is concerned that aspects of Common Core have been poorly implemented and that
without a “mid-course correction,” the entire effort will fall apart. She said recently that “The
Common Core is in trouble. There is a serious backlash in lots of different ways, on the right
and on the left.”

Something Much More Fundamental
The idea of common, nationwide standards is appealing, and as I mentioned above, the
benefits of such standards should not be ignored. But the concerns over Common Core—and
especially its implementation—are real and troubling. Any of these concerns—cost, mediocrity,
and federal overreach—are serious enough that states should consider pausing and, perhaps,
ultimately repealing their adoption of these standards. But a much more fundamental concern
exists about Common Core that goes to the heart of any educational experience.
Recall Secretary Duncan’s comments from the beginning of my talk. He said, “We want
common, career ready…standards.” The phrase “career-ready” or “college- and career-ready”
appear throughout the Common Core standards. The opening page of the Common Core
document includes eight references to “college- and career-“ readiness. If any other goal is
mentioned, such as literacy, it is subservient to this overarching goal. The catchphrase for the
Common Core—printed below its logo—is “Preparing America’s Students for College & Career.”
Common Core’s mission statement reflects this notion as well. Here is the entire mission
statement:
   The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what
students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to
help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world,
reflecting the knowledge and skills that young people need for success in college and
careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be
best positioned to compete successfully in a global economy.
With such a mission, it is easy to see why so many politicians and business leaders support
Common Core. Even critics of Common Core have adopted the “college- and career-ready”
mantra and now spend much of their time arguing how Common Core will not prepare
students for the working world. I understand that this line of attack is necessary if they have
any hope of stopping Common Core. But what I would like for us to consider here today is
whether or not career preparation for a “global economy” should be the ultimate educational
goal in America.
   In the 1920s and 30s, progressive educators tried to devalue an impractical liberal arts
education and saw schools as mechanisms for preparing students for particular roles within the
social structure. During this era, schooling became job preparation.
But in the ancient world, job preparation was known as “servile education” because it prepared
the student to “serve” a master in a particular kind of work. Modern theorists would say that I
am being ridiculous to associate the ancient notion of “servile education” to “skills for the 21st
century” which will allow students to adapt to an ever-changing society. But as long as
students are told that the end of education is a job or career, they will forever be servants of
some master.
   Joy Pullmann, an education policy analyst for the Heartland Institute (and a Hillsdale graduate),
recently won the Robert Novak award to study and write about Common Core. Pullman is
quickly becoming one of the nation’s experts on Common Core. At a recent hearing in
Wisconsin on Common Core Standards, Ms. Pullman addressed Common Core’s misguided
focus.
   In a self-governing nation we need citizens who can govern themselves. The ability to
support oneself with meaningful work is an important part, but only a part, of self-government. When a nation expands workforce training so that it crowds out the other
things that rightly belong in education, we end up turning out neither good workers nor
good citizens.
   The ancients knew that in order for men to be truly free, they must have a liberal education
that includes study of literature and history, mathematics and science, music and art. Yes, man
is made for work, but he is also made for so much more. Education should be about the highest
things. We should study these things—stars, plant cells, square roots, Shakespeare’s Hamlet,
Mozart’s Requiem, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—not simply because they will get us into the
right college or a particular line of work; rather, we study these noble things because they can
tell us who we are, why we are here, and what our relationship is to each other as human
beings and to the physical world that surrounds us.

Commenting on the Common Core standards, Anthony Esolen, English professor at Providence
College, said,
   [W]hat appalls me most about the standards…is the cavalier contempt for great works
of human art and thought, in literary form. It is sheer ignorance of the life of the
imagination. We are not programming machines. We are teaching children…We are to
be forming the minds, and hearts of men and women…[and we should] raise them to be
human beings, honoring what is good and right, cherishing what is beautiful.
If education in America has become—as Common Core openly declares—preparation for work
in a global economy, then the situation is far worse than Common Core critics anticipated, and
the concerns about the cost, the quality, and, yes, even the constitutionality of Common Core
pale in comparison to the concern for the hearts, minds, and souls of America’s children.


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