Common Core: friend or foe?

What is Common Core? The Common Core State Standards is a national school curriculum initiative—a set of content guidelines—that was introduced in 2009 by the National Governors Association and an organization called Achieve (www.achieve.org). It was originally tailored to mathematics and literature. Common Core, as the standards are commonly referred to, was initially propelled by means of President Obama’s “Race To the Top” grants, through which his administration doled out $75 million in federal assistance for education—coupled with a pardon from “No Child Left Behind” (an initiative of George W. Bush) requirements—to any state that adopted the curriculum guidelines. Initially, 46 states agreed to adopt these standards, sight unseen. Those who did so are planning full implementation of this initiative by 2015 by basing at least 85 percent of their state curricula on the Common Core Standards. Home schooling, private, and charter schools are not exempt.

The adoption dates for those states that chose to adopt Common Core all lie within the two years following the initial announcement. Currently, only Texas and Virginia have outright refused to adopt the standards, giving no indication of a softening of their stance. Nebraska became a member, but chose not to adopt the standards. Minnesota, on the other hand, has adopted the standards only in part. To date, there have been no assessments written for Common Core, but there have been groups that have organized to do so. Of the 46 adoptees, 14 have repealed or are in the process of repealing. Pennsylvania is one of the early adopters and is en route to implement Common Core by the fall school year 2013–2014.

The General Education Provisions Act, the Department of Education Organization Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act all protect states against such an intrusion by the United States Department of Education that has, seemingly, imposed a national curriculum on the country. According to this excerpt:

Department of Education Organization Act, 20 USC § 3403:

B)  No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum . . .

The originator of the underlying premise of the Common Core Standards seems to be Marc Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy. He possesses extensive academic credentials, but none that pertain directly to the field of education. His involvement by all indications began with a “Dear Hillary” Clinton letter. This is an  excerpt from his letter to Mrs. Clinton:

What follows comes in three places:

First, a vision of the kind of national — not federal — human resources development system the nation could have. This is interwoven with a new approach to governing that should inform that vision. What is essential is that we create a seamless web of opportunities, to develop one’s skills that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone — young and old, poor and rich, worker and full-time student. It needs to be a system driven by client needs (not agency regulations or the needs of the organization providing the services), guided by clear standards that define the stages of the system for the people who progress through it, and regulated on the basis of outcomes that providers produce for their clients, not inputs into the system.

On January 22, 1997, former President Clinton himself briefly expressed similar sentiments in a speech to a suburban Chicago audience so friendly that it interrupted him with applause 29 times. Even so, one line in his speech was greeted with stony silence: “We can no longer hide behind our love of local control of the schools.” Research indicates that though there has been mention that it will indeed be the local school boards and teachers that will decide the curriculum, the agreements the states make suggest this:

We anticipate that given limited resources most districts have for curriculum improvements the overwhelming majority of districts will rely on that portal to bring instructional program in line with the new standards.

It seems as though the portals will provide curriculum, i.e., lesson plans, to be made available for implementation.

In 2004, Bill Gates’s company Microsoft was involved in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO’s) “Millennium Campaign Goals.” In November 2004 at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, the organization signed a 26-page “Cooperation Agreement” with Microsoft Corporation to develop a “master curriculum.” The agreement states that the syllabus will “form the basis for deriving training content to be delivered to teachers,” and “UNESCO will explore how to facilitate content development.”

In 2005, Mr. Gates’ foundation donated close to $20 million to the National Governors Association, and an unspecified amount to the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, a group founded by Marc Tucker that is comprised of American business, government, civil rights, and education leaders. The commission’s report, “Tough Choices or Tough Times” recommended dramatic changes to America’s education and training system. In 2007, Mr. Gates’ foundation donated more than $21 million to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Overall, Mr. Gates has funded the Common Core Standards to the tune of $76 billion.

In 2007, David Coleman, a president on the college board, chief architect of Common Core, and a Times Magazine 100 man for being founder of said curriculum, partnered to launch a non-profit consultancy called Student Achievement Partners to promote the concept of a national curriculum. In 2009, the National Governors Association and the CCSSO hired Student Achievement Partners to lead the process of researching, writing, and disseminating a voluntary set of curriculum standards for English and Math.

In 2011, the conservative group American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC’s) education task force developed model legislation calling for the demise of Common Core, but then backpedaled after receiving a $376,635 grant from the Gates Foundation. In November 2011, Mr. Gates spoke to a G20 summit in Cannes and issued his report: “My report will address the financing needed to achieve maximum progress on the ‘Millenium Development Goals,’ and to make a faster progress on development over the next decade.”

In 2012, Student Achievement Partners received $18 million from General Electric to “assist the states nationwide in implementing the Common Core State Standards,” and about $4 million from the Gates Foundation to “support teachers nationwide in understanding and implementing Common Core State Standards,” plus another $2,490,430 to “grow capacity to support teachers and to strengthen operations.” Mr. Gates and his organization also funded many of the organizations pushing the Common Core Standards including the PTA, the Thomas Fordham Foundation, the American Federation of Teachers, and many other prominent groups and organizations. For a full listing of these see the Washington Post article here: www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/05/12/gates-gives-150-million-in-grants-for-common-core-standards/

According to reporting by ABC27-TV out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is moving forward on another Common Core Standard which makes standardized testing essential for graduation from High School. At the local level in Scranton, because of time constraints, Scranton’s Education Director Mr. “Cy” Douaihy was not available for a full interview. The Gazette did manage to conduct a short phone conversation with Douaihy, and he seemed confident of the Standards, but appeared to only be somewhat familiar with them. Unlike some of the locales mentioned at the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee hearing, Scranton appears less knowledgeable of Common Core, and as of summer 2013 no public discussions has taken place in the city.

As of May 20, Governor Corbett had halted the implementation of Common Core Standards in Pennsylvania schools. This pushed the decision making past the July 1, 2013, deadline, but the standards are not defeated and will be discussed, presumably, later this year. Following Corbett’s delaying action, four Pennsylvania assemblymen held a press conference on June 28 to introduce five new pieces of legislation that directly affect the implementation of Common Core Standards in Pennsylvania. The following bills have been introduced to amend or repeal Pensylvania’s Common Core: HB 1551, HB 1552, HB 1553, HB 1554.Though the legislative and regulatory approval of the standards has been postponed, there has been no official cancellation of implementation for the 2013–2014 school year.

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