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3/1/15

Common Core and the Titanic

Common Core and the Titanic
    Common Core is a standardized national curriculum.  You might debate the difference in standards and curriculum till the cows come home, but when the standards drive textbook production and, in systems starved financially by the cumulative effects of years of austerity cuts, are used by classroom teachers to develop daily lesson plans, the standards become the curriculum.  The debate over whether or not the standards are curriculum is a diversion to distract parents from the real issue of Federal intrusion into what is a state issue.
     From an historical context, a centralized school curriculum serves the goals of totalitarian states.  It’s also illegal.  The General Education Provisions Act, the Department of Education Organization Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act all forbid or protect against the USDOE sticking its nose into the curriculum choices of state and local districts.  In spite of this, the USDOE funded the efforts of two separate testing companies to create a national test for English and mathematics.  Joseph Califano said “Any set of test questions that the federal government prescribed should surely be suspect as a first step toward a national curriculum…….[and] a national control of curriculum is a form of national control of ideas.”  
   Despite legal issues, CCSS were created through a secretive process with no opportunity for public input, little or no attempt at the solicitation of public dialogue, no evidence of discussion or critique from experienced educators, no foundational research or pilot programs and on the assumption that any standardized national curriculum was better than none at all.
   Where did the Common Core originate?  The National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practice, the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve, Inc., ACT, the College Board, the State Higher Education Executive Officers and the National Association of State Boards of Education all claim credit for developing these standards on behalf of the states.  States quickly jumped on the Common Core train before the standards were completed and before anyone had any idea what they would cost to implement.   RTTT dollars were the carrot and now states are being hit with the financial stick in the form of costs of implementation and standardized testing.
There are additional issues:
    1) There are few interdisciplinary connections between subjects in spite of research showing the positive effects of those connections on student learning and achievement.
    2) Citizenship, personal development and the promotion of democratic values are ignored.  Do not believe for one second their omission was inadvertent or unintentional.  
3) These standards are, by design and intent, difficult to amend in any way, shape or form despite what state committees might have told you during their “listening sessions”.
   Perhaps the biggest fallacy with Common Core is found in the belief that if everyone does the same thing at the same time to the same degree then all results will be wonderful.  Tell me how wonderfully that works with your kids or your job or your church or your spouse.
     CCSS, however, is just the part of the iceberg that’s showing above the surface.  It’s the part you can’t see that’s really dangerous.   The standards, along with the denigration of public school teachers, the re-segregation of schools, the constant assertions that public schools are failing miserably and an insistence on the “market based” (translated as privately owned for- profit educational agencies) approach to education fits nicely into the anti-public education agenda of the last decade.  None of the reasons presented for the adoption of the Common Core had anything to do with improving achievement but had everything to do with testing and regulating public education down the tubes until the public gives up, throws its collective hands into the air and consents to allow public education funds to be used by for-profit educational enterprises.  
    Common Core is part and parcel of the continued efforts to divert public money to private pockets, a continuation and an extension of vouchers,  Race to the Top, NCLB, teacher bashing, the use of value added measures to evaluate schools, administrators and teachers, the charter school movement, the Governor’s new Opportunity School District, ALEC led initiatives, changes to the Teacher Retirement System, the evaluation of schools of education using test scores, the continuation of useless standardized testing, the erosion of the authority of teachers in their classrooms, the imposition of rules and regulations designed to inhibit student learning, creativity and teacher morale and support those who insist that public education is an abject failure and must be abandoned.  As if that weren’t enough, the educational intent of those standards is not to  build upon success from one level to the next, but to instill a finite amount of information and achievement that creates good little workers that don’t have the imagination, creativity or problem solving skills to question authority.
    They want rules and testing for your kids, but not for theirs because their kids and grandkids are in private schools.  I might suggest to you that if a legislator has no kids or grandkids in public schools their their votes on public education should be met with all the skepticism and suspicion given a Methodist vote on the next Pope.
      In 1996 E. D. Hirsch wrote “The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them.”  In 1983 “A Nation at Risk” told us of the failure of our system of public education. The Educational Testing Service discovered in 1976 that college freshmen could correctly answer only half of forty multiple choice questions. In 1969 the Chancellor of NY schools, Harvey Scribner, said that for every student schools educated there was another that was “scarred as a result of his school experience.”  Admiral Rickover published “American Education, a National Failure” in 1963, and in 1959 LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space because “the standards of education are shockingly low.”  In 1955 Why Johnny Can’t Read became a bestseller, and in 1942 the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War.  The US Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed. In 1889 the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.
    You can see that stories about public education failing us all are not new.  The age of the lie, however, does not improve veracity.   Using international testing comparisons ignores the fact that US public education attempts to educate everyone and not a select few.  Other countries do not imitate our methods of testing or national curriculum but do seek ways to replicate the creativity and innovation of our people instilled by our system of public schools.  Fans of Seinfeld will remember George Costanza telling Jerry “it’s not a lie if you believe it.”  Listening to those who insist public education has failed lead me to believe that perhaps George was Arne Duncan’s father.
    What about the failure of public education?  Doesn’t everybody know those anti-God government schools have no discipline, no academic focus, no good teachers and high dropout rates?
  Evidently not.  The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that educational attainment is rising continually. Here’s their table providing decade-by-decade figures for high school graduate rates:
    US HS Graduates (total %)     
1940          38.1           
1950          52.8                        
1960          60.7                         
1970          75.4                         
1980          85.4                         
1990          85.7                                  
2000          88.1                        
2010          88.8                         
2013          89.9                         
    GA HS grad %     
1990     70.9           
2000     78.6                 
2006     82.2                 
2009     83.9                 
  Wait a minute - everybody knows Georgia’s graduation rate is in the 60’s.  How can this be?  Here’s how it can be - you only count the number of graduates that finish in less than 4 years and discount all the ones that took longer because they struggled through parent and family issues, financial hardships, poverty, working, parenthood, drug abuse, legal difficulties and life problems.  Those are not counted even though teachers will tell you the hardest kids to reach are the ones they are most proud of reaching.
    So what can you do to fight the corporate takeover of public education and to prevent the advance of thieves and liars that threaten to destroy the hope that public education gives children of all races of all levels of income and of all abilities, goals and handicaps?
   Tell your story.  When you hear of a success story, when you experience a success story, when you see a success story tell your friends, tell your neighbors, put it on Facebook, talk about it in the grocery store, put it in the local paper and tell other parents.  Talk about great teachers, great students and student achievement.  Use statistics, common sense, facts and the successes of students in your community to show how schools are succeeding every day.  Last year there were over 21, 260 applications for the freshman class at UGA.  There were 11,650 of those were accepted and 5,285 first year students enrolled.  Some would have you believe every one came from a private school.   Also remember successful public schools contribute to your local economy, to your community, to higher property values, lower crime rates and to a better quality of life in your community.  .
    Second - Opt out, opt your children out, opt your grandchildren out, opt your neighbors’ children out, encourage your local board to opt your system out and encourage teachers that choose to opt out and refuse to allow anyone in your family or sphere of influence to take standardized tests.  Period.  Allow this perversion of the educational process to die of its own weight and poison.
    Third - and most important - I used to think I could vote for a good person and that I could depend upon good people to do good things.  I have learned the hard way that most politicians are interested in being elected and once elected in being re-elected.  Testing companies, textbook companies and corporations have lobbyists and deep pockets, and campaign promises mean nothing but voting records mean everything.  Politicians that meet my criteria for support below will generally support issues and take stances commensurate with patriotism, common sense and the public good as I see it.  I no longer vote for anyone because of their party, their stand on immigration, on the economy, on their religious beliefs or on their fiscal policies.  My three non-negotiables are:
1) vote for a veteran when possible;  
2) vote for the candidate that supports public education and has their kids and grandkids in public schools. Period.  
3) follow up with letters and emails to that person if they are elected.  
     It’s not about race, it’s about poverty; it’s not about a test score, it’s about student achievement; it’s not about a standardized curriculum, it’s about good teaching; it’s not about the business model, it’s about personalization; it’s not about competition, it’s about cooperation.  Until we elect people that not only believe that but support it, we will continue to get the kind of politicians and public education system we vote for.
    Stay in close touch with your elected officials and let them know you are watching.  Make your voices heard.


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