The truth about Common Core


In an article written for Daily Censored [1], writer and veteran teacher Susan Ohanian provides the facts you need to know about the Common Core State Standards.

March 5, 2013

IN RESPONSE to a poverty rate that tops 90 percent in many urban and rural schools–and 1.6 million homeless children, many in schools with no libraries–education reformers at the White House, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Governors Association call for a radical, untried curriculum overhaul and two versions of nonstop national testing to measure whether teachers are producing workers for the Global Economy.

They call this upheaval the Common Core State (sic) Standards (CCSS), and there are two things to remember: The Common Core did not originate with the states, and it is speculative and experimental–in a word, cuckoo.

I use the (sic) in its title because putting the word “state” in there is a political move, a public relations ploy. Learning from President Bill Clinton’s failure to get the national test he wanted, corporate leaders and their political allies try to keep this school remake as distant from the White House as possible, insisting over and over that it’s a “grassroots initiative” –what the people asked for. Every time they say this, the press repeats it. The Common Core reality is about as far from Mom and apple pie as a zombie invasion.

Writing in Bloomberg Businessweek [2], Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Golden was one of the few journalists to acknowledge the closeness of the White House to the Common Core: “Today, the Gates Foundation and Education Secretary Duncan move in apparent lockstep.”

School reform rhetoric about the “failure” of public schools draws on the notoriously deceptive and fear-mongering A Nation at Risk–pushed by entities ranging from the Business Roundtable and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U. S. Department of Education.

This rhetoric is bipartisan. Both Republicans and Democrats like to bash schools–as a diversionary tactic to avoid accepting responsibility for the Wall Street and banking debacles. School reform solutions are also bipartisan–exponentially increasing the number of standardized tests children take, tying teacher salaries to those test scores, dismissing whole school staffs, and shutting down neighborhood schools.

This latest corporate reform plan, the Common Core State (sic) Standards (CCSS), eliminates community-based planning, destroys personal response to literature, and, instead of fostering education for individual need and the common good, puts children on a treadmill to becoming scared, obedient workers for the global economy. The constant exhortation to teachers and students is: “You’re not good enough for the market economy!”

When the ruling class screams about people not measuring up, over time, the besieged are trained to blame themselves for the lack of jobs, lack of benefits, lack of a safety net. Blame themselves and not the politicos, hedge-funders, bankers and cronies whose own greed has put our entire system in peril. According to an Associated Press 2012 analysis, the typical CEO took home $9.6 million.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE COMMON Core State (sic) Standards are the result of hundreds of millions of dollars disbursed in carefully distributed grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, accompanied by the threat from U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan to withhold federal funds if individual states did not sign on the dotted line.

I looked at two months worth of press citations praising the CCSS–August and September 2012–and then looked up the Gates money given to those who come to praise CCSS. The list ranges from the American Federation of Teachers ($1,000,000) to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction ($823,637), from the neoliberal Center for American Progress ($2,998,809) to the neo-conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute ($5,711,462). The PTA got money ($2,005,000); so did the National Writing Project ($2,645,593).

And so on and so on. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and with money in their pockets, many are eager to sing the Common Core song and eat the funeral meats.

Although these groups all play a cheerleading role, here are the significant players in deforming school curriculum and testing, and their Gates haul:

— Achieve, Inc.: $25,787,051
— The Council of Chief State School Officers: $71,302,833
— National Governors Association Center for Best Practices: $30,679,116

Chief architects of the literacy content for the Common Core content are a lawyer and David Coleman, an education entrepreneur. Coleman gained the most notoriety as he barnstormed the country preaching the importance of nonfiction and a bastardized form of New Criticism, a literary theory abandoned long ago by just about everybody except Mr. Coleman.

In his presentation at the New York State Department of Education [3] in April 2011, Coleman declared that teachers must tell students: “When you grow up in this world, you realize people don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.”

Student Achievement Partners [4], an outfit Coleman co-founded, is now churning out Common Core curriculum. They’re bankrolled by $6,533,350 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and $18,000,000 from the General Electric Foundation. Coleman has moved on to head the College Board ($31,178,497 in Gates funds).

My state education department in Vermont urged every teacher to watch a video produced by the Council of Great City Schools [5] ($8,496,854 from Gates) in which Coleman offers advice to the student who reads several grade levels below the complex text assigned to his class: “You’re going to practice it again and again and again and again…so there’s a chance you can finally do that level of work.” It sounds like a very bizarre application of Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule.

Coleman decries offering students with learning problems alternate resources, insisting that repetition will clear up difficulties with the mandatory complex text. And teachers are told kids must start early with complexity. The New York Post ran a piece–titled “Playtime’s Over, Kindergartners: Standards stressing kids out” [6]–explaining that the New York City Department of Education wants 4- and 5-year-olds to forgo building blocks and crayons, and get busy writing “informative/explanatory reports.” This includes writing a topic sentence.

Teachers report such complexity makes kids cry, but the corporate imperative doesn’t stop for tears. In rebuttal, Kurt Schwengel, a 15-year Santa Monica kindergarten teacher, insists [7], “They’re going to have to pry the crayons out of my cold, dead hands.”

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