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Uncommon uprising

"Uncommon uprising" Continued...

Issue: "Bright or rotten idea?," Oct. 5, 2013

And the English standard’s “informational texts” include important writings like the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Alongside Morrison and Ernest Hemingway, the suggested reading list still includes classical authors like Jane Austen and Shakespeare, in addition to newer works like David McCullough’s 1776.

Andrew Jones, an English teacher at a Christian school in Valparaiso, Ind., says there are good and bad elements in Common Core English (he’d edit the reading list). But, he said by email, “In a world that is telling kids that they make their own meaning, it’s encouraging to see Core standards encouraging methods like, ‘Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says.’”

Lane Walker, an evangelical who teaches math at a suburban public high school near St. Louis, thinks Common Core’s focus on conceptual thinking is urgently needed. “There’s a huge difference between getting kids to memorize a formula and getting them to understand a formula,” she said. If kids learn a formula—such as cross multiplication—without intuitively understanding why it works, they’ll misuse it later and struggle to apply it to real job situations, she said. Students don’t all think alike, so they need to hear different ways of solving the same problem.

Two private associations began writing the Core standards in 2009. (They were the National Governors Association, representing governors from across the United States, and the Council of Chief State School Officers, representing state education chiefs.) The effort involved dozens of teachers and experts in math, English, and international testing. Feedback during the drafting involved comments from over 10,000 stakeholders, including teachers and parents.

It would seem state education officials thought the drafts were looking good: While experts wrote the Core standards in 2009, 48 states and the District of Columbia signed on, agreeing to adopt them. The final standards were released in June 2010.

Critics say the state enthusiasm wasn’t about education: President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package contained $4.35 billion in funding through his Race to the Top education program for states that adopted common standards. Since only Common Core standards met the guidelines, states had the choice of adopting them or forfeiting millions of dollars.

As many conservatives see it, the financial carrot allowed the federal government to hijack Common Core.

“The federal government took those standards that were written by these two private organizations and imposed them on the states through the power of the purse,” says Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, a conservative policy group. Federal involvement in education violates the Constitution because it shifts control away from states and local districts, she says.

“If a parent or a teacher in Georgia doesn’t like what they’re doing with geometry … there will be no one to call in the state of Georgia to complain about it … because no one in Georgia will have the power to change it.”

The Obama administration’s involvement has so tainted Common Core for many conservatives that in April the Republican National Committee passed a resolution condemning Common Core as “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.”

In addition, critics allege Core advocates are motivated by money from the co-founder of Microsoft. According to its website, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed $5.8 million in grants to the Fordham Institute since 2003, including an October 2009 grant “to review the common core standards and develop supportive materials.” The Gates Foundation is also a financial contributor to Jeb Bush’s Florida organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, another Common Core advocate. In all, the Gates Foundation has invested about $150 million in grants promoting Common Core, according to a tally by a Washington Post reporter.

A spokeswoman for the Gates Foundation, Deborah Veney Robinson, said she couldn’t confirm the $150 million figure since the foundation doesn’t track grants by specific topics. She said the foundation supports Common Core because it wants a more level playing field across the states, so kids from disadvantaged backgrounds have high expectations to aim for, and so kids who move from one state to another during a school year don’t encounter vastly different standards.

Indiana’s former governor and former education chief, Republicans Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett, were school-choice heroes. Under their watch, Indiana limited collective bargaining for teachers, expanded charters, revamped teacher and school evaluations, and gave away private-school vouchers to low-income students.

Daniels and Bennett liked Common Core, too. Indiana joined the effort to create the Core standards in mid-2009, and the State Board of Education voted a year later to begin adopting them. The state counts itself the first in the nation to align its teacher preparation standards with Common Core.


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