Common Core 101: What Is It and How Does It Affect Our Children?

Outraged parents. Fleeing teachers. Anxiety-ridden and medicated students. Fuzzy math. Crazy history assignments posted on Facebook. Longitudinal databasesSilenced community members at school board meetings in YouTube footage. Newfangled public school pathways of college and career readiness under the banner of "STEM" (science, technology, engineering and math) on a wild, 21st-century, technocentric highway that's littered with stakeholders who are up in arms over federally mandated testing, national curricula alignment, data collection, and questionable content packaged into one-size-fits-all education.

There's yelling and screaming from all sides of the political spectrum about the educational mandate known best as the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). It raises a lot more than emotions; it's a nationwide debate. Proponents tout CCSSI as the greatest achievement since the Enlightenment, while opponents compare it to the Dark Ages, a deliberate dumbing down of America, as Charlotte Iserbyt would say. Iserbyt was the Reagan admin whistleblower who struck a major blow to the technological forerunner to the tracking and data-mining age.

So what is Common Core?

Common Core is federally-led education introduced in the Obama administration's 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ("stimulus package") through a contest called Race to the Top (RTTT). States could apply and compete for federal grant money. Four billion in federal taxpayer dollars were offered with a catch:

Awards in Race to the Top will go to States that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reform. Race to the Top winners will help trail-blaze effective reforms and provide examples for States and local school districts throughout the country to follow as they too are hard at work on reforms that can transform our schools for decades to come.

Out with the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind (NCLB)," criticized for its "high-stakes" strategy of always teaching to the test. In with the Common Core, a uniform set of standards and curricula that, according to their critics, ratchet up the role of government in education, as well as student data collection, teacher evaluations, and NCLB "empathetic" learning. The result is a Fed-led ed cocktail constructed on the premise that our public schools are low performing, broken, and lacking the kind of rigor necessary for students to compete in the global marketplace. 

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia jumped onboard with CCSSI, intent to raise the roof beam high on rigor to meet international benchmarks.

Best perk? A student could be in Ohio on Tuesday. Wednesday, the family moves to Nevada. Theoretically, he'd pick up in math on the same next page. Wow, sign me up for that! And the online tech tools – they're brilliant. Click on a standard. ProQuest K12 from SIRS (Social Issues Resource Series) takes you to scrubbed content from premier education provider of the Common Core, Pearson, the London-based conglomerate. Only problem is the info's on the school-sanctioned and cyberlocked iPad

Common Core has raised a valid concern: what exactly are they teaching the children?

Common Core was well pitched as state-led and "voluntary." Even according to the US Department of Education (DOE), public education is described as "...primarily a state and local responsibility in the United States... it is states and communities, as well as public and private organizations of all kinds, that establish schools and colleges, develop curricula, and determine requirements for enrollment and graduation."

Yet it's the DOE's actual role in education that prompted opponents like Diane Ravitch, a two-year veteran of the education department (1991-93) under Lamar Alexander and author of Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, to call the Common Core "NCLB 2.0." Translated: No Child Left Behind on steroids.

Ravitch lashed out at DOE chief Arne Duncan, contrasting him with now-Sen. Alexander, whom she characterized as "scrupulous about not interfering in local decision making. He used his bully pulpit, as all cabinet secretaries do, but he never tried to influence the choice of local leaders. He respected the principle of federalism. Apparently, Duncan missed the class on federalism."

Duncan's not the only target of CCSSI critics. Robert Holland, senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, suggested in a Baltimore Sun interview that one reason Common Core "[has] attracted so much opposition from both the right and left is that it was developed in elitist fashion, bankrolled by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, presented as a fait accompli without public hearings and then pushed hard by the Obama administration..."

Back in June 2010, CCSSI released the English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics standards with promises of next-generation Science standards by 2013 and Social Studies standards by 2017. Esteemed educators handpicked to sit on the ELA and math validation committees, Drs. Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram, didn't sign off on the standards, labeling them as inferior.

Stotsky, who developed one of the nation's strongest sets of K-12 academic standards and licensing tests for prospective teachers, is now an outspoken staple on the "Stop CCSSI" circuit. Recently, in a Breitbart News interview, she discussed the spin machine surrounding the standards, saying, "Everyone was willing to believe that the Common Core standards are ‘rigorous,’ ‘competitive,’ ‘internationally benchmarked,’ and ‘research-based.’ They are not."

Common Core is like the convoluted plotline of a daytime drama, impossible to explain in 25 words or less. That's why so many bloggers, news organizations, and talk radio personalities cover it in manageable bites. Ultimately, it lives up to the unfortunate axiom coined by Nancy Pelosi when speaking about Obamacare in 2010: "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it." We have, one worksheet at a time.

In school work that comes home, we see how foundational math, taught in a spiral fashion to build on concepts from grade to grade, is gone. This is replaced by math lattices, ladders, and linguistics-based long-winded division and distributive property word problems loaded up with social issues, like the "heroin habit" high school math homework that made the rounds. This is only the tip of the iceberg and one reason that critics like Michelle Malkin call it "Rotten to the Core."

When Common Core was originally introduced, the National Governor's Association (NGA) was its "front man," only these governors weren't governors of any states. NGA is a private non-profit with the Center for Best Practices that co-owns the Common Core State Standards copyright with another non-profit, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Yes, CCSS is copyrighted; its content cannot be changed. Teachers cannot write their own content. Proponents say there is no content, but there are assessments. These must be testing something, and it stands to reason that whoever controls the tests controls the curricula, and whoever controls the curricula, one fine day, controls the country.

For now, many deem Fed-led ed a failure – not good for the kids, not good for the teachers. States like New York and South Carolina lead the pack in efforts to shut down the test; they join Wisconsin and Indiana parents and teachers who stand against centralized education, preferring individual state standards.

Big business and big bucks abound in Big Ed, though. CCSSO boasts a wow-list of corporate partners on its website topped off by Microsoft, Prometrean, Scantron, K12, Metametrics a.k.a. Lexile, Scholastic, Pearson Education, Apple, and Amplify. Also on the list are the familiar philanthropic and educratic faces: Bill & Melissa Gates (Foundation), Eli Broad, Jeb Bush, Linda Darling-Hammond, Bill Ayers, Achieve, Microsoft, SmarterBalanced Assessment Consortium, PARCC (Partnership for Assessment Readiness for College and Careers), Pearson, InBloom, and the Annenberg Foundation. There was Mike Huckabee. He was for the Core, but now no more, he says.

One on NGA's massive corporate fellows list is McKinsey & Co., whom David Coleman, president of the College Board, consulted prior to creating think tank Student Achievement Partners, LLC. Although Coleman's never taught a class K-20, he's busy aligning every high school assessment for college (including high school equivalency GED) to CCSSI, with SAT alignment to follow in 2016. Coleman's credited as CCSSI architect along with cronies math professor Jason Zimba and Education Analyst/Curriculum Specialist Susan Pimentel.

They say nothing comes from nowhere. Common Core's no exception.

Flashback to November 11, 1992, before the Clinton Administration's Y2K "Improving America's Schools Act," to an 18-page "Dear Hillary" letter that resides in the Congressional Record. Penned by Marc Tucker,  president of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) to then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, this letter may well be the blueprint for the Common Core.

The letter was written one week after Bill Clinton was elected president. Hillary served with Tucker on the NCEE board. In it, Tucker outlined to Hillary the transformation of the entire American system into "a seamless web that extends from cradle to grave" and is the "same system for everyone," coordinated by a "system of labor market boards at the local, state and federal levels" where curriculum and job matching will be handled by counselors "accessing the integrated computer-based program." The mission of schools would change from "teaching children academic basics and knowledge to training them to serve the global economy in jobs selected by workforce boards" in an outcome-based system "guided by clear national standards of performance," set to "international benchmarks" that "define the stages of the system for the people who progress through it." In this "new system of linked standards, curriculum and pedagogy will abandon the American tracking system." Best of all, college loans debt will be forgiven for "public service." Sound familiar?

Tucker understood the need for community buy-in to sell the plan. He recommended to Hillary that "...legislation would require the executive branch to establish a competitive grant program for these states and cities and to engage a group of organizations to offer technical assistance to the expanding set of states and cities engaged in designing and implementing the new system." Can you say Race to the Top?

Tucker described the roll-out plan: "[As] soon as the first set of states is engaged, another set would be invited to participate, until most or all the states are involved. It is a collaborative design, rollout and scale-up program." The endgame was to "parallel the work of the National Board for College Professional and Technical Standards, so that the states and cities (and all their partners) would be able to implement the new standards as soon as they become available..." The result was that the whole apparatus would be operational in the majority of states within three years from "the passage of the initial legislation." Common Core implementation began in 2010.

In the "Elementary and Secondary Education Program" portion of the letter, Tucker speaks directly to Hillary: "so we confine ourselves here to describing some of those activities [to restructure schools] that can be used to launch the Clinton education program," noting that early childhood education "should be combined with quality day care to provide wrap-around programs that enable working parents to drop off their children at the beginning of the workday and pick them up at the end." Universal daycare, preschool to pre-kindergarten?

Congress passed every one of the "Dear Hillary" letter ideas. Signed by President Clinton in 1994, the Goals 2000 Act, School-to-Work Act, and the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) were all funded through federal taxpayer dollars and according to many are the very legislation that drives the education machine's mandates at a federal level today.

Goodbye 3R's. Hello socially engineered education.

Very long story short, this is the Common Core.


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