Are Americans Rejecting Academic Standards, or One-Size-Fits-All Nationalized Standards?

An article in Politico on Friday set forth the premise that some states are defiantly dropping required courses for high school graduation because of a “standards rebellion,” which the Obama administration is viewing as “the dumbing down of America.”

Stephanie Simon writes that with states such as Florida, Texas, and Washington state recently deciding not to require courses such as chemistry, physics, Algebra II or a foreign language for high school graduation, they are thumbing their noses at Obama’s call for a “rigorous college-prep curriculum” for all students, supposedly embodied in the Common Core State Standards.

Simon explains:

They’re letting teens study welding instead of Spanish, take greenhouse management in place of physics and learn car repair instead of muddling over imaginary numbers.

The backlash stems, in part, from anger over the Common Core, a set of standards that Obama has promoted as a way to guide students through a demanding college-prep curriculum from kindergarten through high school. But it’s more than that. It’s pushback against the idea that all students must be ready for college — even if they have no interest in going.

Simon describes large-scale resentment coming from manufacturing associations, trade groups, and farm lobbies who claim that universal college preparatory curricula is “elitist, that it demeans blue-collar workers – and, not incidentally, that it’s cutting off their pipeline of new workers.”

However, these supporters of vocational/technical education are getting pushback from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ExxonMobil, Achieve, Inc.--which helped create Common Core--publisher Pearson, and others--all of which have been avid promoters of the Common Core standards.

Last November, in fact, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the primary source of private funding for the development and implementation of the Common Core, gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $1,383,041 “to lead the effort to engage and educate state and local chambers to support Common Core State Standards.”

The Pearson Charitable Foundation received a grant of $2,999,047 from the Gates Foundation in February of 2011 “to support the development of open access courses for 6th and 7th grade mathematics as well as 11th and 12th grade English language arts.”

Pearson stands to make significant profits from the sale of textbooks and other educational materials aligned with the Common Core standards.

In addition, the National Governors’ Association, one of the owners of the copyright for the Common Core standards, lists among its “Corporate Fellows” The College Board (whose current president, David Coleman, is known as the “architect” of Common Core), ACT (the creators of the college entrance test), Educational Testing Service, ExxonMobil, Pearson, and Scholastic.

Individuals representing these nonprofits and corporations that have a significant investment in the Common Core standards counter that young people who choose to enter the trades “will need strong academic skills to turn entry-level jobs into meaningful careers.”

Derek Redelman, vice president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which is battling a legislative effort to create a career-track diploma, said, “We want them to come out qualified for the workforce, not just ram them through school as fast as possible.”

Indiana state Rep. Wendy McNamara (R), however, said, “’Romeo and Juliet’ does have a place,” but she believes that if students are able to earn a high school diploma by taking vocational classes with input from local businesses, it could mean “great things for economic development.”

Sandy Kress, an architect of No Child Left Behind and now a lobbyist for publisher Pearson, has supported Obama’s vision and now is worried.

“The dream that we could get to where all American children were educated to a high, common level is in deep jeopardy,” Kress said.

Simon’s article, however, assumes that the Common Core standards are, in fact, “rigorous.” Those who have been funded to promote Common Core and stand to gain from its implementation are repeating this talking point. The fact remains that there is no data demonstrating that the standards are indeed “rigorous,” and any system of standards that bars flexibility for individual student needs is, even just intuitively, likely headed for failure.

Maureen Van Den Berg, Policy Analyst at the American Association of Christian Schools, told Breitbart News, “The Common Core Standards as a national standard employs the ‘one size fits all approach’ which cannot meet the individual needs of students, nor will it raise the bar for academic excellence.”

“The principle remains the same that federally-coerced uniformity in standards, which is what the Common Core Standards have become, simply cannot yield high academic achievement for all students,” Van Den Berg added. “In an effort to reach all students, the standards will inevitably force uniformity on schools and students, establishing expectations that will be too rigorous for low-performing students and not rigorous enough for high-performing students.”

Van Den Berg especially foresees problems for high ability students with Common Core:

While advocates of the Common Core standards will argue that adopting these standards does not limit high-achieving students, the long-term effect of their implementation and assessments will likely accomplish just that--forcing schools and teachers to direct available resources to bringing up low-achieving students to meet mandated thresholds and condemning teachers and students to further cycles of mandated assessments and reporting. This will lead to a mediocre standard at best.

Hillsdale College History Professor Terrence Moore agrees.

“Obviously, these folks are wrapping up the Common Core in the cloak of ‘rigor’ and claiming that anyone who doesn't want the Common Core is afraid of rigor,” Moore told Breitbart News. “What about those of us who see the superficiality of the Common Core, do not intend to chain students to computers half the day, and want students to have four years of Latin and read the whole of Moby Dick?”

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who is credited with developing one of the country’s strongest sets of academic standards for K-12 students in Massachusetts, told Breitbart News, “A lot of poorly informed people are offering their opinions on career/technical education without examining the good models that are available.” 

Stotsky explained:

Massachusetts has had a network of about 30 regional vocational/technical high schools--which admit students after grade 8. They are 4-year high schools, and students must take the same basic subjects they would take in their regular high schools (English, math, science, and US history) for as many years as required by their school boards. They have a higher graduation rate than regular high schools, and the drop-out rate is minimal. In fact, most of these high schools have waiting lists. They also organize the curriculum in a way that satisfies "shop" teachers and academic teachers. They alternate a week on academic subjects, with a week on "shop." Students may earn an occupational certificate as well as a high school diploma. They can go on to post-secondary education (about half do) or go directly into the workforce or into the military. 

Adding that almost all students in Massachusetts passed the state tests in the basic subjects, Stotsky said, “Students are therefore prepared for ‘college and career.’ The drop-out rate is minimal because students have chosen to attend these high schools.” 

“All students should have an opportunity to attend a high school providing a curriculum they have chosen,” she said. “All states should be offering middle school students the choice of high schools of performing arts, languages/humanities, math/science, or career/technical, and let those young adolescents who do not want to go to college, or do not want to spend most of the time reading and writing, do what they find interesting (and financially rewarding).”

Also stressing the importance of flexibility for individual student needs, William Estrada, Director of Federal Relations of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), told Breitbart News, “’Every child will graduate from college' makes a great talking point for a politician. The reality, however, is that every child is unique, with different talents, skills, and dreams in life.”

“No politician - or centralized planning approach to education - should be able to decide a student's future,” said Estrada. “Students - with support and guidance from their parents and teachers - should decide what is best for the student's future, whether that is college, vocational education, or something else.”

In fact, Estrada points to the success of homeschooled students as evidence of the importance of flexibility for children’s individual academic needs.

"The success of homeschool students - both in college and in careers - shows that the most important thing an educational system should instill in a young person is a love of learning and a desire to excel,” Estrada said. “Centralized education standards like the Common Core, standardized curricula, high stakes testing, and other modern approaches to education are all missing what education should be about: creating a life-long love of learning in a young person."

Joy Pullmann, Research Fellow in Education at The Heartland Institute, said, “People are blaming the education system for the wrong things and not blaming it for the right things.”

“For one, as state constitutions will tell you, public education exists to promote morality and citizenship foremost,” Pullmann told Breitbart News. “Nowhere in the Politico article does anyone discuss this constitutionally mandated purpose of public subsidies for education. Now it's all about jobs, jobs, jobs, which would itself be far less of a problem if state governments and the Obama administration were not so intent on economic central planning.” 

Observing that many American students attend college with the notion that those four years are a rite of passage or social experiment, Pullmann added, “And then we have our cultural college-for-all fetish, which is not so much about good education as it is giving every child the experience of a beer-wasted four years while he fakes learning and delays adulthood, largely on the taxpayers' dime.”

“The classic eighth grade education of the 19th century pushed kids far higher than many of our colleges do today,” said Pullmann.

Dr. Anne Hendershott, Sociology Professor at Franciscan University and Catholic scholar, said she believes the controversy over Common Core could end up being a blessing in disguise.

“I am glad that the States are once again taking responsibility for education - and beginning to reject the federal interference,” Hendershott told Breitbart News. “It is a positive sign that States are taking ownership.” 

“The federal government should never have been involved in developing standards - and as we all know standards drive curriculum. This may be one of the best unintended consequences of the debate over Common Core,” she added. “Subsidiarity demands that those closest to the child make decisions about the child - parents and local school districts.”

“The federal government should never have been involved in developing standards - and as we all know standards drive curriculum. This may be one of the best unintended consequences of the debate over Common Core,” she added. “Subsidiarity demands that those closest to the child make decisions about the child - parents and local school districts.”


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