New York Times' Keller Tries, Fails to Defend Common Core

Though New York Times columnist Bill Keller’s editorial, “War on the Core,” sounds like it’s supposed to be about the Common Core curriculum standards, it’s really just another tirade from the left about conservatives.

For example, within his first two paragraphs, Keller writes:

I understand the urge to take what looks to a layman like nothing more than a mean spirit or a mess of contradictions and brand it. (The New Libertarianism! Burkean Revivalists!) But more and more, I think Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s Republican rising star, had it right when he said his party was in danger of becoming simply “the stupid party.”

Keller goes on to defend the Common Core as a “grade-by-grade outline of what children should know to be ready for college and careers.” He justifies further that “the Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable.”

According to Keller, the reason why Common Core is good can be defined by these words: “broad,” “nonpartisan,” “consensus,” “come together.” It seems like the phrase, “Can’t we just all get along?” would naturally follow.

For many parents and educators who believe Common Core is not what their children need, the notion that a “broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators” deciding what children should learn throughout the country is not comforting. The people deciding that should be the parents of a local school district and the school board they elect, or maybe even the parents of a particular state.

The presumption that Keller--and other proponents of Common Core--makes is that children in Nebraska should have the same “outline” as children in Florida. It is a presumption that is based on the idea that all states having the same “outlines” is what is good for the nation as a whole. Parents and educators in individual school districts--who know their children best--should subjugate their needs for the greater good of everyone else, as defined by a “broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators.” In short, the problem many have with “Common Core” is that it is “common.”

Keller continues on with his ridicule of conservatives:

The backlash began with a few of the usual right-wing suspects. Glenn Beck warned that under “this insidious menace to our children and to our families” students would be “indoctrinated with extreme leftist ideology.”

(Beck also appears to believe that the plan calls for children to be fitted with bio-wristbands and little cameras so they can be monitored at all times for corporate exploitation.)

Beck’s soul mate Michelle Malkin warned that the Common Core was “about top-down control engineered through government-administered tests and left-wing textbook monopolies.” Before long, FreedomWorks — the love child of Koch brothers cash and Tea Party passion — and the American Principles Project, a religious-right lobby, had joined the cause. Opponents have mobilized Tea Partyers to barnstorm in state capitals and boiled this complex issue down to an obvious slogan, “ObamaCore!”

Keller follows that conservatives’ desire for “local control of public schools, including the sacred right to keep them impoverished and ineffectual, is a fundamental tenet of the conservative canon.”

“Sacred right to keep them impoverished and ineffectual?” Has flooding the education system with funding made it more effectual? Even our last Republican president, George W. Bush, increased federal education spending 58 percent faster than inflation. No impoverishment, but a serious lack of results in many cases.

Keller gets to the crux of the matter:

But today’s Republican Party lives in terror of its so-called base, the very loud, often paranoid, if-that-Kenyan-socialist-in-the-White-House-is-for-it-I’m-against-it crowd. In April the Republican National Committee surrendered to the fringe and urged states to renounce Common Core. The presidential aspirant Marco Rubio, trying to appease conservatives angry at his moderate stance on immigration, last month abandoned his support for the standards. And state by red state, the effort to disavow or defund is under way. Indiana has put the Common Core on hold. Michigan’s legislature cut off money for implementing the standards and is now contemplating pulling out altogether. Last month, Georgia withdrew from a 22-state consortium, one of two groups designing tests pegged to the new standards, ostensibly because of the costs.

Keller’s real point is that the states that have backed off from Common Core are Republican-led states, a case for how the Republican governors, perhaps, are leading right now on this issue.

His arguments in favor of Common Core, however, are all the ones that have been tried already.

First, he claims that the new standards are “not federal.” He writes, “President Obama has used Race to the Top money to encourage states to embrace higher standards, but the Common Core was written under the auspices of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, an effort that began in 2007, before Obama was elected.”

Actually, President Obama used Race to the Top--a competitive grant program--to pressure states to “embrace” Common Core. Race to the Top is the same stimulus program that the Obama administration is using to fund universal preschool.

In addition, according to the Heritage Foundation, the Obama administration attempted to lure states into embracing the Common Core standards by suggesting that if they did not adopt them, they might not be eligible for future Title I funding for their low-income schools. This is an overreach of the federal government into an area that has historically been reserved for the states.

Second, Keller claims “there is no national curriculum.” He writes that state and local officials are in charge of how students achieve the standards.

The problem with this assertion is that, as Joy Pullmann of the Heartland Institute observes, all math and English textbooks, as well as national tests, are expected to “align” with Common Core, thereby exerting even more pressure on states into adopting them if they want their students to “succeed,” based on what is viewed “successful” by a “broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators” and the Obama administration.

As Pullmann noted:

But the standards are being used to write the tables of contents for all the textbooks used in K-12 math and English classes. This may not technically constitute a curriculum, but it certainly defines what children will be taught, especially when they and their teachers will be judged by performance on national tests that are aligned with these standards.

And, when children are ready to take SAT’s or ACT, these tests will have all been “aligned” with Common Core, so that those who have opted out will surely be “left out” of the Common Core utopian ideal of what is successful.

Keller’s third claim is that Common Core “is not some new and untried pedagogical experiment. Much of it leans on traditional methods that have proved themselves over time.”

Seriously, then why haven’t public schools been using it for years? Did education policy-makers just now decide they want students to be successful?

When we consider these aspects: that many of the textbooks and outcome measures of academic success will be aligned with Common Core, that the risk to privacy of children’s personal data is linked to Common Core, and that school choice will be diminished with Common Core, it is not difficult to see this initiative as a “national takeover of schooling.


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