Shock: Common Core’s Fordham Institute Is Not Really ‘Conservative’

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

A column in the Washington Post Wednesday observes that opponents of the Common Core standards continue to brave obstacles in their efforts to repeal the unpopular initiative.

Author Reid Wilson summarizes the determined efforts mainly by true constitutional conservatives in wrenching big government education bureaucracy from the hands of establishment politicians and education elites. No surprise, however, since the same constitutional conservatives are fighting the same politicians who continue to cave to federal overreach whether the issue is executive amnesty, net neutrality, or health care. Why would education be different?

For some reason, in their attempts to describe conservative opposition to the Common Core, some columnists rarely ask real conservatives why they oppose the top-down, nationalized initiative. Instead, they resort to quoting Michael Petrilli—who apparently plays a “conservative” in the newspapers. The president of the Fordham Institute—the Bill and Melinda Gates-funded Common Core “central”—Petrilli and his organization are often referred to as “conservative” when real conservative views about the standards are not quite what the writer had in mind.

In the Post’s synopsis of how deeply establishment politicians are entrenched in big government education initiatives like Common Core, Petrilli explained simply—as a “conservative”—the reason for the opposition to Common Core “comes down to two words: Barack Obama.”

Ze’ev Wurman, former U.S. Department of Education official under President George W. Bush, also noted the mischaracterization of Petrilli and Fordham as “conservative” to Breitbart News.

“It is unfortunate that the Fordham Institute calls itself ‘conservative’ yet seems thrilled at the victories of state education bureaucracies against the clear will of parents in those states,” Wurman said. “If supporting the interest of the education-government complex is the new meaning of being ‘conservative,’ we are indeed in bigger trouble than anyone thought.”

Wurman continued, once again pointing out that supporters of the Common Core often use the talking points that the standards are “higher” and more “rigorous” than others, comparisons that have never been based on valid, independent studies, but on a study performed by—wait for it—the Fordham Institute:

It is also disappointing when Fordham repeatedly implies the excellence and inevitability of ending up with “Common Core” or “Common Core-like” standards because of their supposed excellence based only on Fordham’s own evaluation. Just this Monday I testified in Kansas about the fact that while Fordham rated the old Kansas standards at C for English and F for mathematics, Kansas student achievement on the NAEP under those “undemanding” standards was solidly in the upper half in Reading and solidly in the top 5 in the nation in math (remember that “F” grade?).

On the 2013 NAEP however, Kansas took a dive under the new “excellent” Common Core and now is barely in the upper half in math, and below the national average in Reading. And the performance of minorities in Kansas was hit much worse — Hispanic 4th graders plummeted from #14 on Reading in the nation to #28, and Black 8th graders went from being #10 to #38. In math Black and Hispanic 4th graders went from being numbers 2 and 3 in the nation, to being numbers 12 and 10 respectively. Kansas students from low-income levels went from #3 in 2007 to #8 under Common Core.

In other words, Fordham’s presumption that its grading of the standards is meaningful, and that its pinning the medal of excellence on the Common Core — or medal of shame on states like Kansas — justifies its support for federal and state education bureaucracies lacks empirical evidence. Kansas did rather well with all of its students until the Common Core came along, and then the bottom fell out.

But what about Petrilli’s brief explanation for Common Core opposition? “Barack Obama?”

Wurman continued:

I find Petrilli’s argument that conservatives resist Common Core only because of Barack Obama particularly offensive. Not only do many Democratic parents strongly and vocally object to Common Core but, as I recall, it was Checker Finn, Fordham’s president at the time, who called in March 2011 for “Increasing federal investments in implementation support, in comparative international studies related to curriculum and instruction, and in evaluations aimed at finding the most effective curriculum sequences, curriculum materials, curricular designs, and instructional strategies,” and for nationalizing standards and curriculum not only in math and English, but “history, geography, the sciences, civics, the arts, foreign languages, technology, health, and physical education.”

“So does the Fordham Institute reflect a ‘conservative’ approach to education?” Wurman asked. “As conservative as taking in millions of Bill Gates’ dollars to promote Common Core allows it to be, I guess. Perhaps more conservative than the NEA, but that’s about it.”

Similarly, Jane Robbins, attorney and senior fellow with the American Principles Project, responded to Petrilli:

Sure, the opposition is all about Barack Obama. It couldn’t be about the blatant unconstitutionality, the destruction of our federalist system, the loss of local control over education, the recycling of failed progressive education fads, the imposition of bizarre and harmful math pedagogies, the downgrading of classic literature, the developmental inappropriateness for young children, the unworkable and enormously expensive testing regimen, or the construction of intrusive data-collection systems. Parents are too stupid to understand any of that. It must be about Barack Obama.

Another “real” conservative Breitbart News asked about opposition to the Common Core is grassroots parent activist, and co-editor of Missouri Education Watchdog, Gretchen Logue.

“Opponents are against the power of the US Department of Education Secretary’s unconstitutional mandates, waivers and grants requiring adherence to the federal government’s rules for their states and local districts,” Logue said. “Arne Duncan is not the nation’s superintendent and states should be reclaiming their abilities to direct and develop their own policies which make sense for their respective states.”

“Opponents are against this Initiative because it circumvented the political process and gave the public education system to non-governmental organizations which have no public accountability, even as they are using taxpayer funding to deliver whatever programs are selected by these same NGOs,” she added. “Certainly a self-proclaimed ‘conservative’ policy organization would not support the end of a constitutionally republic political structure in favor of public-private partnerships determining public policy, would it?”


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