Controversy over the implementation of the Common Core State Standards has served to highlight the sorry state of public education. According to its own website, “The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.” Common Core was supposedly a state led initiative created by state departments of education. But the adoption of Common Core by 42 states in 2010 occurred in such rushed fashion with pressure from the Obama administration that it reminds many opponents of the adoption of Obama Care. Like Obama Care, the standards seem to have been developed by faceless bureaucrats in secret. Both teachers and parents feel that there was little to no input from them. Beginning in 2009, states were pressured to adopt the Common Core Standards through the lure of competitive federal Race to the Top grants. The adoption of a one size fits all national standard and pressure to quickly adopt it from the Obama administration, confirms, in the minds of many who mistrust big, overreaching federal control, that this is a top down approach to control the education of our children.
It has been said that politics creates strange bedfellows. Opposition to Common Core has arisen from such divergent groups as the Tea Party and teachers alike. There is opposition developing in almost every state and some states are beginning to back off. The Michigan legislature voted last week to withdraw funding from Common Core implementation and there is similar legislation pending in other states including liberal New York. Along with the Tea Party groups and Freedom Works, other conservative groups such as Concerned Women for America have rallied against Common Core. There is an active Facebook group with over 4200 members coordinating opposition. But, opposition is not confined to conservative groups. Teachers are leaving the profession out of frustration because control of what and how to teach has been taken away as they are forced to use scripted lessons or online curriculum to teach to tests. Frustration about “teaching to the test” dates back to the implementation of No Child Left Behind. In spite of assurances from Common Core advocates that academic freedom is preserved, the pressure to teach to the tests is overwhelming due to the high stakes nature of the results – no pass, no money, no job for teacher and student alike. The adoption of a nationwide curriculum is precisely what conservative parents fear, as history has demonstrated that such a curriculum will most likely have a liberal bias.
One teacher website dedicated to the opposition goes so far as to postulate a big corporate conspiracy to control education. Like many conspiracy theories, it is founded in a fair amount of truth. The author points to the undue influence of such corporations as Pearson over textbooks, curriculum and assessments. As a former Pearson employee, I can attest to the validity of her concerns. Having had personal discussions with Pearson executives, I can attest that the company was intimately involved in the Common Core initiative. Not surprisingly, the current Executive Director of the Common Core State Standards Organization (CCSSO) is a former Pearson employee. Pearson is a publicly held international corporation headquartered in the U.K. They are the leading educational publisher in the world. In addition to publishing textbooks, they develop curriculum and assessments as well as score the assessments. I was employed in the scoring division. I can assure you that their primary interest is in making a profit for their investors. As you might expect, the management is stocked with personnel from the educational establishment, many of whom have a very liberal viewpoint. Pearson aims to please its customers. Its customers are state boards of education, bureaucracies, not parents, students or teachers.
The aforementioned conspiracy teacher fears a private corporate takeover of education and advocates for the preservation of public control. He or she longs for the good old days when teachers were not measured for any objective standard of success. News flash: we’ve had a federal government controlled education system since the Dept. of Education was founded in the 1970s and like all socialist systems, it has failed miserably. Thus, we have the pressure for accountability through assessments. We are currently burdened with a government system controlled by unions and corporate cronies. State boards are appointed by politicians who are funded by unions and corporations. Teacher unions take money from teachers, who then give it overwhelmingly to Democrats who then legislate for more teachers, higher teacher pay and benefits and larger education bureaucracies. In return, the bureaucrats make sure that the schools educate the next generation of Democrat voters. Thus, kids graduate knowing how to put on a condom, and that the earth is on fire and that Republicans and capitalism are evil. But, they cannot read a set of instructions.
So, what’s the solution? As I have penned before, the best solution would be a private system where schools would be accountable to consumers, namely, parents. I agree with the conspiracy teacher that a private system controlled by Pearson or any other corporation would be a nightmare. But, privatization does not mean corporate control. Under such a system, funding (taxes) would be restored to the consumer. Competition would lead to quality and success. Companies that create textbooks, curriculum, and assessments and score assessments would be accountable to parents instead of politicized bureaucrats. Good teachers that love to teach would actually be paid better and deadbeats would be canned. Kids would grow up to be productive citizens rather than liberal Democrats.