Common Core in Connecticut: Bureaucracy Beats Democracy

A panel of speakers discussed the Common Core this week at the New Canaan Library with a room full of concerned citizens.  Connecticut adopted verbatim the new standards in 2010 as a means to opt out of the No Child Left Behind law. Many of us knew little about it.

Why is that?

The standards were established and adopted completely by stealth.  Parents, citizens, or voters were not involved; the architects of the standards worked with President Obama who used executive action to offer a national waiver to the congressionally mandated requirements of the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB).   The NCLB Act, for all its faults, was a law passed via the traditional democratic process with congressional oversight, review, and a vote.

 

Bipartisan Law coauthored by Democrats and Republicans, approved by congress and signed into law by President Bush

Bipartisan law coauthored by Democrats and Republicans, approved by congress, and signed into law by President Bush on January 8, 2002

States hoped to receive funding through the waiver, but Connecticut has yet to see the first dollar. The waiver allowed states to escape the NCLB requirements, as long as – and here’s the glitch and it’s a big one – they followed the Common Core Standards.

Jane Robbins is a lawyer and senior fellow at the American Principles Project and was the evening’s keynote speaker.  She was not paid, but came at the request of the Republican Town Committee Chair. A graduate of Clemson University and Harvard Law School, she has written extensively about the problems with Common Core and has testified before the legislatures of nine states.

Robbins  covered other insidious aspects of the standards such as data mining and collection involved with the new Smarter Balance testing and digital learning, as well as federal programs for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).  These are natural outgrowths of an expansive federal education initiative, but this letter will focus on the Common Core Standards.

Common Core Standards are unconstitutional.

Robbins explained that the standards are unconstitutional. The tenth amendment reserves all powers to the states which are not delegated to the federal government.  She wrote, “Teaching and learning are quintessentially local activities—the thought never would have occurred to our founders that a bureaucrat in Washington is more capable than parents or teachers of creating an educational plan appropriate for an individual child.”

Common Core Standards (CCS) [were] created and propagated under the auspices of the National Governors Association, with tens of millions of dollars in funding from the Gates Foundation and other corporate interests. The Obama DOE is determined to force these standards on all the states—not by direct diktat, which is forbidden by federal statute, but by showering federal funds on states that adopt the standards and withholding, and threatening to withhold, funds from those that balk.  (Why CCS is Unconstitutional article, Robbins)

The Common Core may not be a mandate, but it skirts the law because of the money attached, $4,350,000,000 ($4.35 billion) and no small amount for states foundering for cash after the financial crisis of 2008.  Here are the relative points from the Race to the Top program description on the US Department of Education website.

Program Office: Implementation and Support Unit (ISU) CFDA Number: 84.395 Program Type: Discretionary/Competitive Grants

Through Race to the Top, we are asking States to advance reforms around four specific areas:

Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy

Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction

And that’s exactly what happened.  Connecticut embraced the standards wholeheartedly with no involvement from voters,  though it did spend $250,000 marketing the Common Core.

Where were our elected Board of Education officials during this process?  Were they involved?  Are they involved now?  I looked around the room and saw one member, perhaps a token representative as a nod from the board to concerned residents.

Common Core Mathematics Standards

Connecticut adopted the standards for English Language Arts and Math.  There is no more Connecticut Mastery Test, a metric used for years to support NCLB.  There’s been no research on the effects of these new standards, but we do know that the standards are not competitive  in math, that Pre-Calculus and Calculus are not part of the math standards.

Stanford University  and research mathematician Dr. James Milgram was the only person with an advanced degree in mathematics to serve on the validation committee and he refused to sign off on the standards. He wrote, “The Core Mathematics Standards are written to reflect very low expectations. More exactly, the explicitly stated objective is to prepare students not to have to take remedial mathematics courses at a typical community college. They do not even cover all the topics that are required for admission to any of the state universities around the country.”  By 8th grade, students would be at least two years behind advanced countries. See the standards for math here.

Here is an example of elementary CCSS (Common Core State Standards) for math. I wrote about “politically correct” fractions and fifth grade math at length.  The equivalent fraction standard subjects students to the type of math ridiculed everywhere on talk shows and on the internet.

CCSS.Math.Content.5.NF.A.2 (link to standards) Solve word problems involving addition and subtraction of fractions referring to the same whole, including cases of unlike denominators, e.g., by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem. Use benchmark fractions and number sense of fractions to estimate mentally and assess the reasonableness of answers. For example, recognize an incorrect result 2/5 + 1/2 = 3/7, by observing that 3/7 < 1/2

I had taught my child to add and subtract unlike fractions in fourth grade during home school  She used and understood the standard algorithm until she returned to public school in the fifth grade.  Her CCSS aligned school used “visual fraction models” and “mental estimations.”  She was confused, failed to grasp the multiple concepts, and had to “sit in the pillows” during remedial discussions.

This is not just a tool for teachers to use, this is the STANDARD which requires all students to use FUZZY MATH. This is more than a standard, this dictates the METHOD teachers must use.

Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) Standards

The English Language Arts (ELA) standards focus on more non-fiction reading and less literature.  The educationists have watered down English for decades, refusing in large part to teach the language, mechanics, usage, parts of speech, and sentence stucture.  They have drifted further away from the classics and the western canon and the standards opt, instead, to require more informational texts, and for students to “cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly.” CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.1  This is the first of ten standards in this strand for grade 6 reading.

The ELA standards note several “key design considerations” with the paramount concern that students are College and Career Ready (CCR).  “The CCR standards anchor the document and define general, cross-disciplinary literacy expectations that must be met for students to be prepared to enter college and workforce training programs ready to succeed.” (CCR and Grade Specific Standards, Common Core)  The following table is used.

Reading Framework

Grade Literary Information
4 50% 50%
8 45% 55%
12 30% 70%

(2008). Reading framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

The Standards aim to align instruction with this framework so that many more students than at present can meet the requirements of college and career readiness.

Given this reading framework, by 8th grade, students will spend more than half the time reading non-fiction and by 12th grade 70% of the time.

The level of detail and guidance of the standards is explicit.  Here is SS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.6  which states, “Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author distinguishes his or her position from that of others.” This is a good skill to learn, but it tells the teacher exactly what to do, the method she must use for this 7th grade informational reading.

And that’s the main problem.  Shouldn’t this be the teacher’s decision and not the government’s?  In both ELA and math, these examples offer just one standard of the many for each strand and for each grade!

Despite the enumeration of Common Core “skills,” the more likely outcome of the ELA standards and its increase in non-fiction reading, rigor, and evidence based analysis, is the destruction of a student’s joy of reading.

The authors designed Common Core as a workforce training program to place students in careers and college, a type of training suitable for horses or dogs perhaps, but an education it is not. An education is more than skills. An education, as Thomas Jefferson argued, meant an informed citizenry which served as the basis of our government.  And beyond this, education teaches us how to examine life, beauty, goodness, and truth.

Traditionally, education is the cultivation and nourishment of a human soul on truth, goodness and beauty by means of the seven liberal arts, such that students realize their humanitas and acquire wisdom, virtue and eloquence. This is almost completely absent from the standards …(Dr. Christopher Perrin on Common Core and Classical Education)

Conclusion

The words Common Core sound good, so why isn’t everyone happy to have common standards, core standards?

Language is powerful and it can be powerfully deceptive.  The writers use the word Core because it appeals to the classical educational model which includes a general or core knowledge of the humanities, such as  literature, logic, history, and arithmetic.

Yet the Common Core reflects no fundamental knowledge base of English and mathematics. And the authors say so repeatedly throughout the standards.  They are content neutral.  Therefore, the standards couldn’t be further apart from the classical ideal.  They don’t require a knowledge base of English, math, or history, but they tell teachers HOW to teach the skills students MUST KNOW.

This quiet takeover of education is disturbing on an entirely new level.

The best argument is often the simplest one. In the case against Common Core, here it is.

Once upon a time, teachers and parents decided what should be taught and how it should be taught.  The local community owned its primary education system and understood the needs of its students.  What has essentially happened, is 43 states have given up control of the standards and methods of education to an unaccountable bureaucracy in Washington.

We have created the Obamacare of education.

** Here is the video of the forum.  And here is the Link to Jane Robbins  complete slides  from Thursday’s presentation in Connecticut

 

Common-Core

Oklahoma rejected the standards in 2014 , link to official site