What do Obamacare, Common Core, and the Senate Immigration Reform Bill have in common? Policymakers dashed to write and pass all of them to meet “deadlines.” In the case of Common Core, “experts” claim that America’s educational system requires a “rigorous” overhaul to prepare our children for the “global economy.” As such, these individuals have taken it upon themselves to prepare standards that would place American children at a competitive advantage with other “high performing nations” of the world. Who are these “experts” you ask? The Common Core Standards (CCS) hearing held in Indiana on Monday this week offers some insight.
In Indiana’s first of three hearings to discuss CCS, opponents and proponents informed Hoosier parents, teachers, and community members about the problems and advantages of CCS. What became apparent early in the debate was that those in favor of CCS are in an almost desperate need to implement the program as quickly as possible. Again, this is similar to the approach that experts have used to write the CCS in the first place. According to Professor William Evers, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, it took the writers of CCS a year “to produce a document of such complexity and it was not enough time.” Indeed, Dr. Sandra Stotsky who served on the official Common Core Standards validation committee refused to sign off on CCS because she felt it was thrown together too quickly. Stotsky also noted that CCS provided her with less than adequate amount of research to support its claims of providing students with the expertise necessary to attend a university program upon completion of high school.
On the other hand, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz believes in the superiority of the Common Core Standards over the current Indiana standards. Ritz is willing to consider revisions for the mathematics section of CCS but feels that overall CCS would improve the quality of education for all Hoosier children. When asked by Rep. Rhonda Rhoads about what would happen if all parties could not come to an agreement on CCS at the end of the hearings, Ritz noted that for her the question was not whether Indiana “should use CCS or not” but whether Indiana would need to “revise” anything on the CCS assessments. In other words, Ritz’s appearance at the hearing on Monday had less to do with whether Indiana should withdraw completely from implementing CCS and more to do with how to “revise” it-which suggests that CCS is here to stay.
All of this leads to the question, why was there such an urgent rush to come up with a plan such as CCS? Moreover, why is there an urgent rush to ensure the implementation of CCS? If experts in Indiana are concerned about the educational standards of Hoosier children, should we not perhaps seek competent and intelligent professionals within the state? Are we to assume that Hoosiers are incapable of working out solutions for Indiana? Surprisingly, Pam Horne, Dean of Student Admissions at Purdue University seems to feel that CCS would be more beneficial for Hoosier children than standards that would call upon the expertise of individuals from perhaps her own institution. What is the cause of this discrepancy and disconnect with fellow Hoosiers? To answer this question, it is important to refer back to the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top initiative that granted federal funds to states that implemented CCS. (I have written extensively on this previously on my BLOG and you can read more about it here).
Dr. Flora Reichanadter of the Franklin Township offered her testimony at the hearing in support of CCS stating that, “time and resources have already been spent” and that there is “no room for indecision.” Reichanadter’s desperate plea shows less concern towards the future of Hoosier children and more towards the “time and resources” that were spent on CCS. If these “experts” are truly concerned about our children, then why do they make deals behind closed doors only informing Americans after the fact?
Furthermore, for proponents of CCS who continue to claim that it is a “state driven program,” why do the states only have a 15% opportunity to revise the CCS standards? If CCS was state-driven, should it not be conforming to the standards set by Indiana instead of the other way around? In his statement, Evers noted that, “Common Core Standards are rigid in structure.” He said, for example, Algebra “cannot be moved from 9th grade to 8th grade.” It is interesting to note that the high performing nations, such as China or Singapore show that students in these countries have a solid grasp of Algebra by 8th grade. Rep. Rhoads also asked the experts how student assessment would occur if Indiana revised 15% of CCS but the response to that question was vague at best. Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute replied that Indiana might use whatever assessments it wanted. Yet, this does not solve the problem of how Indiana would tackle two (or more) separate assessments and additionally the assessments for CCS required for all students if it decided to revise 15% of CCS.
At another point in the hearing, Senator Scott Schneider asked Jeffrey Zimba of the nonprofit Student Achievement Partners and a lead writer of the Common Core math standards if he knew whether the high performing countries were using the same standards. Schneider had to ask the question repeatedly because Zimba was unable to give a direct answer. After much pussyfooting around the question, he eventually said, “they do not produce the same.” Schneider also asked if the high performing countries collaborated on their education standards and Zimba responded “probably” but was unable to give a proven answer backed by research. Indeed, when asked by Schneider if he knew where the US ranked in education, Zimba was clueless. Yet, these experts are to make decisions about our children’s future.
Perhaps the most important revelation of the hearings on Monday came from Professor of History, Terrence Moore of Hillsdale College who noted that CCS undermines the significance of our historical documents. For example, CCS does not recommend students read and analyze the US Constitution. Under CCS, The Federalist Papers are insignificant. Indeed, they are not even on the reading list. CCS recommends only reading the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Furthermore, CCS recommends students should read the Declaration of Independence but only to answer, “compare and contrast questions” not to analyze the significance of this great historical text.
Reading of complete literary texts such as Tom Sawyer has no room under CCS either because it only recommends select passages from literary fiction. The focus for CCS is instead on non-fiction reading that, according to Porter-Magee, would enlarge student vocabulary. Perhaps, it has been a long time since Porter-Magee was a student but I know I would gladly pick up anything written by Jane Austen over an EPA pamphlet any day.
If the point of CCS is to help students improve and become prepared for the “global economy” in the future then it fails miserably. Lowering the bar on mathematics and the language arts is only part of the problem. The bigger issue is what these standards will do to children to help them develop a love for learning. When was the last time you saw a student excited about reading policy manuals over a literary text?
To disregard that America has been a “global economy” from its inception is to confuse, nay, misrepresent historical facts. To improve student performance, we do not need more standards but to enhance the learning experience for students so they can achieve success at home first and then in the world. Benjamin Franklin, Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Mark Twain did not develop their full potential under the rigidness of instruction but in the freedom to explore the world. Perhaps it is time that Americans start looking upon their own history and culture as a beacon of light instead of chasing after “global” perfectness.