By Tracy Weissman Dunbar
Our schools have been quietly taken over. We are no longer teaching the skills and concepts that our kids need. Gone are the days of creativity, innovation, and personal growth: Here are the days of nationalized pigeonholing, segregation, dysfunction. It used to be that in America you could be whatever you dreamed you could be and you were allowed to change your mind if your dreams led you in a new direction. In the near future, kids will be allowed to be whatever their Pearson test score says they’re qualified to be, and nothing more, unless we, the loving parents and teachers, stand up and fight for our children.
Kris Nielson, Children of the Core
Until very recently, the new Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) has been a well-kept secret. Sweeping education reforms in the American schools first started in the early 1900s and have been re-introduced every couple of decades, so these initiatives are not new ideas. Also, they are not state-led. In 1994, a former political activist and radical Weather Underground member, Bill Ayers, and Brazilian Marxist, Paolo Freire, joined forces to form the CES (Coalition of Essential Schools). This would later morph into the Chicago-based Achieve, Inc, with a young upstart and community organizer named Barack Obama serving on the board of directors. Together with David Coleman, Linda Darling Hammond, and Bill and Melinda Gates who bankrolled the initial millions, the CCSSI was planned. As each English and Math standard (with full curricula and new methods of teaching) began to be unveiled, the new programs were tested in Chicago, DC, Massachusetts, and California (2004-2008).
On the surface, implementing a set of standards to make students career-and college-ready sounds like a great idea. What was not said was that “college ready” meant community college. On the surface, a “voluntary, state-led” plan for education reform endorsed by both governors and large corporations seems ideal. However, these were serious misrepresentations. Immediately following Thanksgiving break, 2009, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, contacted every state Department of Education with what appeared to be an irresistible offer: A new set of English and Math standards along with computers for each student, and a large sum of stimulus money would be awarded to each state that accepted the new standards. Also, a waiver from No Child Left Behind would be granted. The proviso: Amid the hustle and bustle of holiday parties and pageants, school breaks, and exams, a decision to accept Core had to be made by January 6, 2010, sight unseen and never formally vetted nor yet complete in its entirety. Those states which requested more time or refused the package were then threatened with the loss of their Title I funding. Then there was an additional incentive: The states accepting the new CCSSI would be entered into a game-show style sweepstakes for Race to the Top money. This is a “competition” for states in full compliance with the new program. States will now be competing against each other for the coveted prize money. This sounds like an educational Hunger Games. This new set of standards was still in the process of being developed; it was not state-led, nor was it voted upon by any legislative body or vetted by school boards. The endorsement was not made by governors, but by the National Governor’s Association, an independent trade association funded, in part, by the Gates Foundation.
The Federal government insists that this is merely a rigorous set of new standards to have students (K-12) career and (community) college ready. All the new curricula and existing older texts are being modified to reflect the new set of rubrics. These standards will be universal, so that all subjects taught in each grade across the board will have the same content. No variation. All students will be on the same page (literally) at the same time, countrywide. Obviously, this leaves no more room for individuality, different learning styles, gifted and remedial programs, or English as a second language classes. It is truly a “one-size-fits-all” approach . . . Educational equity for all.
Both parents and teachers are becoming increasingly alarmed and dismayed at the 70% loss of traditional, Classical, Western literature (poetry, short stories, novels, plays). This is more than disconcerting, because our literature forms the canon of Western thought and history. Great literature contains antagonists, protagonists, and morals. It stimulates our imaginations and broadens our horizons. Instead, there is a push to substitute “Informational texts” for the traditional literature. This now includes operational manuals, scientific studies, speeches, social studies, graphs and charts, and how to read political and legal documents and executive orders. If the children aren’t bored enough in schools already, this will be sure to numb their brains.
The new standards in math are just as distressing. Noted mathematicians, Drs. Bill Evers and James Ingram, have refused to endorse CCSSI because of numerous mistakes discovered in both the texts and teachers’ manuals. When reported, they were informed these “could not be changed as they were already copyrighted and in print.” There were missing algorithms ( i.e., converting fractions to decimals and percents); fuzzy, confusing methodologies, and multiple approaches to problem- solving; algebraic concepts introduced from 1st grade on; and extraneous, misleading, or “tricky” parts inserted into word problems. By introducing difficult concepts at an early age – as opposed to learning the basics — the students are handicapped so much that by high school, algebra, normally taught in grades 7-8, is now delayed until grades 9-10 in the new Core. This leaves little time for higher math classes like trig, calculus, statistics, and quantitative mathematical reasoning. The state of New York was the first state to align their assessment testing to Core. The scores were just made public as this article is being written. 29.6% of all NY students met proficiency in math and 26.5% reached basic proficiency in English. The results speak for themselves.
In addition, students are now expected to learn in teams of 2-6. Gone are the days of individual desks in neat lines and rows. There is an emphasis on student-driven community classrooms, with the brighter students mentoring the slower learners. It is also called collaborative or team learning. Instead, recent studies are showing this method creates division and animosity between the students. In order to develop the students’ voices, education is shifting towards increased writing across all subjects. This is a terrific idea, but unfortunately, writing style and emotional language with supportive “evidence” is being pushed in lieu of the basics: Grammar, syntax, punctuation, cursive. It’s form versus function. The teacher is now a coach or facilitator: In the new classroom, the teacher’s desk is shifted to the side or back of the room. Discussion circles (on the floor) and team centers are at the forefront. After attending several teacher training seminars this summer, and looking at the new books — Science, History, and Health are now Core aligned — it is obvious that truth is now a personal, subjective reality; ethical and moral implications in scientific research (eugenics, genetically-modified organisms, euthanasia, cloning) are left out; and basic facts omitted or distorted. For example, Brave New World, still part of 11th grade literature is being presented as a Utopian society (rather than a Dystopia as originally intended and taught) because all members of society have been provided food, shelter, jobs, entertainment, and purpose. Right, but what about freedom?
The most insidious and invasive factor for all those public, charter, and now private schools who have been coerced into accepting Core, is the data mining aspect. Students K-12 will be interviewed each year covering a wide range of personal
information. Questions include the innocuous “Do you make friends easily? Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team? Do you accept criticism easily?” to “Can you confide in your caregivers (no more parents)? Does anyone in your home own a gun? Do your parents take you to church or synagogue?” and “When you come to school, do you ever feel the need to change into the clothing of the opposite sex? Do you feel the need to use the boys’/girls’ restrooms?” When parents register their child for kindergarten, they can now be expected to fill out a long questionnaire on everything from prenatal and birth experience to family substance use and methods of discipline used in the home. As if this self-reporting was not enough, General Electric (which has funded CCSSI with multi millions of dollars) has developed biometric sensing devices to be embedded into each computer module and in each student’s chair/seat. These include retinal scanners, facial imaging sensors, and arousal/movement sensing devices. (See the document, “Grit, Tenacity & Perseverance” on www.ed.gov, p.44.) Welcome to 1984: Target date 2015-2016.
So, how does all of this affect homeschoolers? A multibillion dollar, multinational corporation, Pearson, Inc., has bought the rights to almost all the major textbook publishers — including Saxon. Many texts are being aligned to reflect the CC standards. Pearson has also bought the rights to all intelligence testing, including Stanford-Binet and Wechsler; and they have the rights to pre-job testing and academic tests – Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, TerraNova, PLAN, etc. Together with inBloom Corp., the data will be stored in large Utah data warehouses controlled by the government. David Coleman, CCSSI chief architect, was elected as president of the College Boards last October. By spring, the SATs, PSATs, APs will all be modified to reflect Common Core. And if this is not bad news enough, in California, community colleges and state schools will only be accepting Core grads as of 2015-2016. What to do?
Homeschoolers are known for their vigilance, creativity, and commitment to excellence. We want more and better for our children. Common Core is just another obstacle which we can overcome. Be alert. Check the content of your textbooks.
Purchase material published pre-Core. Use the Classics. Teach logic reasoning, morality, responsibility. Teach the basics first, then add more complex thought after the child has a firm grasp on the subject and the foundations have been securely laid. Learn more about the ins and outs of CCSSI. Join groups popping up across the country which are coming out against Core. Once you have basic knowledge of this new plan, tell other people — parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends, the people in line at the market. Writing letters to the editor of local papers alerts the school boards and other
citizens that parents are aware and engaged. Call and write legislators — they do listen. Also recommended is joining HSLDA. As homeschooling becomes further impacted from a governmental level, covering yourself legally is never a bad option. I have had my son, going into 10th grade, take his SATs early, pre-changes. But there are other ways to get into colleges and universities than the “traditional” ways. Three of my daughters entered into top universities, two without taking standardized tests. They used their classes taken, extracurricular activities, community service, interviews and
essays for acceptance. And just because the state school route might be closed off later, there are plenty of small, wonderful, and affordable private colleges and universities available. We are strong and creative and determined to give our children the best education possible. We do not cringe (much) in the face of challenge and adversity. Our students will be well-prepared for higher education and for life. We need not fear the sweeping new reforms in education, but we DO need to be vocal opponents of this system now!
∙ Kris Nielson, Children of the Core. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.
∙ Nicholas Tampio, “Do We Need a Common Core?” April, 7 2013. Huffington Post.
∙ U.S. Department of Education, www.ed.gov
∙ “The Common Core State Standards.” Truth in American Education. www.truthinamericaneducation.com
∙ Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America, 1999.
∙ Orlean Koehle, Common Core, A Trojan Horse for Education Reform. Small Helm Press Associates, 2012.
∙ New York Times
∙ Washington Post