Education in Florida: Where did we go wrong? What can we do about it?

Several leaders of the growing “Stop Common Core” movement recently were invited to meet with Dr. Kim McDougal, Governor Rick Scott’s chief adviser on education, in an attempt to dispel concerns about Common Core in Florida. Sadly, our meetings were spent talking past each other with absolutely no progress.

McDougal claims that the Florida Legislature made great headway on Common Core by passing SB 864 to allow for local districts to choose their own textbooks and have parental oversight.

As a member of the Lee County Schools textbook adoption committee, I can tell you that is a weak to non-existent tool. Pearson PLC controls 80% of the American market in education. We can only choose from Common Core aligned materials because our standards and high stakes testing drives teaching to the tests. The GED, ACT and SAT tests will all be Common Core aligned. Our children are still being fed anti-American propaganda and moral relativism at best. They are still deprived of the classical education they need.

SB 188 pretends to protect Florida’ students from data mining. It is non-functional on its face. It relies on FERPA to stop data sharing. Click here for a complete explanation why that fails. While the bill does say that our state will not collect 3 items of data, there are over 400 items required by the agreement they signed to adopt Common Core.

Dr. McDougal is a likable and intelligent person, but worked for Jeb Bush and completely swallowed the argument on “rigorous” Federal standards and accountability. Neither of those has been effective in truly changing education results. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia (of all places):

“[O]n the Standards movement which was an evolution of the earlier OBE (outcomes-based education) which was largely rejected in the United States as unworkable in the 1990s” “merely a re-labeling of a failed, unrealistic vision. It is believed to be the educational equivalent of a planned economy which attempts to require all children to perform at world-class levels merely by raising expectations and imposing punishments and sanctions on schools and children who fall short of the new standards.”

During our meeting, McDougal asked me, “Don’t you want any standards?” That got me thinking.

What happened before standards? Perhaps we should revert to a time before mandatory standards were dictated from above which was not all that long ago since the inception of the USDOE was 1979. Competition drives improvements, not government dictated, inflexible, dumbed down standards. In fact empirical evidence shows that more and more government involvement results in lower scores and much higher cost.

Our founding fathers were very well educated, yet there were no “standards.” People were individually accountable. Lindsey Burke of The Heritage Foundation has produced many articles on the negative effects of standards.

The Cato Institute has produced multitudes of interesting data showing the increased Federal spending and Federal programs exploding costs while students learn less. Here’s a link to one short report to Congress. Here is a more recent report on the impact of federal involvement on America’s classrooms

This Cato report graph says it all:

cato report

Over the last 100 years, our education system has been under attack by those who would like to undermine and defeat America. Common Core is the latest and most comprehensive attempt. It’s not just that our kids are not learning the 3 R’s. It is that they are being brainwashed.

From an excellent article on UNESCO Dr. Thomas Sowell summarized this mind-changing process in a 1993 article titled “Indoctrinating the Children“:

“The techniques of brainwashing developed in totalitarian countries are routinely used in psychological conditioning programs imposed on American school children. These include emotional shock and desensitization, psychological isolation from sources of support, stripping away defenses, manipulative cross-examination of the individual’s underlying moral values, and inducing acceptance of alternative values by psychological rather than rational means.”

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” ― Alexis de Tocqueville

The positive Psychological tone in this lesson in the 1834 McGuffey’s Second Reader (below right) is a striking contrast to current lessons featuring “Johnny has Two Mommies” or worse in first and second grades.

eclectic reader

Taken from McGuffey’s Second Reader. For a larger view click on the image.

Let’s examine the ideas popular in today’s education circles to achieve higher results: 1.) rigorous national standards are necessary, 2.) accountability to national standards should be imposed on schools and teachers and 3.) with monetary and other high stakes consequences to students, teachers and school districts.

How does this actually fit with our objective of education, and does it really work? To measure if it works, we need to know just what is our goal in education?

Is it to give individuals the knowledge and skills to achieve their highest potential? Or is it to prepare people to fit into society’s needs: to be ready for college and careers?

Put another way, are we individuals who have a God given right to pursue happiness of our own volition? Or are we ruled by the state which demands us to become productive citizens, or “human capital” as advocates of Common Core have labelled our children?

In a free society, I would suggest the first, not the second would foster creativity, freedom, experimentation, and sometimes failure. But without failure, there is no success. History proves time and again that at the simple lack of intellectual boundaries and controls will cause societies to flourish. Most advances come at the beginning of great societies, before bureaucracy binds creativity and the society collapses of its own weight as we are witnessing today in America.

The greatest advances in the United States came soon after its beginning. Freedom, justice and property rights propelled us to the unprecedented pinnacle of the progress of civilization, enjoying the highest standards of living ever achieved since the dawn of mankind.

So where did we get our educational goals in the first place to achieve all this? Our founding fathers knew that the Bible was the foundational resource for education:

“Romans 12:2 – And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

And what does the Bible say about who is responsible for educating our children? Is it you, the parent, or the government?

“Deuteronomy 11:19 – And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”

Let’s look backward to a time when there were no external standards and see what was studied in schools and how much they learned.

One of the most fascinating and successful names in American education was William McGuffey, who wrote textbooks in the 1820-30s. “The lessons in the Readers encouraged standards of morality and society throughout the United States for more than a century. They dealt with the natural curiosity of children; emphasized work and an independent spirit; encouraged an allegiance to country, and an understanding of the importance of religious values. The Readers were filled with stories of strength, character, goodness and truth. The books presented a variety of contrasting viewpoints on many issues and topics, and drew moral conclusions about lying, stealing, cheating, poverty, teasing, alcohol, overeating, skipping school and foul language. The books taught children to seek an education and continue to learn throughout their lives.” Between 1836 and 1960, over 120 million were estimated to be sold. His books are still in use today by many homeschoolers.

Here’s a link to a 1912 8th grade test. Expectations and results were clearly higher without the imposition of State or Federal “Standards.”

So, Dr. McDougal is right. I do not want state or federally imposed standards because empirical evidence shows that this does not accomplish the goal of education, to help each student reach their highest potential.

The accountability aspect is likewise counterproductive. By some accounts, approximately 40% of time in school is testing, and not learning. A simple reduction of learning time alone would account for the lower results we are achieving in public schools.

In conclusion, we need to remind Dr. McDougal that Common Core is also unconstitutional, unaffordable, unwise, ineffective, and intrusive. No matter what you call it, we want it out of our schools and we want Governor Scott to listen to growing, intelligent and thoughtful opposition instead of listening to those who stand to gain money and power by its implementation. We will NOT abandon our children for your political gain, but we may abandon you!