Are you curious about how the crazy new convoluted Common Core math problems came about? Ever wonder why high school students are reading EPA standards in English class?
Want to read a book full of suspense about backroom deals, MOU’s (Memorandums of Understanding), CCSSO licensing agreements, NGA funding, and secret handshakes? That reveals who and what CCSSO, EASA, and AYP are? That gets down to the statistical trickery of surveys showing that teachers just love Common Core?
Then read Mercedes Schneider’s fascinating Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?
Schneider cuts through the eye-glazing jargon and reveals the players, their connections, and credentials (or more accurately lack thereof). She uses her advanced degrees in education and statistics to explicate the legalese and interpret the misleading numbers, and then put them into a gripping narrative. There is a plot line that goes from when Common Core was a twinkle in the eye to the monster we have today.
This dedicated high school English teacher also maintains an excellent blog in which she cuts through all the arcana. Her work is clearly a labor of love. I don’t know how she does it all.
In Common Core Dilemma, Schneider has done a superb job in telling the back story.
But I wish that she had left it at that because the introductory chapters present a distorted view of the history of education and might put off some readers.
In the first chapter Schneider challenges the 1966 Coleman Report’s recommendation that standardized tests be used as measurements of progress (full name, Equality of Educational Opportunity Study). She takes issue with the fact that “the researchers believed that ‘culture bound’ testing was justified because, in their view, particular attributes were necessary for students of color to have success.” E.D. Hirsch, in his 1987 bestseller,Cultural Literacy, argued the same point: historical and cultural knowledge (e.g., important dates, scientific facts, familiarity with literary classics) are essential to reading comprehension and academic achievement. For that he was vilified by progressives. Common Core (in spite of the similarity in name) deemphasizes cultural knowledge by dictating that short “texts” (or excerpts) be read “cold,” with no context provided by the teacher.
Schneider maintains that it was naïve “to believe that people of color in 1960s America would ‘get a good job and move up to a better one’” by demonstrating academic achievement.
No, it was not.
Schneider repeats the myth that has been accepted as holy writ in education schools: that racism and lack of cultural sensitivity are responsible for the achievement gap. This myth is promulgated by anti-American radicals who took over schools in the 1960s. Perpetuating such myths serves their larger revolutionary goals. Thomas Sowell, however, has aptly demonstrated that in the days of segregation, all-black schools sometimes outperformed their white socioeconomic counterparts.
That is because they used the tried-and-true methods of directed teaching, which the late Jeanne Chall demonstrated were especially helpful to students from low- and middle-income families. This is old-fashioned teaching, with the teacher as the authority and students required to demonstrate knowledge of a body of material.
Progressive teachers, however, have taken it upon themselves to indoctrinate students in social justice, while pretending students are “discovering” such lessons through project and group work.
The Obama administration’s policies in academic standards and school discipline, modeled on the theories of Obama education transition team leader and Common Core test developer, Linda Darling-Hammond, go counter to the methods that have worked. Clearly, there is a larger agenda. The fall-out includes loss of local control and teacher autonomy.
Schneider, unfortunately, seems to have accepted certain progressive premises. She questions the validity of committees on the basis of racial and gender make-up (if they are overwhelmingly white and male), but cites anti-testing activist William Schaefer of FAIR Test as an authority. This is surprising because Schaefer has no qualifications in the education field. His public relations company promotes a number of far-left causes, with the anti-testing campaign being just one.
Unfortunately, Schneider repeats what could be a line from Schaeffer’s anti-testing propaganda. She maintains that test administrators can be blind to “the manner in which their own perceptions of the world interfere with both test selection and the utility of test results.” Furthermore, “The ‘skills most important’ for Whites to be successful in a predominantly White society that is often openly hostile to the ‘success’ of its members of color differ from those that may be deemed ‘most important’ by the oppressed members.” Cringe.
Schneider relates how she learned from “students of color” that “academic achievement is frowned on as an attempt to ‘be White’ or is viewed as an affront to subgroup acceptance.” That is true, as Jason Riley points out, but it is a harmful attitude that is encouraged by lessons about endless oppression and cultural difference.
Unfortunately, education schools and teachers unions have made reform efforts necessary. At conferences I’ve heard teachers share strategies on avoiding state standards (pre-Common Core), so they could use the class to promote such lessons in grievance instead. Teachers unions have notoriously protected incompetent or negligent teachers.
There was an educational “crisis,” as well as a financial one, in 2008. The Obama administration, of course, did not let either “crisis go to waste,” dangling stimulus funds before governors as carrots for adopting Common Core.
Now let me get back to the other nine chapters—the vast bulk—that make it worth your while to read this book. Once Schneider dispenses with the bleeding heart excuses in the first two chapters, she exposes education exploiters who lie (Bill Gates), who violate their federal roles (Arne Duncan), and who negotiate deals to make U.S. education dependent on their demonstrably incompetent companies (Pearson chief financial officer Robin Freestone).
Teachers, rightfully, should be appalled at the imposition of standards that have not been piloted and that were written by unqualified “experts” from non-profits tied to companies standing to profit from Common Core. They should be outraged over having their job evaluations tied to how well students perform on ridiculous tests.
But they should also be putting their own house in order. Teachers should be asking themselves whether their union dues should be going overwhelmingly to the Democratic Party, which supports big government/progressive education programs like Common Core.
I hope Mercedes Schneider takes her passion, and her great analytical and writing skills, to tackle the more deep-rooted problems plaguing education.
But first, we have a task: to kill the Common Core beast. The big government/big money interests are banking on the fact that the “little people” can’t understand the contracts, the jargon, the backroom deals.
Mercedes Schneider demonstrates, to the contrary, that with her book, oh, yes, we can.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research website.