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By Karen VanTil Gushta

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories about Common Core, the controversial new educational agenda aimed at imposing federal government standards on every aspect of public and private education in America, which some are even calling “ObamaCore.”

It’s a federal takeover of education that’s so flawed, more teachers, states, parents and students want nothing to do with it.

It’s the Common Core State Standards Initiative, or CCSSI – more often referred to simply as “Common Core.”

In one case, an Arkansas mother of three shared a simple fourth-grade division problem: Mr. Yamada’s class has 18 students. If the class counts around by a number and ends with 90, what number did they count by?

The simple answer is five, because 90 divided by 18 equals five.

But according to Common Core, that logic would be incorrect.

Rather than employing the simple division step, children are expected to draw 18 circles with 90 hash-marks and use 108 steps to solve the problem.

In yet another case of bad math, a teacher posted this Common Core question on Twitter: Juanita wants to give bags of stickers to her friends. She wants to give the same number of stickers to each friend. She’s not sure if she needs 4 bags or 6 bags of stickers. How many stickers could she buy so there are no stickers left over?

(Hint: Students aren’t given enough information to actually solve this one.)

Common Core math problem

And in New York, this question was on a test given to a small child in first grade:

The U.S. Department of Education funded Common Core with $350 million, and 45 states adopted the standards, motivated by “Race to the Top” grants and waivers from No Child Left Behind.
But now, even the president of the National Education Association is warning in an open letter that the implementation of Common Core has been “completely botched.”

And although President Obama devoted almost a tenth of his State of the Union speech to education, touting his administration’s takeover of the student loan business and the restoration of last year’s cuts to education, he didn’t breathe a word about Common Core.

As former Gov. Mike Huckabee says, the very phrase has become “toxic.”

Instead, Obama talked about his ongoing push for early childhood education.

“Just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a Race to the Top for our youngest children,” Obama said.

Outside of professional education circles, however, there is little enthusiasm for “partnerships” in early childhood education with the federal government. Many see it as yet another effort to expand federal control over education, which is greater than ever due to Obama’s Race to the Top federal grant program.

Competing for big government bucks

To qualify for a Race to the Top grant (funded from $100 billion the stimulus bill designated for education), 40 competing states presented plans for 1) student data tracking from pre-K through college; 2) reviving low-performing schools; and 3) linking teacher evaluations to student achievement. The more closely these plans hued to federal Education Department criteria, the more “points” they were awarded in the competition for federal largesse.

Significantly, competing states got big points if they also adopted Common Core standards and assessments.

The standards were developed by a group called Student Achievement Partners under the aegis of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Student Achievement Partners (or SAP, an unfortunate acronym), founded by David Coleman, a former Rhodes Scholar turned educational consultant and entrepreneur, received funds for the project from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Charles Steward Mott Foundation.

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The deadline for adoption of the new standards in English language arts and mathematics was Aug. 1, 2010 – just two months after the final version had been released to the public. State legislatures were not in session and, in most cases, the state superintendents and boards of education made the decisions to accept the standards.

When the Race to the Top competition ended in December 2011, 19 states had been awarded $4.35 billion, with Florida and New York receiving the largest grants of $700 million each.

But the payoff for federal education bureaucrats was bigger. Forty-five states had adopted Common Core, including some that had not entered the Race to the Top competition. Progressive education central-planners were exultant. Their goal to get states to adopt a set of national standards was on its way to being accomplished.

But there was little evidence to show that Common Core standards were even achievable, much less desirable for American schools.

Furthermore, the very notion of having a set of national standards violates the intention of the Constitution’s framers, who carefully reserved to the states decisions about education. In giving the Department of Education cabinet status in 1979, Congress stipulated that the federal department would not get involved with developing or controlling educational curriculum. Both the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act stated this principle.

Nevertheless, No Child Left Behind was based on a favorite premise of school reformers: Standards-based assessments will improve student learning.

Stacking deck against disadvantaged students

That premise, according to the left-leaning Brookings Institution’s 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, is faulty. Looking at results of previous standards implementations, the report concluded that national standards will shrink between-state variations in test scores, but they will do nothing to improve within-state variations among school districts. And that is where the most serious student achievement gaps between demographic groups exist.

In testimony to the Florida Board of Education on Oct. 15, 2013, Ze’ev Wurman, who served on the California Academic Content Standards Commission, which evaluated the Common Core in 2010, said Common Core “actually stacks the deck against disadvantaged students.”

“They will no longer be able to rely on schools to provide the needed content as a part of school’s regular curriculum; all the while they will be told that they are ‘on track to be college ready,” he said.

Wurman also countered the claim that the new standards are “internationally benchmarked.”

“Despite Common Core’s aggressive start in kindergarten, by grade eight it falls by a year or more behind international high achievers,” he said.

As for the claim that the standards will promote “college readiness” in math, Wurman said “this readiness is at most for non-selective community colleges,” not the colleges “most parents aspire to.”

Others who have spoken out against the mediocre standards are Sandra Stotsky and R. James Milgrim. Both were on the Common Core State Standards Initiative Validation Committee. Both refused to validate them or give their endorsement.

Milgrim, professor emeritus at Stanford University and the only content expert in mathematics on the committee, said: “Core Standards in mathematics have very low expectations. … By the end of seventh grade, Core standards are roughly two years behind.”

Stotsky also disputes the claim made by Common Core proponents that the national standards are more “rigorous.”

Stotsky, former professor of education reform who holds the title of 21st-century chair in teacher quality at the University of Arkansas, said many of the reading standards are poorly written and developmentally inappropriate.

Since they are skill-based, they do not specify content. Writing is emphasized to the detriment of reading, and more than half the texts that students do read under Common Core are “informational,” not literary texts. Stotsky claims the emphasis on reading informational texts is not supported by research.

Why, then, the drive for a national set of education standards shared by all the states?

The idea of national standards has an engine behind it that is larger and more powerful than just the two Washington, D.C., based trade organizations that commissioned them.

To understand why the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have been pushing for a set of national educational standards, it is instructive to recall that the NGA authored President George H.W. Bush’s AMERICA 2000 education goals. The association describes itself as the “collective voice of the nation’s governors,” but inside-the-beltway policy analysts do the legwork. The task of the Education Division is to help governors “develop effective policy and support its implementation” in education.

Lining up with U.N.

Bush’s AMERICA 2000 goals were, in reality, an effort to line up America’s education policies with the World Declaration on Education for All, a set of global education goals from a 1990 U.N.-sponsored summit. Former President Bill Clinton’s education reform agenda, Goals 2000, incorporated the same goals, as did George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act.

In every presidential reform program, there has been one common thread: America must prepare its students to be good workers to ensure that America can compete in the global economy. The goal is not to ensure America’s children are prepared to live full and meaningful lives as virtuous citizens who love God and their country. Children are viewed as future workers who are essential to the country’s economic advancement. Therefore, it is the government – not parents – that should determine how they should be educated.

This view has been shared by both Republican and Democrat administrations alike. In signing Education for All, President Bush Sr. committed the U.S. to a policy of “cradle-to-the-grave” government control of education. Since Education for All is not a treaty, Congress did not have to approve it. It functions as “soft law,” and the federal department must submit annual reports to UNESCO showing progress toward implementing the goals.

The Obama administration’s call for government-run, early-childhood education is consistent with the April 2000 update of Education for All at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal.

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The Dakar “Framework for Action” also called for “recognized and measurable learning outcomes … in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.” No Child Left Behind got the states moving toward this goal by mandating the adoption of state standards. But that didn’t satisfy the Education for All requirement for national standards.

Bill Gates gives millions for national standards

Bill and Melinda Gates

The drive for national standards picked up momentum – and financial backing – when Bill and Melinda Gates, who have stated their support for UNESCO’s education goals, began funding the development of national standards. In 2007, their foundation gave $16 million just to inject the notion of uniform “American standards” into the 2008 campaign. Since then, the foundation has spent $173.5 million to develop, promote and implement a set of national standards – deceptively called the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

If Common Core becomes the way of the future for America’s schools, “it would mean the complete loss of local control,” warned Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project.

“The idea is that it will cover all subjects and all schools. It would cover homeschools and private schools,” she said. “The whole system would be revamped to conform to Common Core, and there would be no more local control.”

Robbins and Emmett McGroarty wrote the report “Controlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core is Bad for America” in May 2012. Since then, they have been speaking to groups around the country and warning of the threat Common Core poses.

In her “Rotten to the Core” series, political commentator Michelle Malkin stated, “In practice, Common Core’s dubious ‘college-and-career-ready’ standards undermine local control of education, usurp state autonomy over curricular materials, and foist untested, mediocre and incoherent pedagogical theories on America’s schoolchildren.”

Terrence O. Moore, professor of history at Hillsdale College, has documented the mediocrity of the Common Core Standards and the incoherence of the pedagogical theories behind them in his book “The Story Killers: A Common Sense Case Against the Common Core.”

What makes Common Core so insidious, he argues, is that the standards remove all traces of ideas that are foundational aims of traditional education and the American ideal of a free people living under the rule of law. According to Moore, the standards take away the “great stories” of the heritage of Western civilization and Christianity and replace them with post-modern cynicism and political correctness.

“The Common Core is a design to smear the Western and American tradition with the brush of sexism, racism and all the other charges we have come to expect from the political left against this country’s long history of freedom,” writes Moore. “The Common Core is a program that directs people to be preoccupied with only the functional aspects of human existence and to have almost no interest in the higher aims of life.”

“If you take away great stories that show the good and the bad, you live in a world of moral mush,” Moore says, “and that is clearly the kind of world they [progressive educators] are trying to create for the young.”

Television and radio host Glenn Beck has written a soon-to-be-published book dissecting Common Core, “Conform: Exposing the Truth About Common Core and Public Education.’

“The battle is on,” Beck says, “and it is raging and this is one that you cannot afford to lose because of the dire consequences involved.”

Related column:

How ObamaCore skirts the law by Phyllis Schlafly


Karen VanTil Gushta has a Ph.D. in philosophy of education and is a freelance writer and former educator with experience teaching at all levels, including graduate teacher education. In 2009, Coral Ridge Ministries published her first book, “The War On Children: How Pop Culture and Public Schools Put Our Kids at Risk.” Gushta writes regularly on the topics of protecting faith and freedom and defending the sanctity of human life.

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