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By Dr. Karen VanTil Gushta
Editor’s Note: This is the second 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.” The first part talked about the high stakes for parents, students and education.
The battle over the Common Core State Standards Initiative – widely known as “Common Core” – has now spread to 30 states where legislation has or will be introduced to delay implementation, abolish the Core Standards or, at a minimum, set up a task force to study the issue before full implementation takes place.
The stakes are high.
“Common Core is part of the agency to keep true reform from happening in this county,” said Dr. Terrence Moore, author of “The Story Killers: A Common Sense Case Against the Common Core.”
Asked who will benefit, he said, “The people who are not going to profit and thrive are the children. School will become even more boring than it is, and they will be unable to think or have any cultural heritage or moral inheritance to draw upon in order to grow and thrive.”
Instead, Moore said, those who will profit are the progressives pushing this program.
“It’s very clear that [Education Secretary] Arne Duncan and company and the entire progressive left regard schools as their own institutions to turn any way they choose,” he said.
Moore said education progressives fit into three categories – what he calls Romper Room Progressives, Political Progressives and Techno Progressives.
‘Brave new classroom’
During the 1980s, Romper Room Progressives were at their peak. They pushed process-driven instruction, emphasizing “student collaboration” and “cooperative learning.”
Future teachers were told to “facilitate” students in “constructing” their own knowledge. The model teacher was the “guide on the side,” not the “sage on the stage.”
Since then, the other two types of progressives have gained more influence. The Political Progressives “have a particular political agenda,” said Moore. They are anti-constitutionalists and rabid environmentalists. They attack the traditional family structure and denigrate the Founding Fathers. Instead of giving students great stories and literary classics to help students understand human problems, they push “postmodern and mushy multicultural authors.”
According to Moore, the Techno-Progressives group includes Bill Gates, Jeb Bush and others who want to see a “brave new classroom” where students are “sitting at computer workstations all day long.” In these classrooms, teachers are not even Romper Room facilitators. They no longer talk to students; they are there simply to monitor their progress.
William Estrada, director of federal relations for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said data-mining, which has sparked parental concern and is prompting legislative action in some states, is a key component of Common Core.
“This really is a gold mine for big business,” Estrada said. “You can see this by who’s profiting from these databases. They see enormous profit in gathering this data in one place.”
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is separate from states’ databases, but the same people who are pushing the Common Core are pushing for greater data collection by the states. They also want cross-state data sharing. States that competed for the Race to the Top funds got more points if they had data collection systems in place. So, technically, states weren’t forced to align their databases with Common Core, but there was tremendous incentive for them to do so, according to Estrada.
At the moment it doesn’t appear that homeschool or private-school student data will be collected. However, the HSLDA is tracking the issue closely to ensure states will not start collecting student-specific data. Estrada said when New York state began to move in that direction, a call from HSLDA stopped any further action.
National database of student-specific data
The concern is that all the pieces are in place for a nationally linked, comprehensive database of student-specific data. In 2012, the Federal Department of Education changed regulations in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Now any government or private entity that FedED says is evaluating an education program can get access to students’ personally identifiable information. Postsecondary institutions and workforce education programs can also get this data, which includes names of family members, students’ disciplinary records and even biometric records.
“The heavy involvement of the federal government in enticing states to create databases of student-specific data that are linked between states is creating a de facto centralized database,” wrote Estrada and co-author Katie Tipton in their report, “The Dawning Database: Does the Common Core Lead to National Data Collection?”
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it would give states $12 million in grants to build longitudinal databases that will link workforce and education data. Estrada and Tipton conclude, “Before our eyes a ‘national database’ is being created in which every public school student’s personal information and academic history will be stored.”
Student data collection and sharing is crucial to the success of Common Core, according to its backers, and it is also in the financial interests of these same backers. So it’s not just a coincidence that the big money for the development of student data collection models is coming from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Just as they funded development of the Common Core Standards, the Gates Foundation is funding development of programs for student data collection. The Data Quality Campaign, a Gates-funded nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., was set up to provide a “national forum to facilitate cross-state” data sharing.
As Common Core-aligned assessments and cross-state data sharing begin collecting and pooling data, and loosened Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act regulations give easier access to this rich mother-load, a number of states is increasingly concerned about the type of data being collected.
Florida has bills in both its House and Senate that would ban collection of biometric and other sensitive data on students. Dr. Karen Effrem, co-founder of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition and president of Education Liberty Watch, said her biggest concern is that student psychological data will be collected since the standards include “social-emotional” learning outcomes.
In comments she prepared for the Florida Board of Education on the “Psychological and Developmental Aspects of the Florida’s Common Core Standards,” Dr. Effrem, who is a medical doctor specializing in pediatrics, referred to a document that clearly states the FedED’s intentions to gather psychosocial data on students. The FedED’s Office of Technology document, “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century,” states:
[A]s new assessment systems are developed to reflect the new [Common Core State Standards Initiative] standards … A sustained program of research and development will be required to create assessments that are capable of measuring cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal skills.
Those who are eager to use these data banks are the companies that are producing Common Core-aligned textbooks and tests. Some, like Neil Bush’s Ignite!Learning, are relative newcomers to the lucrative business of educational publishing and testing. Neil Bush (George and Jeb’s younger brother) raised $23 million from U.S. investors (including his parents), and at least $3 million from Saudi interests to set up Ignite! The company says it develops “easy-to-use teacher-led digital content based instructional systems” that align to “state, Common Core, and local standards.”
Raking in billions of dollars
But the younger Bush’s enterprise is small change compared to the multi-billion-dollar enterprise of Pearson PLC. The British multinational publishing and education company headquartered in London reportedly is the largest education company and the largest book publisher in the world. Pearson has moved like gangbusters into the expanding educational testing and textbook market.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute estimates the national cost for Common Core compliance will be between $1 billion to $8 billion, and the profits will go almost directly to publishers. Peter Cohen, CEO of Pearson’s K-12 division, Pearson School, stated, “It’s a really big deal. The Common Core Standards are affecting literally every part of the business we’re involved in.”
But Cohen is not the driving force of Pearson’s School division, which was set up when the company reorganized in May 2013 to accelerate its push into “digital learning, education services, and emerging markets.” The person to watch at Pearson is Sir Michael Barber, chief education adviser to the school division.
Barber, once an adviser to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, is considered a “global expert on education reform and implementation of large-scale system change.” He is also an outspoken supporter of UNESCO’s education goals. (See Part 1 in this series for more information on this topic.)
Unless reforms are “irreversible,” warns Barber, people might undo what’s been done because they will “wish for the past.” Thus he tells policy makers to “work on the culture and the minds of teachers and parents.”
According to Barber, education reform is a “global phenomenon,” no longer to be managed by individuals or sovereign countries. Education reform has “no more frontiers, no more barriers,” he said at a British Education Summit last August.
Pearson School expects Barber will show it the way forward as it muscles its way into the lead in the Common Core testing and textbook market. It’s already received help from Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change and his Foundation for Excellence, which has received donations from the Pearson Foundation and, in turn, provides its donors, including Pearson, access to the chief state school officers who are members of Bush’s CFC club.
Pearson PLC revenue in 2012 was $8.41 billion. Part of that revenue came from financial publications promoting “global Shariah-compliant” finance. The multinational company has extensive business relationships with wealthy Islamist financial institutions. One of the publishers owned by Pearson, Prentice Hall, puts out a world history textbook that has a 36-page chapter on Islam but no chapters on Christianity or Judaism.
20-fold hike in testing
According to Dr. Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, there will be a 20-fold increase in testing if Common Core takes over America’s schools. Much of that will be online, bringing greater profits not only for Pearson, but also for software companies such as Bill Gates’ Microsoft.
Clearly, those who will benefit from Common Core are not the students – America’s children. Rather, hundreds of millions in profits will go to educational textbook and testing companies like Pearson and Microsoft.
One other group will also benefit from the Obama administration’s move to standardize education across the states – the bureaucrats at UNESCO and its associated NGOs. Unless the Common Core takeover of America’s schools is stopped, these bureaucrats and the progressives who shill for them can happily envision an America that is finally becoming the land of the subjugated and the home of the cowering as children are taught to be compliant global citizens.
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.” Karen writes regularly on topics related to protecting faith and freedom and defending the sanctity of human life.