Some radicals think that Common Core, the education super-baby touted by billionaires, conservative politicians, wealthy foundations, Republican and Democratic governors, Chambers of Commerce, Fortune 500 business leaders, and educational leaders and teachers is now the result of a back alley rape of a poverty-stricken teenager by a socialist-liberal group planning national domination. That’s what happens when politicians enter an arena they know nothing about—such as education.
In the last 18 years Common Core has had hundreds of fertile fathers. Exxon Mobil is involved, hoping that its oil and gas curriculum supplied free to middle and high school science classes would support climate change deniers and increase the use of carbonized fossil fuels. The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and other right-wing Republican think tanks pushed Common Core so that crony capitalism and free market advocates could insert supporting testimony in school curriculums. The Walton and WalMart Foundations pushed Common Core so they could continue to support school vouchers, charter schools, school choice, and other programs to speed the destruction of the public school system. Add to these potent groups the third political party in the United States funded generously by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch. The Koch boys are the main contributors supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council, the supporter of Common Core in most of the states. Add the Eli Broad Foundation that has the main goal of destroying public and private unions, school boards, and university schools of education.
Boeing, State Farm, and other huge corporations gave millions to support Common Core, at the same time grinding their axes to sharpen education policies that would serve their special interests. And Bill Gates, the second richest man in the world, trying to save American education from itself while saving the world from malaria and the lack of toilets, has put many millions into Common Core pockets. Poor Bill spent millions trying to turn large high schools into small high schools, not realizing that poverty is the main reason students don’t learn. Bill knows nothing about education or poverty—but he is also the main supporter of the College Board.
I just don’t have the room to list all of the special interests that have oars in the Common Core waters, huffing and puffing for or against. As an example, most teachers favor the enhanced curriculums of Common Core, particularly in language arts, reading, writing, science, mathematics, and music. But teachers do not want to be evaluated or paid based on tests mandated by Common Core. Teachers believe that tests given should be used only to determine the strengths and weaknesses of students in disciplines taught by teachers. Besides, I don’t believe that multiple-choice tests can reveal more than 10 percent of what a student actually knows anyway. A couple of short tests a school year are enough. Common Core is such a political maelstrom caused by know-nothings, special interests, religious bodies running private schools, charter school and voucher advocates, Chambers of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and hundreds of other pressure groups, it would be wise to save only the various curriculums developed by teachers and dump the Common Core testing program.
The whole Common Core mess reminds me of the three witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” tossing strange ingredients into a boiling cauldron to place charms on a man who kills to become King of Scotland: First Witch: “In the poison’d entrails throw, Toad, that under the cold stone days and nights has 31 sweltered venom sleeping got, boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.” All witches: “Double, double boil and trouble; fire burn, and cauldron bubble, fillet of fenny snake.” Second Witch: “In the cauldron boil and bake; eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing, for a charm of powerful trouble, like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”…Third Witch: “Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, witches’ mummy, maw and gulf of the ravin’d salt-sea shark. Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark, liver of blaspheming Jew, gall of goat, and slips of yew silver’d in the moon’s eclipse, nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips, finger of birth-strangled babe ditch-delivered by a drab, make the gruel thick and slab: add thereto a tiger’s chaudron for the ingredients of our cauldron.” All witches: “Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble. Cool it with a baboon’s blood.”
That describes a real toxic cauldron! Shakespeare couldn’t resist picking two more potions to be tossed into the cauldron by the First Witch: “Pour in sow’s blood, that hath eaten her nine farrow: grease that’s sweaten from the murderer’s gibbet throw into the flame.” That’s like adding Fox TV commander Rupert Murdoch, Condi Rice, Colin Powell and wife Alma, Jeb Bush and his Alliance for Excellent Education, former New York City education leader Joel Klein, the Council for Foreign Relations crew, the Ford Foundation, and Margaret Spellings, George W. Bush’s Secretary of Education during Leave No Child Behind, to the mixture of supporters and detractors. And let’s not forget that Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also supports Common Core! What a curious bunch of bed fellows! No doubt an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) engineered by various Tea Parties, the John Birch Society, and others who yell “federal takeover of education!” will blow Common Core to smithereens.
The only way we can lead the world economically is to lead the world in education. But we have to solve our biggest problem facing our educational program. Common Core will not solve it. The United States has the second-highest level of child poverty among the 35 economically advanced countries at over 23%. (Finland is lowest at 5.3%.) We also rank near the bottom in the percentage of four-year-olds in early childhood education. Head Start recently suffered its worst cuts in history. We have millions of students who suffer from malnutrition, total lack of health care, and lack of Internet, cable TV, newspapers, books, and magazines in the home—that is, if they even live in one. How can they perform well in school suffering these deficiencies? Minnesotans, the Twin Cities have over 4,600 homeless children enrolled in school! I wish them luck—and a warm breakfast.
I have spent 36 years teaching, supervising, and administering policies for students from five years old to 50, and I have spent 19 years in classroom desks and chairs learning -- something. I have taught the disabled and the brilliant, the college senior at Concordia and the school administrator at North Dakota State working on another certificate. Over that time I have learned to trust 99% of the teachers who taught me and those I have been privileged to supervise. That’s why I vigorously support the Common Core curriculums written by expert teachers in their respective fields. Teachers know what the world competition is and what we must have in our studies to stay ahead of that world. According to teachers, Common Core curriculums depend more on developing critical, divergent, and higher order thinking skills rather than on rote memorization. We cannot depend on ignorant politicians and billionaires to set the right course. We desperately need national standards in order to compete with China and Germany. We do not go to an excavating company for a root canal. Think tanks, foundations and special interest groups are too interested in being the main hogs at the Washington, D.C. trough. The “ME! ME! ME!” generation has never been more powerful.
In order for students to pass reading and math LNCB tests, school districts almost eliminated courses that helped in developing creativity, out-of-box thinking, and divergent synapses crackling in the brain. We even had courses in how to take tests so we could pass tests. We took valuable time from arts, drama, social studies, music, and physical education programs, even eliminating recess time for elementary school students to improve test-taking. What nonsense!
We can learn a lot about each other by playing with one another. We have to eliminate standardized tests and depend again on teachers to make judgments about the progress of students in their classes. The two major teacher unions, The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association(NEA), were early tentative supporters of Common Core curriculums because classroom teachers had developed them, but the AFT under Randi Weingarten did not like the early childhood standards or any of the student standardized tests. The NEA was opposed to using standardized tests to make judgments about teacher evaluations and pay.
I was a dues-paying member of the NEA when I was teaching in Fargo, and as a member of the Fargo Board of Education teacher salary negotiations team for 28 years and chief spokesman for the Board team for 11 years, I was always in favor of teacher unions. They serve a very useful purpose, negotiating policies that are good for both students and teachers, and making boards of education aware of deficiencies in the school district itself. The unions also protect teachers from radical board members and parents. We have too many of them.
In opposition to the adoption of Common Core by the Illinois Legislature, the Chicago Teachers’ Union published this resolution: “Whereas, the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to lead good and purposeful lives, not solely preparation for college and career, and Whereas, instructional and curricular decisions should be in the hands of classroom professionals who understand the context and interests of the students … Whereas, Common Core assessments disrupt student learning, consuming tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration, resolved that the Chicago Teachers’ Union opposes the Common Core State Standards (and the aligned tests) as a framework for teaching and learning.” The union was right. Education should be preparation for an exciting and purposeful life, not just an eight-to-five career job.
As teachers we can’t be all things to all students. As an elementary principal I tried to assign young students to classroom teachers they could get along with. But sometimes an arrogant fifth grader needed to be put in his place, so I assigned him to a disciplinarian who didn’t put up with any crap. Sometimes a shy retiring third grader needed a hug more than a reprimand, so I assigned her to a teacher capable of giving that hug at the right time. At Fargo South High in the 1970’s with almost 2,000 students the computers made the class lists, but sometimes as principal I transferred students from one class to another because of “compatibility.” To repeat, teachers cannot be all things … As an eighth grader in Morrison County District 54 almost 70 years ago I made a deal with the teacher that I would help her teach the three first-graders if I could have free rein of the 400-book library in the 24-student country school. It worked for both of us. At Moorhead State Teachers College I had a clever, diabolical, very sensitive English teacher by the name of Dr. Joe Satin who taught me all about poetry and its multiple interpretations. What an education!
About four years ago 45 states and the District of Columbia backed and approved Common Core, but then the crap started to be tossed in the cauldron by very conservative Republicans aligned with the Tea Party, the John Birch Society, the Cato Institute, evangelicals, and any groups screaming that it was a federal takeover of education called ObamaCore. I would suggest they find an island. Perhaps Antarctica. It’s impossible in today’s political climate to guess what will happen to Common Core. We desperately need national standards and national curriculums. Students in Maxbass, N.D., Elk Three Miles, W.V. (I had a Marine from there), and Bullhead City, Arizona must learn the same physics and grammar lessons. Our competition demands it.
by C.S. Hagen
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