Thursday, December 12, 2013

Forging Coalitions to Stop the Common Core

Nicholas Tampio
Fordham University
I have children in elementary school. As a parent, I have a front row view of the attempted corporate takeover of America’s schools.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative provides a justification for this takeover. The Common Core is a set of educational standards in mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA). Many people from across the political spectrum endorse the notion of national education standards. This version of the Common Core, however, has been funded and promoted by groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, Exxon, and the US Chamber of Commerce. The Common Core proposes to make students “college and career ready,” but corporate interests define what that readiness means.
If a counter-movement does not act soon, then the Common Core will impose a neoliberal model of education on America’s schools where results, for instance, are measured by standardized test scores. As I have argued elsewhere, the Common Core drains initiative from the classroom and makes school an oppressive place for teachers and students.
Fortunately, I am part of several groups fighting the Common Core. Some allies are on the political left, including Diane Ravitch, who just wrote Reign of Error, a polemic against the educational privatization movement, and Mark Naison, a colleague at Fordham who started the Badass Teachers Association (BAT). Many people recognize that the Common Core’s progressive rhetoric is a Trojan horse for the corporate takeover of schools.
I also work with groups composed largely of self-identified conservatives. For the past year, I have been on the Truth in American Education (TAE) list serve. Many of the members protest the trend whereby corporations and the U.S. Department of Education, rather than teachers and school boards, determine the standards that drive curriculum and assessment.
I oppose the Common Core because I’m watching it harm my children’s school experience. But my personal interests align with my political theoretical ones. I’m a democrat and a pluralist. I agree with philosophers such as James Madison, J.S. Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, William E. Connolly, and Richard E. Flathman that centralized power facilitates tyranny. Positively stated, I favor political arrangements that distribute power as widely as possible. In the realm of education, I support a variety of educational experiments, including Montessori and Waldorf schools.
In general, I believe in critical thinking, rigor, high education standards, and student and teacher evaluations. Even if I had the power, however, I would not impose one model of education upon the country or define once and for all the key terms in the debate. Intelligent people disagree on how to educate children; it would be foolish to put all of our eggs, so to speak, in one basket.
Proponents of the Common Core sometimes claim that opponents belong to what Paul Krugman calls the “party of stupidity.” That is an unfair description of the coalition forming to stop the Common Core.
To stop the Common Core, citizens need to forge a coalition of people on the political right and the political left. In a pluralistic society, citizens need to make alliances with people we agree with on some issues and disagree on others. 
Here are responses to a few potential objections: 
Aren’t the Common Core just standards? Yes, but that is not the whole story. The Race to the Top program incentivized states to adopt the Common Core and use aligned tests (PARCC or SBAC) to rate students, teachers, and school districts. State Departments of Education mandate that Local Education Agencies (LEA) prepare students for these tests. On paper, schools and teachers have flexibility in how or what they teach; in practice, LEAs throughout the country are making teachers use Common Core-aligned curricula, including scripted lesson plans, or modules. Teachers whose students fail the Common Core exams may be fired; school districts with a certain percentage of failing students may be taken over by the state.
Does local control mean that schools may teach intelligent design in science classes? The Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) prohibits that. There is a big difference, however, between national bodies enforcing Constitutional limits and laying the foundation for curricula across the country.
Might the problem with the Common Core be the execution? Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, for instance, supports the idea of the Common Core and argues that the states are failing it. The problem with this line of defense is that it can be used to justify any idea. My school district in Westchester, New York was thriving before the Common Core and is suffering under it. Some people say that the problem with the Common Core is the high-stakes testing associated with it. Proponents, however, will respond that there needs to be “big data” to determine if students are learning the Common Core. The Common Core is the bait to make people adopt much of the corporate education agenda.
Might the Common Core improve the educational standards for some districts? Maybe. Up to now, however, there is no longitudinal data on what the Common Core accomplishes. There are also stories from around the country (many posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog) that students, teachers, and parents hate the Common Core.
The Common Core is a tree that prevents other educational models from getting sunlight. That is a tragedy, and one easily avoided. The American educational landscape should be a garden with many flowers.



Post a Comment