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Education in Two Worlds: Myth #51 The Common Core Will Save America


When David Berliner and I and our young Associates pulled together the 50 myths and lies that threaten America's public schools, we ignored the Common Core. We didn't forget about it. Who could? It was just that a sense of ennui overtook us and we could not bear to revisit the same dreadful collection of misguided ideas that has tormented educators for decades. After all, Arizona had just decided to scrap AIMS (the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) because it and its standards had failed to truly make the state's children college and career ready. And AIMS was nothing but a confection of an earlier group of bureaucrats and politicians who decided in the early 1990s that the standards in place then had failed.

Older standards have newer standards
Upon their backs to bite 'em
But newer standards have newer still
And so on ad infinitum.

So you must forgive us if addressing the Common Core was simply too much to bear.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire.

Enough with the poetry!

Now Sherman Dorn did an excellent job of dispelling a host of myths about the Common Core a year ago on his blog. (Since Sherman was publishing his thoughts on March 17, 2013, he labeled the myths "blarney.") Here is some of the blarney about the Common Core that Sherman dispelled:

  • "The Common Core standards will dramatically improve instruction/the Common Core standards will bring new, more authentic forms of assessment."
  • "The Common Core will significantly equalize educational opportunities by setting common expectations of what students should learn."
  • "The Common Core will block curricular innovation by standardizing all curriculum."
  • "The Common Core is an attempt to cram corporate-friendly reform down everyone’s throats."

Sherman implied support for – or at least consent with – the Common Core when he wrote:

  • "The economic reasons one might make for a common curriculum are about general productivity, and most of that will be about internal markets, not exports."
  • "If corporations had somehow wanted to control schools indirectly through national standards, you would have thought that science would be a key target, and yet it has taken several years to get to the current draft state of the standards, and the draft standards do not look very corporate-y to me."
  • "...there is nothing automatic that ties a specific instructional method to a curriculum framework. Likewise, there is nothing automatic that ties a specific set of assessments to a curriculum framework. California and Kentucky experimented with performance-based assessment more than two decades ago with the blessing of 'it’s okay to teach to the test if the test is good enough' advocate Lauren Resnick, long before either the first wave of state curriculum standard writing or the Common Core."

He ended his critique of the Common Core mythology thus: "A set of common curricular standards are just that — a set of common nominal expectations that somewhat overlaps current practices. The vast majority of what is good or bad in a school cannot be related to them. I wish we’d stop hearing such blarney about the Common Core today and forever more." But I left Sherman's page with a sense that perhaps he was a bit too forgiving of an effort from which I see no good emanating. He viewed them then as largely benign. I can't agree. (Incidentally, if Sherman wishes to respond to this posting, perhaps on March 17, 2014, I will happily post his thoughts here.)

A number of things are so depressing about the Common Core. First, the degree to which my academic colleagues and teachers are complicit in creating the standards is troubling. With the promise of building a new future for American education and returning the U.S. to #1 in the world and closing the achievement gap, educators will flock to week-end committee meetings to write down the new standards in literacy and math and science that will guide our public schools into the future. (Arnie Duncan actually believes that the Common Core will close the achievement gap.) The rain men who make these promises are either too naive or too inexperienced or too smitten with their visions of omnipotence to understand that they themselves are merely tools of corporate and political interests.

Here is the first point on which Sherman and I see things somewhat differently. Sherman says that the Common Core doesn't look that "corporate-y to me." He's right, if by "corporate" one means big-C Corporate: Micro$oft, ConAgra, Ford Motors. The Common Core would not produce workers "job ready" even for Wal*Mart. But the Common Core is all about small-c corporate. There are small-c corporations that write the tests – oh, yes, you can't have standards without tests we are told – and then publish the textbooks aligned to the tests so that everyone can achieve the Common Core standards. In other words, behold Pearson, the British multi-national conglomerate currently gobbling up hundreds of millions of U.S. education dollars. Pearson had net earnings of more than $1.5 Billion in 2013. One small database sold to the North Carolina education department by Pearson – and one that North Carolina claims is defective – cost the state $8 Million. Pearson is not Micro$oft, but it is plenty big enough to buy itself politicians and lobbyists who can influence the future of America's schools.

Secondly, there was an air of insouciance in Sherman's quasi-defense of the Common Core: What's wrong with a bunch of educators getting together and dreaming about the schools of the future (and writing their dreams down for the rest of us to follow)? All the states have standards already, and there never is much local control anyway.

Well, there's a lot wrong with the Common Core. There will be no "authentic assessment" aligned with the Common Core standards; it costs too much. And reading and math will dominate because it is believed they can be assessed by paper-and-pencil and scored by computer. And test preparation in reading and math will drive out art and music and phys ed and even science and social studies. And no one dare teach a unit on wealth inequality or the destruction of the labor unions or the evils of fast food because it's not in the Common Core for obvious reasons.

And in the end, teachers will be further de-skilled and infantilized and told that curriculum is something you download from the government instead of something you create out of your own understanding of your students’ needs and passions and your sense of opportunity.

The Common Core is something you get when a President has so little knowledge of education that he chooses a Secretary of Education from among the guys in the pick-up basketball game at the Y.

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Gene V Glass

Gene V Glass is a lecturer in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education of San José State University. He is also currently a Senior Researcher at the National Educ...