Common Core: It’s Bigger Than You Think


Across the country, parents and teachers are waking up and forcing their states to reject the nationalized standards system, Common Core. This year in South Carolina, a large grassroots effort forced the General Assembly to pass legislation forcing new standards to be written for English and math; the new standards must be ready for the 2015-16 school year.

We’re remaining cautious, however. In order to get waivers on No Child Left Behind requirements, state standards must be what the federal government deems “college and career ready,” and the new state law specifically states that the new standards must be “college and career ready.” Will the new standards be Common Core in everything but name?

The federalized standards regime has left its mark on the state’s education policy across the states in other ways, too.

Common Core-Aligned College Entrance Exams

The two biggest college entrance exams in the country, SAT and ACT, are enthusiastically aligning their exams with Common Core standards. Both were active participants in the Common Core standards initiative.

What does this mean?

It means that not only is the federal government enticing states to adopt the standards through funding and waivers, but also that these companies are pushing the states to define the purpose of public education as getting kids accepted to colleges and universities. So, without in any way demonstrating that the Common Core standards enhance academic performance, supporters can claim that the state must adopt Common Core standards if they want kids to go to college. But is that really the aim of education? And how does it penalize private-school and home-school students who may use different standards? These and similar questions are as yet unanswered.

Not only are these two testing entities creating Common Core-aligned college-entrance exams; they’re creating their own K-12 Common Core-aligned assessments – competing with federally-funded consortia like Smarter Balanced and PARCC. South Carolina is currently looking for a new assessment after recently rejecting Smarter Balanced, but even if our new standards aren’t “Common Core” in name, they may be Common Core in every other respect.

Common Core-Aligned High School AP Exams

The College Board, which issues the SAT and various Advanced Placement exams, has created an elaborate new framework for the AP U.S. history exam. Not coincidently, David Coleman, president of the College Board, was the architect of Common Core. Commenting on the report, Stanley Kurtz accurately observes that “this is clearly an effort to silence public debate over these heavily politicized and illegitimately nationalized standards. If the complete sample test was available, the political nature of the new test would become evident.”

He goes on to say:

“The upshot is that James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the other founders are largely left out of the new test, unless they are presented as examples of conflict and identity by class, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.  The Constitution can be studied as an example of the Colonists’ belief in the superiority of their own culture, for instance. But any teacher who presents a full unit on the principles of the American Constitution taught in the traditional way would be severely disadvantaging his students. So while allowing some minor flexibility on details, the new AP U.S. History framework effectively forces teachers to train their students in a leftist, blame-America-first reading of history, while omitting traditional treatments of our founding principles.”

In short: Even non-Common Core states will still be administering AP exams that were issued by Common Core’s architects.

Common Core-Aligned Textbooks

Since 45 states adopted Common Core standards, the nation’s largest textbook companies have begun cashing in by aligning their materials to Common Core standards. In fact, one of those companies, Pearson, just won a contract (one “unprecedented in scale”) to help one of the Common Core assessment consortia, PARCC, with their Common Core-aligned exams. These companies, including PearsonMcGraw HillHoughton Mifflin Harcourt, and Scholastic are open in their redesigning of books and materials to be aligned with Common Core with statements like this: “Our English Language Arts programs and Math programs have been completely redesigned with the new standards in mind, providing solutions to address your adoption, implementation, and classroom content needs.”

As the textbook companies become exclusively aligned to Common Core, it will be increasingly harder for states to find cost-efficient learning materials that aren’t aligned with these standards.

The Threat Is Real

The effort from the federal government, certain companies, and organizations like the Gates Foundation to force this nationalized one-size-fits-all education system on states is backed by a lot of money and a lot of governmental authority. These entities are actively trying to coerce states into adopting these standards and thus take power away from the states, local governments, and most importantly, parents.

Although the sinister incentives being created for states to keep these standards are enticing, South Carolina policymakers should reject Common Core outright. Doing so doesn’t mean just writing new standards that are still close enough to Common Core that the state still gets federal funding, access to aligned textbooks, etc. Rejecting Common Core means rejecting federal and corporate bribes and implementing standards that best fit the state’s citizens’ needs. Rejecting it means implementing real school choice programs that put power in the hands of parents and foster competition among schools and teachers to find even better ways to instruct students.

Dispersing centralized power and encouraging choice and competition would turn the effort to nationalize education policy on its head. When teachers and schools are given the power to try new things, the market for adopting and purchasing the products of a one-size-fits all system is diminished. The federal government and special interests pushing Common Core are empowered by the dependency of states, schools, and teachers. That dependency will only guarantee more failure.

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