Last week activists in South Carolina voiced their opposition to the expansion of Common Core in their state. They believe that Common Core is another federal overreach that takes away yet another freedom in America.
There has been a growing battle in American over education for decades. The “right” has advocated school choice and parental involvement – like in charter schools – and educator accountability as solutions to the problem of diminishing standards. Meanwhile, the progressive “left” has promoted increased centralization, teachers unions and related policies.
Common Core is another step toward the centralization and complete takeover of education under the federal government. Education has always been controlled at the state level. Curricula, educational standards, and teacher accountability have all been regulated at the state level, and each state had its own institutions and structures to govern those regulations.
Common Core will eliminate all of that. The program is a set of academic regulations set by the federal government. Technically, states adopt the standards voluntarily, but financial incentives and changes to related policies – like SAT, ACT and GED tests – make it difficult for states to continue following their own programs. South Carolina opted into the program in 2010, but it won’t be fully implemented until the 2014-2015 school year. Concerned citizens are demanding their state withdraw immediately.
The first, most basic problem with Common Core is that it’s expensive. South Carolina, like many states, was motivated to implement it by the possibility of additional federal funds.
Philip Bowers is the 2012-2015 S.C. Speaker of the House’s Business Appointee, and was part of the Board of Education when Common Core was implemented.
Bowers told us, “Common Core came along around the same time as the Race to the Top and they dangled the money in front of the state and said ‘If you’ll adopt the Common Core, we’ll give you some money, or potentially give you some money.’ That changed our priorities …this is a federal overreach and I was concerned for many reason… I voted against it.”
Bowers listed some of the expenses of the program.
“Common Core tests are administered via computer, whereas South Carolina’s standardized tests are currently administered via paper and pencil. State schools currently lack the computers and bandwidth to administer the tests at one time. This will not only create the tremendous financial burden of adding many new computers to every school in the state, but before that happens, tests could be administered over the course of 12-20 weeks every year. This will not only create unequal situations for different students, it would also disrupt classroom time.
The bigger problem, though, is that Common Core is, indeed, a federal takeover of education. America is a country founded on the principle of separate states, and this has been very beneficial for the country. States can learn from each other’s policies, what works, what doesn’t. The people who implement policies remain more accountable, so the policies remain closer to the people. Perhaps most importantly, states can maintain cultural diversity and a sense of closeness to their unique roots.
All of these benefits will be lost with the Common Core system. The more standardized education is – particularly when it “teaches to a test” the way Common Core would encourage – the less intellectual diversity will exist. On a more personal level, as Bowers put it “why should we be common when every child is special?”
Bowers states that there is no evidence that Common Core standards will be higher. In fact, some of these standards have been very controversial. For instance, the Language Arts standards state that 70% of texts read by high school seniors (and 50% over the course of their educational careers) must be “informational texts” instead of classic literature. Not only would this fail to teach students basic literature and poetry analysis, it opens the doors for blatant propaganda.
These standards were largely written by special interest groups behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. These groups only spoke about the actual standards in vague terms, and gave minimal information before the decision was made to implement the program.
Governors had a two month window to adopt the policies, and those two months occurred while state legislatures were out of session. As previously referenced, this adoption was heavily incentivized using taxpayer money, but that wasn’t the only motive to adopt the policies. In fact, the head of the College Board, which administers college admissions tests as well as Advance Placement exams, was a key figure in the development of Common Core, and those tests will change to fit the standards.
This will not only force students at public schools in states which adopted Common Core to learn to those criteria, it will also force anyone who wants to go to college, whether they went to public, private or home school, in or out of a state which adopted the program to adhere to them. It’s not difficult to see how this will affect the intellectual landscape of the country and force unwilling people to alter their educational programs. This centralization occurs at a time when the U.S. is seeing more and more diversity in education, such as the rise of charter schools, it would stop that progress.
Another freighting aspect of Common Core is that it will involve gathering data from students and their families.
Recently international criminals hacked into South Carolina’s IRS records that resulted in over 3.6 million Social Security numbers being compromised. The idea of allowing the state to collect sensitive and personal information into a database is something South Carolinians vehemently opposes. This information will include religion, beliefs, income, voting status of their parents, competencies, biases, medical information, psychological information, and a history of school discipline. Few of these are related to education, and none should be tracked.
As Philip Bowers said “We changed simply because we thought we might get a little money from Race to the Top, and now we’ve started down this path and no one wants to stop and take a second look.”
We asked Sheri Few, President/CEO of South Carolina Parents Involved in Education if she thought that Common Core was indeed a takeover of education, and if so, what can other states do to oppose this federal program.
“Yes, it is a federal takeover of education!” Few said. “The Common Core testing consortia funded by the US Department of Education (by “shovel ready” stimulus money) are developing the assessments for Common Core, which will drive classroom instruction. We all know teachers are forced to teach to the test because assessments are intended to reflect their performance. States were also coerced into committing to Common Core standards before they were even finished writing the standards with federal grant opportunities (also funded with stimulus money) and No Child Left Behind Waivers. Data mining is one of the greatest concerns along with the costs associate with the assessments. States would be wise to withdraw from the Smarter Balanced and PARCC testing consortium if they don’t want to incur huge expense and if they want to protect personal student level data. The consortia’s contract with the feds requires them to provide student level data to the federal government. States need to work with their legislatures (who were bypassed in the process of adopting CC) to repeal the adoption of the standards and to protect student data.”
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