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‘Standards’ = curriculum in Common Core debate

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Editor's note: This is the second in a multi-part series to examine the details of Common Core curriculum. Next week's piece will explore the many concerns raised with the required state longitudinal data system.

When talking about Common Core, proponents usually use language such as "excellence in education," "raising the bar" and getting American children "ready for the workforce" as a reason to implement the "standards."

Other arguments are that the "standards" are not curriculum. In the Mountain State, the Common Core "standards" are referred to as West Virginia's Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives.

But what is the truth?

Discerning fact from fiction

According to Terrence Moore, a professor of history at Hillsdale College in Michigan and former schoolmaster with a classical school background, the statement that "standards are not curriculum" is simply not the case.

Given the frequency of mandatory tests, the majority of major publishers aligning current textbooks to meet Common Core "standards" and the required "standards" themselves dictating material taught, "standards" do in fact equal curriculum.

"If you taught nothing but classical literature, such as Greece and Rome, in ninth grade, and British, up to (Charles) Dickens, in 10th grade, you've violated a fundamental principle that's laid down by Core curriculum," Moore said.

During his Common Core testimony in the Indiana Senate Aug. 5, 2013, Moore emphasized what the yearly required tests mean.

"That means the curriculum is going to be completely servile to whatever the test is," he said. "That's the rule of state testing. The teacher always teaches the test. 

"Anything that's not required on the test doesn't get taught. Anything that's on the test gets taught."

Where the trail leads

On the West Virginia Department of Education website and posted June 2, 2010, then-state superintendent and president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, or CCSSO, Steve Paine released the Common Core State Standards as part of a national joint press event with CCSSO and the National Governors Association, or NGA.

In December 2010, McGraw Hill, publisher of "Everyday Mathematics," the text currently used to implement Common Core math "standards" in West Virginia classrooms, announced Paine as the new vice-president of strategic planning.

The realigning of textbooks extends not only to the public school sector, but has seeped into the homeschooling community as well. A number of home education-related companies have begun to realign their curricula and learning materials with the national Common Core program. 

Consultant David Coleman, regarded by many as the "architect" of Common Core, became president of the College Board in 2012. The SATs, used nationwide in admissions to higher-learning institutions, is produced by the College Board. 

While there is speculation that the SATs will be realigned to fit Common Core "standards," only time will tell. What about other college-ready tests and admissions to higher-learning institutions? What about the ACT and GED? Will they be realigned as well, along with the majority of major textbooks and potentially the SATs? Time will answer that question as well.

How much authority?

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 explicitly forbids the establishment of a national curriculum. The General Educational Provisions Act of 2006 states "no provision of any applicable program shall be constructed to authorize any department, agency, officer or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration or personnel of any educational institution, school or school system, or over the selection of library resources, text books or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system."

By attaching the nationalized Common Core standards to money, knowing that money-stricken states would more than likely accept, Common Core opponents say it was all too easy to set tactics that are technically illegal, according to the Acts above, in motion.

In regard to the textbooks, two C's inside a bright red ball bear the Common Core logo, leaving many observers to ask if there is a difference between a textbook and simply a "school book" now.

Other options

If one is really interested in improving education, the critics argue, why not look at options that actually cater to the individual child instead of relying on a nonsensical one-size-fits-all mentality? 

What about using Montessori schools or charter schools as alternative and viable options? And what about kids who don't even plan to go to college and instead go to a vocational school or straight into the workforce? What happens to them? 

Some opponents suggest the most logical solution is to reject a uniform, one-size-fits-all mentality because no child, state or county for that matter, is the same. Each has different issues, different demographics and different populations.

One way to look at it might be to look to the states themselves.

West Virginia is the "Mountain State," Mississippi is the "Magnolia State," Georgia is the "Peach State" and Florida is the "Sunshine State."

Each state stands alone, not sharing any same name.

Amendment 10 states, "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States repetitively, or to the people."

States have sovereign and constitutionally protected power that the federal government has no basic right to intrude upon, and education is one of those rights.

The situation leaves some wondering if Chief Justice John Roberts said it best by saying, "The states are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it."

Issues at english, language arts front

According to Sandra Stotsky, 21st Century chair in teacher quality at the University of Arkansas' Department of Education Reform, "Race to the Top deliberately put states in a sticky jar of molasses."

Race to the Top was a federal grant that awarded federal dollars to states that agreed to adopt Common Core standards.

Stotsky, an author and graduate of Harvard University, was selected to be on the Common Core Validation Committee and refused to sign off on the English and Language Arts, or ELA, standards.

According to Stotsky, the "jar of molasses" is sticky for several reasons. The "standards" are skills, not content standards, and a coherent literature curriculum is nonexistent, she said.

In the ELA standards at least 50 percent of reading assignments under the new standards will be "informational texts." Some of the "suggested" texts include "Recommended Levels of Insulation" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/U.S. Department of Energy or Executive Order 13423: "Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy and Transportation Management" and a text called "The Cost Conundrum: Health Care Costs in McAllen, Texas," which many assert contains political propaganda by pushing for universal, government-run health care.

Many strongly assert that the numerous other texts that can be construed as political propaganda have no place in the classroom or the public education arena.

According to reports, an estimated 60 percent of the classic literature, poetry and drama previously required in classrooms has been stripped from the standards.

Regarding the standards, Stotsky said, "They need to drastically be revised and written by people who have taught in K-12, know to write ELA standards and/or are literary scholars or well-trained high school English teachers," adding that the standards should be "rejected." 

With the reduction in literary study comes a reduced opportunity for kids to develop critical thinking skills, she said.

Moore, the Michigan history professor, describes the "informational texts" as "Mickey Mouse informational texts in an English classroom that really don't belong there."

According to Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, who sits on the Senate Education Committee, the standards are merely the "dumbing down of our education system and treating everyone the same."

Many opponents argue that the standards fail to realize is that every child is different, every state is different and every county is different and applying a "one-size-fits-all" mentality is not only absurd but a major lapse of common sense.

Perspective of a history professor

During his Common Core testimony, Moore shared his personal observations and concerns at length.

When it comes to English, Moore said textbooks are merely "huge anthologies," lacking completed works of literature.

"They take the stories out and truncate them," he said. "All these new informational texts, which are supposed to tell us about the modern world, are going to be put in, along with Homer and Shakespeare and all the rest of it."

As a result, Moore said something will give. And what will give? 

"The classics are what's going to give," he said.

While Moore said the "standards" say the Declaration of Independence will be read according to Appendix B in the Common Core English Standards, it is important to take a look at how it is read.

"Look at the question that's actually asked of the Declaration of Independence in Appendix B," he said. "It's a compare and contrast question, which is comparing the Declaration of Independence to the Olive Branch Petition."

What does Moore say that means?

"I think Samuel Johnson once said patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," he said. "I would say compare and contrast is the last refuge of a standards maker. 

"When you don't have something meaningful to say about the Declaration of Independence, you just willy-nilly compare it to another text and you actually derive no real learning about the Declaration is."

What about the Constitution?

According to Moore, the Constitution itself is not recommended in Appendix B or in any other part of the Common Core "standards." In the sixth through eighth grade, only Amendment 1 is recommended

"Why is that?" Moore asked. "I would think in a solid curriculum you would have students actually reading the Constitution by middle school. Even in the 10th and 12th reading band, the Constitution is not recommended, only the Bill of Rights. 

"That's problematic because I would think by high school, you would at least have students reading the Bill of Rights."

While the Constitution itself is not read, there is a "recommended" textbook explaining the Constitution. "America's Constitution: A Biography" was written by Akhil Reed and published in 2005. 

"What does this textbook do?" Moore asked. "Does it tell us about federalism, checks and balances, the separation of powers, the rule of law, we the people? Not at all." 

Moore says it's a highly selected reading passage that has incendiary language in it that includes words such as vicious, master-class, camouflaged and ugly. So, in other words, students' first encounter with the Constitution could come from a document some could construe as negative and somehow against many Americans.

Moore suggests reading the "Federalist Papers," for example. 

"There's a literary text if there ever was one that's informative," he said. 

Instead, Moore said, "we have (Common Core) directing (students) to a poorly explained, highly segmented example that's taken from a modern scholar with questionable language."  

Subject content is replaced by process standards, such as "determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text."

Issues on the math front

James Milgram, professor emeritus at Stanford University, was selected to be on the Common Core Validation Committee.  

Milgram, one of the authors of the pre-Common Core California Standards, also is a NASA mathematician. He was the only member of the Validation Committee to hold an advanced degree in mathematics, and he refused to approve the proposed Common Core math standards.

In Milgram's study, "Lowering the Bar: How Common Core Math Fails to Prepare High School Students for STEM," he observed that with the exception of a few standards in trigonometry, the math standards end after Algebra II. 

"The Core Mathematics Standards are written to reflect very low expectations," Milgram said.

He described the standards as "non-challenging as possible," with "extremely serious failings." Another article from Milgram states that he "even pointed to ‘actual errors' in sixth-and-seventh-grade discussions about ratios and rates, saying they are ‘neither mathematically correct nor especially clear.'''

Jason Zimba, chief writer of Common Core math standards, admitted the standards prepare students only for "non-selective community colleges." 

Other objectors

Adding to the list of objectors are 500 early childhood professionals who signed a joint statement to the NGA saying ‘core standards conflict with compelling research in child development and early childhood education.' 

Carla Horwitz of Yale Child Study Center said, "The core standards will cause suffering, not learning, for many, many young children." 

Child psychologist Megan Koschnick added her opinion that it's not "apparent the standards were tied to any research." That it's "developmentally inappropriate" and results in the "loss of creativity, frustration, possibly conflicts" and "lots of tears."

One hundred thirty-two Catholic professors sent a signed letter to every bishop in the United States saying, "We are convinced that Common Core is so deeply flawed that it should not be adopted by Catholic schools which have yet to approve it, and that those schools which have already endorsed it should seek an orderly withdrawal now."

Problems at the testing level

According to Michael Queen, Harrison County Board of Education president, the required testing is another aspect that lacks due diligence. 

With about 750 students in grades nine through twelve and based on the number of computers available, Queen said it will take about 20 days for every student to complete one test. Common Core requires multiple tests through the year.

"(The testing) hasn't been well thought out," Queen said.

Many warn that with a nationalized and federally controlled education system comes the potential to push forward political agendas.

"Data-driven education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core," Gerald Conti, a New York social studies teacher who resigned due to Common Core developments, said in his resignation letter. "Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled."

Mary Black, who spent almost four decades teaching students of all ages before becoming curriculum director at FreedomProject Education, an independent K-12 online classical school, said her review of the Common Core standards indicated they were designed to teach students what to think rather than how to think.

Many opposed to the vast majority of "informational text" warn that with the mandatory, government-circulated and approved texts, the requirement is to merely take in information without any critical thinking, which could push political agendas and biases.

Perhaps the most important question with the most sobering answer is who would be truly responsible for a child's education? For those not afraid to answer the question truthfully, Common Core opponents say the one-size fits all nationalized Common Core standards would be the parental figure controlling American children's education, with parents being left with few to no options.

Affecting more than public schools

While most of the emphasis on Common Core relates to public education, it also presents a very real and intrusive problem for private schools in the reaccredidation process and for those who choose to homeschool. 

In Alex Newman's article in The New American, he states that "even the states that refuse to join — not to mention homeschoolers and private schools — may find themselves ensnared in the program due to national testing, college admission requirements and more."

What happens when a private school goes up for reaccredidation and is evaluated based on if its standards meet the nationalized Common Core standards?

According to Moore, it can either lie or conform. Realistically and soberly speaking, if conformity does occur, the very existence of "private schools" that, for now, do not have to follow the same sort of regulations and bureaucratic processes that govern public schools, will cease to exist. And with home education-related companies aligning to Common Core, the last barrier between homeschoolers and nationalized education is an independent state or national test. But with the not unlikely chance that those too will become Common Core "compliant," a truly nationalized educational system will prevail.

What about Catholic schools?

Newman's article states that "although the National Catholic Education Association, or NCEA, has not ‘officially' endorsed the standards it is already working to help Catholic schools prepare to implement the program, according to news reports."

Dale McDonald, director of public policy and educational research at the NCEA said in The New American the NCEA has developed what it calls the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative.

Newman continues in his article by stating that "other religious schools are reportedly hopping on the bandwagon, too."

Moore, the Michigan history teacher, said the thing that bothers him the most about Common Core is found on Page One of its introduction.

"That says that the Common Core is a living work," he said. "That means that the thing you vote on today could be something different tomorrow. In five years from now, it is completely unrecognizable."