Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
I was amazed when I read this editorial in the Detroit Free Press last week. Among other things, the Detroit Free Press editorial board—a supposedly progressive institution—sang the praises of the Common Core educational standards, insinuating that they should play a role in teacher evaluation and ridiculously proclaiming that the standards “aren’t a curriculum.” I think the editorial board members honestly believe these things. The problem is that they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Insofar as there is no such thing as an official national curriculum in the United States, a portion of the Detroit Free Press editorial was technically correct. But it is undeniable that the Common Core standards are quickly becoming a de facto national curriculum, pushed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and propped up with federal stimulus dollars.
One of the most vocal supporters of the Common Core standards—The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates Foundation)—has been on a nationwide campaign to convince governors, legislators, and school officials to adopt the standards in their respective states. According to some sources, the Gates Foundation has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve this objective. If the Common Core standards are not a “curriculum,” and are simply a set of general, feel-good guidelines, what could be motivating this?
The backers of Common Core are not merely interested in teaching children to be globally competitive. After all, we already know how to do this. Consider the results of the 2014 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests—tests that are administered to 15-year-old students around the world.
Education expert Dr. Mitchell Robinson of Michigan State University has recently crunched the numbers. Taken as a whole, U.S. students don’t generally perform all that well on the PISA tests. But when the PISA scores are disaggregated and separated by poverty rates, the numbers tell a much different story. When examined independently from American students who attend poorer schools, American students who attend schools with free or reduced lunch rates lower than 10% scored 1st in the world in science literacy (by comparison, students in Finland scored 4th), 1st in the world in reading literacy (by comparison, students in Finland scored 5th), and 5th in the world in mathematics literacy (by comparison, students in Finland scored 11th).
Poverty is the true villain—not the absence of uniform educational standards. And, as we all know, the Common Core educational standards do absolutely nothing to address the problem of childhood poverty in the United States.
This is precisely why Common Core makes so little sense. Even assuming for the sake of argument that the Common Core standards are laudable in concept, how are educators ever supposed to implement them in the poorest schools with the fewest resources? These schools have enough trouble just finding the funds to keep their doors open.
It is becoming more and more evident that the purpose of the Common Core standards is not merely to make our children “globally competitive.” If the ability to compete globally were the one true goal, the Gates Foundation would be spending its money to make sure that U.S. children have enough to eat.
Bill Gates has stated publicly that developing the Common Core standards is “just the starting point,” and that “we’ll only know if this effort has succeeded when the curriculum and tests are aligned to these standards.” More and more, it seems that the objective is to implement increased standardized testing, thereby creating a market for companies that print tests, distribute tests, score tests, develop curricula to accompany those tests, and produce software that aligns with those curricula. Remember how Bill Gates made his money?
Perhaps now you’ll understand why I was so amazed by the Detroit Free Press’s recent editorial, which went on to pronounce that Common Core is “the first serious stab we’ve taken at articulating a consistent set of national education standards—you know, the kind of standards that exist in countries whose students trounce ours in the global economy.” (Emphasis added.) Given that students from places like Finland (with one of the lowest childhood-poverty rates in Europe) are performing below U.S. students from the lowest-poverty schools in America, this statement can only be read as irresponsible and misleading.
I don’t know why so many progressives have decided to perpetuate these Common Core and corporate-backed “reform” myths. Maybe they believe that President Obama’s education chief Arne Duncan can do no wrong. Maybe they’re looking for future employment with the Gates Foundation or one of the many organizations that it supports financially. Or maybe they’re just do-gooders who have bought into the corporate-backed school “reform” agenda like so many others. I don’t have the answer. What is clear, however, is that progressives who simply repeat talking points without doing any research of their own are not meaningfully contributing to the dialogue. If we really want to make all American students globally competitive, we need not look any further than the ones who already are.