Tag archives: Common Core

Common Sense versus Common Core

by Robert Morrison

June 9, 2015

Bill Gates is the well-respected genius behind Microsoft. But he didn’t do everything right. He recently told a computer journal that he had made a mistake in developing the Crtl-Alt-Delete series of keystrokes for his program. Now, the achievements that have made Bill Gates one of the world’s wealthiest men are not negated by this single and candid admission of error. But one has to wonder: When will Bill Gates acknowledge that his support for (and lavish spending on) Common Core has also been a mistake?

Many of us who oppose Common Core are confronted with a list of good things that are said to be a part of Common Core. Yes. Sure. We do have alphabet instruction as part of Common Core and it does go from A to Z. No argument there.

But opponents of Common Core can rebound and ask their own questions. If, as you say, friendly advocate, Common Core is so good, is there a single school district in the country that does not have access to computers and the World Wide Web? If Massachusetts or Iowa have really good state standards, what is to stop any school district from accessing these good standards online? Then, they could adopt, adapt, and implement those parts that are really helpful and eschew the parts that aren’t.

Why is it necessary to prod, prompt, and press the states into compliance? Why is it necessary to force state and local education authorities to shackle themselves with the Common Core curriculum?

With many leading American executives, Mr. Gates wants a workforce primed for the challenges of the 21st century.  However, a top-down program that intrudes upon local and state educational systems is neither wise nor effective.  Unless, of course, the real motive is Control. Well, then we need an Alt (ernative) to Common Core. 

And we should Del(ete) anything that threatens freedom, undermines local authority, and denies parents’ choice.

Crunching Common Core’s Numbers

by Sarah Perry

August 8, 2014

It’s now an easy to thing to say the much-publicized Common Core State Standards Initiative lacks educational exactingness. Once upon a time, Americans were led to believe that the standards were deeper, more rigorous, and internationally benchmarked. But if the implementation of the Common Core — its concrete use with actual students, in actual classrooms, actually subjected to the standards — has demonstrated anything, it’s that the failings of the Standards are myriad.

As the reality of the initiative reaches its zenith, school districts nationwide are watching their scores plummet. In my home county in Maryland — the highest performing in the state — a year of implementation resulted in the lowest math scores in seven years. And maybe that’s just how it was designed: as an effort to prove that we parents are “misguided” as to how much our children know, and that they have to fail against these (mediocre) standards before actual learning can take place, thereby promoting the U.S. to the level of global competitiveness that will ensure the salvation of our flagging economy.

We know the English standards promote informational and technical texts over the study of literary classics — up to a 70% preference by grade 12. We know there is more of a stress on writing, and not reading. There is no list of literary movements, no standards on British literature (aside from Shakespeare), and no standard on authors from the ancient world. We know handwriting is lost in the English standards, and that the standards themselves are unclear and poorly written.

But math standards are their own hornet’s nest of awful. It seems lost on the Common Core’s proponents that Jason Zimba, one of the leading drafters of the Math Standards, openly avowed before the Massachusetts State Board of Education that the standards do not prepare students for STEM careers, nor do they prepare children to attend the kinds of colleges that “most parents aspire to.” Because that, it would seem, is reason enough to re-visit the standards.

Not even Stanford University’s Dr. James Milgram and his passionate criticism of the standards he was retained to validate (and could not), not even his remarks that Common Core math is a “huge and risky experiment” on K-12 students has proven the definitive conclusion to the debate.

Now, some of the most credentialed mathematicians in the nation are witnessing the failings of the Core’s math as it comes home to roost. Marina Ratner, professor emerita of mathematics at the University of California Berkeley and recipient of both the international Ostrowski Prize and the John J. Carty Award from the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest to view the Core’s math standards for what they really are: sub-par.

A few days ago, Dr. Ratner wrote in the Wall Street Journal that she discovered the Common Core standards were several years behind California’s old standards, and that they are clearly not internationally benchmarked. She stated that “Common Core’s ‘deeper’ and ‘more rigorous’ standards mean replacing math with some kind of illustrative counting saturated with pictures, diagrams and elaborate word problems. Simple concepts are made artificially intricate and complex with the pretense of being deeper — while the actual content taught [is] primitive.” She went on to write that the Common Core standards “are lower in the total scope of learned material, in the depth and rigor of the treatment of mathematical subjects, and in the delayed and often inconsistent and incoherent introductions of mathematical concepts and skills.”

Her critique makes perfect sense. Even curriculum directors and Common Core cheerleaders are admitting the standards’ failings (whether wittingly or unwittingly). Just take the comments of Amanda August, Grayslake, Illinois D46 Curriculum Director explaining the focus of Common Core Math:

But even under the new common core if even if they [the students] said 3 x 4 was 11, if they were able to explain their reasoning and explain how they came up with their answer … Really in words and oral explanation and they showed it in a picture but they just got the final answer wrong, we’re more focused on the how and the why.”

Common Core Support Cools

by Family Research Council

June 26, 2014

Common Core support among those with school age kids is rapidly declining. Government bureaucrats have long made the argument that they can better educate children than parents can. It appears that parents in America disagree. Nearly everyone agrees that getting a quality education is important but there is a sharp disagreement between those who believe the state should direct educational activities and those who believe parents should direct the education of their children. Look for soon-to-be-released details on an upcoming Common Core event hosted by FRC and featuring some of the key players in this national discussion.

Common Core: “A Little Rebellion Now and Then”

by Robert Morrison

June 18, 2014

One of the factors that led to Congressman Eric Cantor’s recent defeat was his failure to recognize the threat posed by Common Core State Standards. His victorious opponent, David Brat, trumpeted his opposition to Common Core. And Brat struck a responsive chord among the voters of Virginia’s Seventh District. We could certainly call the first defeat in over a century of either party’s House Majority Leader “a little rebellion.”

It’s fitting that this little rebellion would get traction in the Old Dominion. It was Virginia’s own Thomas Jefferson who took a fairly relaxed view of Shays’s Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786. Jefferson was then serving as our minister to France, but almost alone among the Founding Fathers, Mr. Jefferson did not take alarm at the uprising. “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing. The tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

The entire episode of the grassroots rebellion against Common Core is an example of that spark that Thomas Jefferson never wanted to see quenched in us. “It is in the manners and spirit of the people,” he would write, “that a republic is preserved in vigor.” We don’t have to agree with Jefferson’s dismissive attitude toward Shays’s Rebellion. I don’t. And neither did George Washington or James Madison. Madison would become Jefferson’s most faithful ally and advocate.

We can look at Common Core as the ultimate expression of elite opinion about American education. Americans in this view need to be led, fed, directed, managed, cajoled, cosseted, and coerced—all for their own good. Instead of education reform welling up from the grassroots, it would be better, in the view of Common Core adherents, for the necessary changes to come from the top down. Grasstops will tell the grassroots what they need to know.

The Washington Post recently let the Common Core cat out of the elitist bag by publishing a front-page expose headlined “How Bill Gates Pulled Off the Common Core Revolution.” The story is red meat for the opponents of Common Core. It is replete with insider deals and hurry-up, get on board, this train is leaving the station hustle. The Common Core “revolution” so called has never been field tested, never been submitted to public debate, never fully explained, never honestly presented. It’s been a shell game from Day One.

And Common Core resisters have kicked up a fuss from Day Two. I want here to salute these Sons and Daughters (mostly Daughters, frankly) of Liberty. These are the grassroots activists who know what is going on in their local school districts. They know the Constitution and the laws. And they care about their children and, in many cases, their grandchildren. It was easy for sophisticated liberals to dismiss such folks generations ago as “little old ladies in tennis shoes.” Well, now those little old ladies are wearing combat boots.

First to feel the heat (if they didn’t entirely see the light) was the Republican National Committee. Despite the fact that some leading GOP Governors had fallen for the Common Core siren song, the RNC pulled back and passed an anti-Common Core resolution. That helped to legitimize opposition to Common Core.

Here, one is reminded of the French popular leader who sits happily smoking his Gauloise at a Paris sidewalk café. Seeing a massive demonstration headed for the National Assembly, he jumps up. “Those are my people, he says, I have to find out where they are going so I can lead them!”

For whatever reasons, the Republican Party will almost certainly see resolutions offered at its next Platform-writing session to condemn Common Core—and particularly to condemn the stealthy and dishonest way that it has been “pulled off.” States are perfectly free to reject Common Core, we are endlessly told. But if they do, they have no escape from that other terrible idea: No Child Left Behind. The Obama administration has cleverly contrived to let your state get off the rack of NCLB only by signing up for the Iron Maiden of Common Core. Then, the federal bureaucrats will generously let your state spend its own money.

When I served in the Reagan administration, I was given two weeks of “orientation” by Dr. Ed at the federal education department.  Dr. Ed had his Ed.D from Harvard and was a most intelligent, learned, and devoted public servant. He was also thoroughly liberal. Dr. Ed took me to each of the ten assistant secretaryships. Each day for those two weeks, Dr. Ed would assure me that the federal department spends “only 7% of the total education budget.” Just 7%, he repeated like a mantra. Dr. Ed was too diplomatic to say that surely I now understood that what Mrs. Schlafly and all those little old ladies in tennis shoes were saying about our beneficent federal department could not possibly be true.

I reflected on Dr. Ed’s wise counsel. But I recalled my dad’s wartime visits to India. He taught me how the mahouts train elephants there. It takes the mahout about two weeks to break the elephant to the master’s will. Up, down, backward and forward, left and right, the elephant in those two weeks is put through his paces. The mahout only weighs 7% of what the elephant weighs. But the mahout has a stick that he jams behind the elephant’s ear. And the elephant soon learns to do the master’s bidding.

That, Dr. Ed, is how the federal education department works.

And Thomas Jefferson’s great lieutenant, the “magnificent little Madison,” put the dangers in perspective when he wrote:

I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

As a veteran of the federal education department and a recovering bureaucrat, I am proud of America’s little rebellion against Common Core. Bill Gates almost pulled it off. But the Washington Post let everyone know how corrupting the influence of this powerful man has been. If you bribe the Governor of Virginia, you can get indicted. And the governor can get indicted. You are considered corrupt. But if you lavish money on all the governors to entice them to do your will, you are counted a philanthropist.

What the little rebellion over Common Core proves is that here, the people still rule. And it is heartening to see America rising.

Common Core Math Doesn’t Add Up

by Robert Morrison

January 6, 2014

Why would you deliberately dumb down math standards for all American students? That seems a far-fetched claim about the Common Core education standards currently being pushed by the Obama administration. Yet, that is what is happening, according to the highly respected education analyst, Sandra Stotsky, Ph.D.

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Dr. Stotsky notes that President Obama has been touting his administration’s initiatives in STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — as essential for America’s workforce of the Twenty-first Century. Of course, America should be a leader in these key areas. Still, as Dr. Stotsky explains:

…the basic mission of Common Core, as Jason Zimba, its leading mathematics standards writer, explained at a videotaped board meeting in March 2010, is to provide students with enough mathematics to make them ready for a nonselective college—“not for STEM,” as he put it. During that meeting, he didn’t tell us why Common Core aimed so low in mathematics. But in a September 2013 article published in the Hechinger Report, an education news website affiliated with Columbia University’s Teachers College, Mr. Zimba admitted: “If you want to take calculus your freshman year in college, you will need to take more mathematics than is in the Common Core.”

We are seeing in Common Core what we are seeing in ObamaCare: You have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. Forty-five states were hustled into adopting Common Core. They were pushed and prodded, some would even say bribed, by massive lobbying by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

This effort did not begin under President Obama, it is true. But this centralizing tendency, this usurpation of state authority, has accelerated under Mr. Obama. His “Race to the Top” initiative provides incentives in which the states get to reclaim more of their own money if they jump through the Obama administration’s hoops. No wonder critics of ObamaCore call this program “Race to the Trough.”

Federal educrats are very keen on testing. We might devise a test for them. What improvement in American education can you attribute to the federal intrusion into the sphere that the Constitution reserves to states and localities?  How has the federal government improved a single school in our neighborhood?

President Obama is avid to promote science and technology. Some years ago, he went to Copenhagen with his top science advisers to promote his views on climate change. He was able to persuade the leaders of the world’s governments at this much-touted Global Climate Summit to do exactly what? Little has been heard in the past five years of his accomplishment there. And that was when he was riding high in the polls, buoyed by his freshly-minted Nobel Prize for Peace.

Even his strongest supporters might give him a grade of “incomplete” for his success in getting other world leaders to adopt his stringent demands for change. China and India won’t cooperate in his war on coal, that’s certain. And, of course, their carbon footprints are growing daily.

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss assures us that Barack Obama is the smartest man ever to occupy the Oval Office. That may be, but it was surely curious to come upon this jarring note in the president’s best-selling book, The Audacity of Hope.

[I] came to appreciate how the earth rotated around the sun and the seasons came and went without any particular exertions on my part.”

Well, Sir, with all due respect: The Earth revolves around the sun. It rotates on its axis. I learned this in fifth grade. I recently taught it to my five-year old grandson. It’s no small matter. Copernicus got really famous for making this scientific breakthrough.

So why are we being lectured and hectored by a man who missed this key science lesson in fifth grade in Jakarta? The idea behind Common Core is that the elites in America know what our children and grandchildren need to know and can effectively design a national curriculum to impart it.

We’ve heard it all before. Can they do this amazing thing? They say: Yes, we can.

And they are just as convincing when they tell us: If you like your children, you can keep them. 

ObamaCore: Not his Signature Achievement

by Robert Morrison

January 3, 2014

We all know that ObamaCare is the president’s “signature achievement.” The media keeps telling us so. I don’t know what my own signature achievement might be, but I’m certainly happy it’s not a “screwed up” (his own word) launch of a health care takeover.

Less well known, but equally botched, is the so-called Common Core state education standards. Defenders of this federal power grab howl when critics call it “ObamaCore.”

Not fair. This didn’t start under President Obama, they say. True. And anyway it’s voluntary, they say. Not so true. It’s only voluntary if the states want a chunk of their own money back from the tight-fisted federal education department.

The reason it is fair to call it ObamaCore is because it is the fulfillment of President Obama’s pledge to “fundamentally transform this country.” Like ObamaCare, ObamaCore reduces the states to mere local branches of the federal government. It strips them of their rightful authority under the Constitution. It turns citizens into subjects.

Speaking of signatures though, an incident at my local hospital reminded me recently that ObamaCore really roils Americans at the grassroots. A young hematology technician approached me as I rolled up my sleeve to give blood. She slipped in the needle and asked if I’d heard they were going to drop cursive writing from elementary school curricula. Yes, I had heard something about that, I quickly volunteered. She then proceeded to fill me in. This young professional woman was livid. My blood started to boil, too (not always the best thing when they’re trying to draw it.)

Why would Common Core proponents want to get rid of cursive handwriting? Well, we won’t need it anymore, they assure us. Everything will be done on iPads, iPhones, and word processors. We have to get hip and get moving into the Twenty-first Century, they tell us.

This incident was most revealing. Out in the country — away from Washington, D.C. and its perennial fights over money — people are really agitated about Common Core. The dropping of cursive writing is just one element, but it’s an important one. We all sense this, even if we cannot give all the reasons why.

Let’s start with the Founding Fathers; it’s always a good idea. Benjamin Franklin was the most inventive genius this country ever produced. Yes, he was even smarter than Bill Gates. Let’s look at Benjamin Franklin’s signature. It’s a work of art.

Surely, the man who was a printer, who set type and who made his living not writing in cursive, might have been dismissive of his signature. But his signature is bold and assertive. It obviously is meant to be an expression of Benjamin Franklin himself.

George Washington’s signature tells us here is a man to be reckoned with. Although personally humble, and although he did not sign the Constitution with the same oversize flair that John Hancock employed when signing the Declaration of Independence, there is yet a solidity and an integrity about Washington’s signature that suggests it will last as long as the Rock of Gibraltar does.

Thomas Jefferson affixed his signature to tens of thousands of letters in his lifetime. He wrote with a speed and dexterity that is stunning to us today. His letters—of which he carefully kept copies to keep critics from “twistifying” his words — proceeded like a Niagara from his mountaintop retreat at Monticello. Founding Father Benjamin Rush would say that he and John Adams thought for us of the revolutionary generation.

Lincoln thought out intellectual problems, too, by writing. There seems to have been something in the mechanical process of handwriting that enabled this deeply introspective man to work out the most difficult challenges of statecraft by his writing. As a stimulus to thought, Lincoln’s handwriting expressed logic, eloquence, and vast power. Douglas L. Wilson refers to his craft as Lincoln’s Sword. His words have a biblical cadence and a musical allure.

Microsoft’s founding genius, Bill Gates, is urging us to swallow all of Common Core. But this admittedly clever man recently confessed that he had made a big mistake with Crtl-Alt-Delete. That awkward sequence of keystrokes was something the tech whiz says he messed up. He has not told us whether he also messed up in his large donations to President Obama’s campaigns.

I’m hoping my grandchildren will be media savvy and fully able to negotiate whatever technical devices are yet to be developed. But I also want them to know the joy of writing and the importance of their signatures as an expression of their own immortal selves.

Is all of this precious heritage at risk from eliminating cursive writing? Maybe not. But this change is not hopeful. And it can serve us as a synechdoche — that is, a part that truly represents the whole.

We know this much: Those who today grasp for ever more crushing power over 317 million of us Americans have done nothing thus far to earn our trust.

Like ObamaCare? You’ll Love ObamaCore!

by Robert Morrison

November 8, 2013

After a nuclear war, President Kennedy warned, “the living will envy the dead.” Well, at least the dead don’t have to talk about ObamaCare. That topic has dominated America’s politics for five years. It may succeed in getting everyone covered — with sod. By boring us all to death.

Let’s shift gears. Let’s talk about ObamaCore, aka Common Core Education Standards.

Last week, I had a wonderful conversation with a National Board Certified Math teacher from the Midwest. This highly motivated and gifted teacher wanted to persuade FRC to embrace Common Core Education Standards. She made a strong case, claiming that the Common Core Math Standards were far better than what she had been working with before.

I had to defer to her judgment about that, since it’s been decades since I’ve darkened the door of a math class. But I pressed her gently on the idea that if these new math standards really were superior, what prevented her state from adopting them on their own?

Why did her state need to be prodded, pressured, and bribed into adopting better math standards? Indeed, if there really are better methods for teaching math, and better goals for math student achievement, how could such information be suppressed in this happy day of Al Gore’s Internet?

I noted to this dedicated professional the fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had found it necessary to sweeten the pot with a donation of $373 million in inducements to the National Governors Association and others to adopt Common Core?

Question: If a single governor is being investigated for accepting lavish gifts from a businessman, why isn’t the National Governors Association being investigated for accepting millions from the Gates family foundation? Is it the new rule that you should never try to bribe a single governor; you must bribe all the governors!

I will be criticized for calling it bribery, I am sure. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation simply wants to let the grassroots speak to their elected officials about education reform. These are beneficial changes for everyone, they assure us.

If that is so, then why does the Obama administration require states to sign on to Common Core Standards in its “Race to the Top” program? It is one of the only ways your state can get a waiver from the disastrously intrusive federal initiative, “No Child Left Behind.”

This is rich: You don’t like No Child Left Behind? You can escape the tortures of the rack by voluntarily climbing into the Iron Maiden of Common Core.

It’s unfair to call this grassroots initiative ObamaCore, they will say. This is a state-initiated project, with plenty of Republican support. Like Jeb Bush. Like Mike Huckabee. They will repent, I’m sure.

The reality is: Common Core Education Standards, financially pushed by major Obama donor Bill Gates, is another project for centralizing and bureaucratizing education in America.

And that project has been a colossal failure. We can challenge the centralizers to show us one school in America that has been improved on orders from Washington, D.C.

Ronald Reagan was the last president to staunchly oppose the federal education department. He zeroed out its budget for all eight years of his presidency. Liberals in Congress — Republicans as well as Democrats — always jammed the money back in the appropriations bills.

ObamaCore is an attempt at even greater control of education by a distant bureaucracy that does not know local conditions and is not responsible to local voters.

Alexis de Tocqueville, in his classic work, Democracy in America, praised our public schools and offered them as an example of de-centralization of administration. Tocqueville spoke of the American “genius” for voluntary association. He said he knew of no nation on earth that had schools better suited to its people than those of the Americans.

Tocqueville saw, as did Jefferson before him, that locally administered schools were a key element in America’s amazing democracy. The experience in and the responsibility for running our counties’ schools was what equipped us to maintain our own republican form of government.

ObamaCore is not only a clear and present danger to what little discretion remains for local education authorities (LEA) and state education authorities (SEA), it is a grave threat to private, parochial, and home schools, as well.

The demand for “alignment” of all curricula in the nation, the coordination of these curricula with the requirements of the College Entrance Examination Board, menace intellectual freedom.

When Oregon in the 1920s adopted a Ku Klux Klan-initiated ballot proposition forcing all children to attend public schools, private and Catholic school groups went into federal court. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parents who chose to send their children to schools other than those operated by the government.

In its justly famous ruling in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), Mr. Justice McReynolds wrote:

The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

The Court then found the Oregon ban on private schooling:

an unreasonable interference with the liberty of the parents and guardians to direct the upbringing of the children, and in that respect violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court here spoke of parents’ rights and high duties. Nowhere in the agitation for ObamaCore will you read any such language.

ObamaCore agitators are far more likely to sign on to educationists’ importunate demands that “we must take charge.” The we who must take charge of the nation’s education, and hence direct the destiny of the children, are the governors and Big Business. Not the children’s parents. Not locally elected school boards. Not state legislators immediately answerable to their constituents.

Under ObamaCore, the elites in Washington shall direct the destinies of our children.

This is unwarranted. It will ultimately fail, just as the fifty-year record of federal usurpation of state and local authority in education has failed.

It necessarily involves indoctrination of all our children in federally-mandated curricula. We know what this means.

We have faced this issue before. In 1943, in the midst of World War II, the State of West Virginia tried to force school children to salute the American flag. Some religious parents sued.

At FRC, we endorse and encourage the Pledge of Allegiance, but we would never coerce the flag salute. And we stand firm for religious freedom of conscience. As a result, we support strongly what the Supreme Court ruled in that famous case.

Mr. Justice Robert Jackson eloquently stated it:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

ObamaCore threatens to extinguish the light of that “fixed star in our constitutional constellation.” Justice Jackson’s warning should compel us to recognize ObamaCore for what it is: a powerful attempt to prescribe what shall be orthodox in every academic subject.

Dr. Ben Carson provoked liberals when he said ObamaCare was all about control and not about good medicine or quality health care. Dr. Carson is right. When they rammed ObamaCare through a rubber-stamp Congress, liberals added — at the last moment — the federal takeover of college student loans. What did these college loans have to do with a federal takeover of health care?

If we thought it was all about health care, then we missed Dr. Carson’s brilliant insight: The operative word is takeover. No wonder President Obama said his goal was “to fundamentally transform this country.”

ObamaCore is an unconstitutional and unnecessary takeover of education. For the sake of liberty we must resist it. In opposing Common Core Education Standards, we can safely stand with Founding Father Thomas Jefferson:

I have sworn upon the altar of Almighty God

Eternal hostility to every form of

tyranny over the mind of man.

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