Questioning Common Core’s Principles

Saturday afternoon, Mitch Berg interviewed Kirsten Block and Linda Bell of Minnesotans Against Common Core to talk about the disruptive nature of Common Core. (Make sure to check out MACC’s website.) The information these ladies shared was stunningly Orwellian in nature. Here are some of the facts about Common Core:


Top 5 Facts about Common Core

    1. National student database – over 400+ data points collected, including child’s medical history and parent’s political and religious affiliations.
    2. Federally mandated – no local or parental control
    3. Curriculum not written nor approved by educators:
      1. English classic literature is greatly diminished;
      2. Math skills delayed by 2 years;
      3. Untested (no field test) curriculum;
      4. More testing, high-stakes tests, including biofeedback

Local tax dollars will have to pay the bill: Approximately 13.7 million for the state of Minnesota

  • Brought in by the 2009 Stimulus Package through RTTT funding. Common Core was not reviewed nor voted on by Congress or State Legislatures.

That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If you don’t do anything else this weekend, reading this letter is essential. Dr. Sandra Stotsky put the letter together for a conference at Notre Dame. Here’s part of what Dr. Stotsky wrote about Common Core:

What did this Work Group look like? Focusing only on ELA, the make-up of the Work Group was quite astonishing: It included no English professors or high-school English teachers. How could legitimate ELA standards be created without the very two groups of educators who know the most about what students should and could be learning in secondary English classes? CCSSI also released the names of individuals in a larger “Feedback Group.” This group included one English professor and one high-school English teacher. But it was made clear that these people would have only an advisory role – final decisions would be made by the English-teacher-bereft Work Group.

It’s astonishing that the people putting the standards and curriculum for subjects together aren’t experts on the subject. That’s foolishness. Again, that’s just the tip of the iceberg:

The lead ELA writers were David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, neither of whom had experience teaching English either in K-12 or at the college level. Nor had either of them ever published serious work on K-12 curriculum and instruction. Neither had a reputation for scholarship or research; they were virtually unknown to the field of English language arts. But they had been chosen to transform ELA education in the US. Who recommended them and why, we still do not know.

It’s worth asking what these people’s qualifications were. It’s also worth asking who picked them to be the lead writers of the curriculum. If these questions don’t raise red flags, Dr. Stotsky’s opening paragraph will:

Common Core’s K-12 standards, it is regularly claimed, emerged from a state-led process in which experts and educators were well represented. But the people who wrote the standards did not represent the relevant stakeholders. Nor were they qualified to draft standards intended to “transform instruction for every child.” And the Validation Committee (VC) that was created to put the seal of approval on the drafters’ work was useless if not misleading, both in its membership and in the procedures they had to follow.

Everything was done behind closed doors. Open meeting laws didn’t apply. The people writing the curriculum weren’t experts in their assigned subjects. Again, there’s more to this. Does this sound like a collaborative effort?

In a private conversation at the end of November, 2009, I was asked by Chris Minnich, a CCSSI staff member, if I would be willing to work on the standards during December with Susan Pimentel, described to me as the lead ELA standards writer. I had worked with her (working for StandardsWork) on the 2008 Texas English language arts standards and, earlier, on other standards projects. I was told that Pimentel made the final decisions on the ELA standards. I agreed to spend about two weeks in Washington, DC working on the ELA standards pro bono with Pimentel if it was made clear that agreed-upon revisions would not be changed by unknown others before going out for comment to other members of the VC and, eventually, the public.

A week after sending to Minnich and Pimentel a list of the kind of changes I thought needed to be made to the November 2009 draft before we began to work together, I received a “Dear John” letter from Chris Minnich. He thanked me for my comments and indicated that my suggestions would be considered along with those from 50 states and that I would hear from the staff sometime in January.

In the second week of January 2010, a “confidential draft” was sent out to state departments of education in advance of their submitting an application on January 19 for Race to the Top (RttT) funds. (About 18 state applications, including the Bay State’s, were prepared by professional grant writers chosen and paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—at roughly $250,000 each.) A few states included the watermarked confidential draft in their application material and posted the whole application on their department of education’s website (in some cases required by law), so it was no longer confidential. This draft contained none of the kinds of revisions I had suggested in my December e-mail to Minnich and Pimentel. Over the next six months, the Pioneer Institute published my analyses of that January draft and succeeding drafts, including the final June 2 version. I repeatedly pointed out serious flaws in the document, but at no time did the lead ELA standards writers communicate with me (despite requests for a private discussion) or provide an explanation of the organizing categories for the standards and the focus on skills, not literary/historical content.

That isn’t a collaborative effort. That sounds more like a rubberstamp operation than a collaboration. Ignoring all of the recommendations of a professor is one thing. To be invited to work on developing standards one week, then essentially being told a month later that your help isn’t needed is a slap in the face. To then pass up opportunities to communicate with this professor indicates that the standards were predetermined and that she was being invited to be window dressing.

The VC members who signed the letter were listed in the brief official report on the VC (since committee work was confidential, there was little the rapporteur could report), while the five members who did not sign off were not listed as such, nor their reasons mentioned. Stotsky’s letter explaining why she could not sign off can be viewed here, and Milgram’s letter can be viewed here.

This was the “transparent, state-led” process that resulted in the Common Core standards. The standards were created by people who wanted a “Validation Committee” in name only. An invalid process, endorsed by an invalid Validation Committee, resulted not surprisingly in invalid standards.

It’s understatement to say that the process left much to be desired in terms of transparency. It didn’t set high standards, either. The public is entitled to know more about Common Core than we know currently. If they aren’t willing to waive the privacy agreements, for instance, Common Core should be either rejected or repealed. If the working groups aren’t willing to testify about their discussions and deliberations, state legislatures should either reject or repeal Common Core.

I’m sending special thanks to Mitch Berg for addressing this issue. Thanks also go out to Kirsten Block and Linda Bell for explaining the dangers of Common Core.

Comments welcome at Let Freedom Ring.