Legislative Column for Feb. 13, 2014

It’s About Direction

“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” –Blaise Pascal

This will be the first of a two-part report about Common Core and where it leads.

On Jan. 30, the 25th Education Policy Conference (EPC) was sponsored by the Constitution Coalition in St. Louis. The conference focused on the negative impact the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will have on our children and school systems. Presentations ranged anywhere from motivational to deeply disturbing.

Descriptions of the new standards left many wondering why Common Core would even be considered to measure our students? After several presenters, the answer became clearthe proponents of the standards make attractive claims:  higher standards by which to measure students and teachers, standards that are internationally benchmarked, all students will be “college and career ready.” Who would argue with promises like these? However, if these standards are so highly acclaimed, why were superintendents and state governors asked to sign on the dotted line before they were shown any specific standards? Why has the New York teachers union, which represents 15 percent of the union teachers in the United States pushed back so hard against Common Core? The standards make extraordinary claims but with no proof that they are a solution. In fact, one of its biggest investors and proponents, Bill Gates, has said, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.”

One of the most compelling presenters of the conference, Bill Whittle, a well-known conservative political advocate, spoke about “Single Point of Failure.” A top-down national standard that would be applied to every school in every state has one fundamental downfall: If there is a failure, the entire system goes down. For example, when the Obamacare website went online, it was debilitated because of a glitch, leaving millions of Americans without access to insurance. In the same way, a failure with Common Core would affect every child in the country. Whittle explained that a one-size-fits-all solution for the entire nation is illogical. Would it make sense to hold everyone to the same standard in P.E.? Not every kid can run fast, but what good will come of holding everyone to the slowest runner’s standard?

One element about CCSS that became clear during the conference is its attempt to break down bonds between parents and children. Bev Eakman, co-founder of the National Education Consortium, described “virtual examinations” which would be given to students under the standards. Because they are on a computer, parents are not able to see what their students are learning and cannot even obtain a copy of the test. As many people have come to realize, Common Core is owned by private entities making it exempt from Sunshine Law requests, denying parents access to their children’s information.

Presenters frequently pointed out problems with what is suggested in the CCSS. Emmett McGoarty of the American Principles Project opened by outlining the standards as they currently stand. The standards turn their back on traditional American education values, he said, and cut out state elected legislatures in the development process. These standards were accepted behind closed doors, not allowing legislators any chance to review or ask questions.

According to McGoarty, a major shortcoming of the standards is de-emphasis on the importance of classical literature. Common Core replaces many classic books with non-fiction informational texts in an effort to better prepare children for the 21st Century. This disregard of classic literature would hinder a child’s creativity and their ability to develop a broad vocabulary.

The math standards that would be applied under this system would over complicate the simple processes that young children need to learn to do math. The standards claim to require a deeper understanding of the material before moving on. While this sounds attractive, what does it look like in practice? Here is a Common Core test question for third grade: Add 26+17 by breaking apart numbers to make a ten. Most people probably know after using simple addition that the answer is 43. Under CCSS, the process is broken up into five steps using ten’s to get the answer. If a student arrives at the correct answer, but is unable to adequately explain how they got it, the answer will be wrong. While it is important to know why math problems work, for a third grader, it is more important that they know how to do math.  Even R. James Milgram, professor of mathematics from Stanford University and Common Core curriculum contributor, refused to sign off on the math standards stating that the pace would allow students to fall at least two years behind those in higher-achieving countries.

William Korach, publisher of The Report Card, spoke of the impact these standards would have even on advanced-placement (AP) classes and their textbooks, which would be altered to align with the new CCSS. The AP History framework, for example, will be gutted. Within the new framework, students are not required to know about many of our nation’s founders including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin, with only a single line dedicated to George Washington. There is hardly mention of any major battles, and major wars such as WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq are skimmed over with no explanation of the motivations for U.S. involvement. This disregard of actual history is a disservice to our students and disrespectful to those who gave their lives to protect our country.  With only a single line dedicated to the Declaration of Independence, students could be robbed of the opportunity to learn about the reasons for our separation from Great Britain and the chance to learn about the ideals on which our nation sought its independence. Defenders will say CCSS are not curriculum and history can be added, but “standards” represent what are “important” and what will be tested. Bill Gates has said, “When the [standardized] tests are aligned to the common [core] standards, the curriculum will line up as well.” The standards will lead to the curriculum.

For now, the CCSS only encompasses English, reading and math, but new science standards are being developed as well. Casey Luskin with the Discovery Institute, described the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which have already been adopted by eight states and are under consideration in many others. The NGSS teach Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as a core idea rather than theory, and no contrarian theories are suggested. Students begin learning about evidence of “common ancestry” as early as the third grade and by high school students are taught Darwin’s “Tree of Life” theory as fact even though there is much opposition to it in the scientific community. Teachers are also only required to teach that humans are the sole cause of global warming. These one-sided views of science do not encourage students to learn about competing theories and investigate on their own. 

Fundamentally, education is the passing down of knowledge from one generation to the next. Common Core is not education, according to former state Sen. Jim Lembke, who claimed that, while Common Core aims to make every student “college and career ready,” this is not the purpose of education, but a by-product. If we pass knowledge down that is skewed, future generations will suffer. If our children are not able to learn about our mistakes, they are liable to repeat them. By implementing one-sided standards, Common Core will tell a generation of Americans what to think, not teach them how to think for themselves.

For more information about what you can do to join the fight against Common Core in Missouri, you can start by going to the links below:
http://www.moagainstcommoncore.com/ or

“To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King

I appreciate you reading this legislative report, and please don’t hesitate to contact my office at (573) 751-2108 if you have any questions. Thank you and God bless.