It Doesn’t Take a Tinfoil Hat to Critique Common Core

It Doesn’t Take a Tinfoil Hat to Critique Common Core
April 4, 2013

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)

Contrary to the suggestion of Kathleen Porter-Magee and Sol Stern at National Review Online yesterday, you do not have to sport a tinfoil tricorn to believe Common Core curriculum and testing requirements are not only low-quality, but yet another threat to the American tradition of individual liberty and limited government.

The duo, one of whom I’ve heard out, paste unsubstantiated dreams onto a project prefacing national control over education, from teacher training to hiring and firing to classroom worksheets, by outlining what schools in 46 states must teach and test in every grade in math and English. Porter-Magee should know this, since she serves on a federal panel to review the actual questions for national tests currently under development.

Why on earth do the feds need to review these tests if the entire project is, as the two insist, state-instigated and -controlled? Ah, right, because the federal government provided all thefunds for these national tests, and major grants to the nonprofits who wrote Common Core. They and progressive outfits such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation bankrolled this entire effort, and big businesses with significant financial stakes in national education markets helped sponsor the project and efforts to promote it to lawmakers and fellow business leaders.

The pair deceptively wrote that the Obama administration “has stated that adoption of ‘college and career readiness standards’ doesn’t necessarily mean adoption of Common Core,” but failed to mention that no standards but Common Core fit the administration’s definition of such standards. If the president has his way, states will lose federal money for setting their own standards, as they already were refused access to “Race to the Top” stimulus dollars if they refused Common Core. In January’s State of the Union address, President Obama said these federal grants “convinced almost every state” to adopt Common Core. Despite these realities, Stern and Porter-Magee fatuously assert, states can definitely set their own education standards — just as states can set their own drinking ages.

They also claim, inconsistently, that Common Core is “not a curriculum” and that it will promulgate “an academic curriculum based on great works of Western civilization and the American republic.” The standards essentially define the table of contents for all U.S. K–12 math and English texts. This may not constitute a curriculum, but it certainly defines what kids will and will not learn, especially when paired with two sets of national tests. And why should a centrally controlled, taxpayer-funded, unaccountable-to-the-public set of committees have the power to define what nearly every U.S. school child will learn?

Porter-Magee and Stern project their wishes for better U.S. curriculum onto Common Core. Works they acclaim, such as Common Sense, the Gettysburg Address, and To Kill a Mockingbird appear not on the actual standards, but on accompanying lists of book suggestions — such as California’s — that also include piles of trash schools can teach instead. I compared Common Core’s early math and literacy requirements with grade-level recommendations from Porter-Magee and Stern’s revered E. D. Hirsch, and made essentially the same finding one of Common Core’s content-level experts explained to two state legislatures, which led her to refuse to sign off on the project for obvious lack of quality and research. Calling Common Core rigorous is like calling an average high-school soccer team “world-class.” Porter-Magee and Stern’s purportedly conservative arguments essentially constitute doublespeak on every point.

There is no evidence Common Core will improve education. It’s never been field-tested, and research suggests education standards have no effect on student learning: Many states with high standards have low achievement, and vice versa. So why this horrific waste of time? Is it for the national student databases of test scores, hobbies, family income, voting status, health records, and more?

And how are all of these arrangements conducive to individual rights and limited government?

[First published at National Review Online.]

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)