Thorner: Lake Forest Parents Would be Wise to Hear Both Sides on Common Core

Thorner: Lake Forest Parents Would be Wise to Hear Both Sides on Common Core
October 21, 2013

Nancy J. Thorner

Nancy J. Thorner is a writer, cellist, and Tea Party activist based in suburban Chicago. (read full bio)

With all that is happening currently in Washington, D.C. with the blame game still being very much in the news as to those responsible for the partial sixteen-day shutdown of our federal government, just how do Common Core State Standards fit into the picture?

Simply stated, the intent of Common Core is to nationalize education, along with the minds of American youth, thereby  directing this nation’s future.  As totalitarian leaders have taught us in the past, whoever molds the minds of the youth can eventually command the population. It matters not if the transition takes a generation of two.

Many already perceive that this nation is currently on the road to Socialism, and perhaps even worse though the advancement of the Obama administration’s agenda. Should Common Core be allowed to take hold under the assumption that a one-size-fits-all educational policy is acceptable that advances a liberal, progressive agenda in schools nationwide — with students being taught what to think and not how to think — the result will insure that the next generation of Americans will be liberal in their thinking and in tune with whatever leftist philosophy they encounter as adults.

So it will be that Obama will have fulfilled his mission to reshape this nation into one where our Constitution is no longer relevant and where freedom and liberty have been replaced by government control of our lives.

Two Curriculum Common Core coffees were recently held in my school district at the West Campus of Lake Forest High School in Lake Forest, IL. Of great interest was the Common Core motto appearing on the initial e-mail invitation which announced the two curriculum coffees:  Preparing America’s Students For College & Career.

I attended the second curriculum coffee held on Tuesday, October 15th from 7 – 8 pm, organized to familiarize local residents and taxpayers with the Common Core State Standards Initiative as applicable to Illinois and, in turn, students enrolled in Lake Forest School Districts 115 and 67.

Lauren Fagel, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, Technology and Assessment (one of three assistant superintendents in the Lake Forest School System) moderated both curriculum coffees.  The topic:  How Common Core State Standards will challenge our students to become better critical thinkers and problem-solvers.

In so far as the mention of Common Core still brings a blank stare from many parents of school-age children, similar events are most likely being planned in many school districts throughout Illinois as Common Core standards are being rolled out in various stages of implementation across Illinois. This lack of transparency about Common Core has happened despite the 2010 adoption of Common Core by every state except Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia even before the math and language arts standards were written, enticed by the lure of massive federal grants.

Defenders of Common Core assert that Common Core is state-instigated and controlled. This could not be further from the truth. The federal government provided all the funding for the national tests and also gave major grants to nonprofit groups who wrote Common Core. Bankrolling the entire Common Core project were nonprofit groups and big funders of government expansion such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Microsoft also has a significant financial state in the national education markets.

While this nation may be a superpower in some ways, in education it lags behind in a recent comparison of academic performance in 57 countries.  Students in the US performed near the middle of the pack.  Finland overall came out on top.  Other top-performing countries were Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, Estonia, Japan and Korea.

To be determined:  Will CC raise the performance level of students?  Of concern to many is how Common Core education standards manifest a centralization of authority over the historically decentralized K-12 education system.  Even more troubling is that Common Core is devoid of any history where success was achieved before states signed on to Common Core in 2010 lured by federal grants.

As Lake Forest High School prides itself on its high academic standards and its high achievement rankings with other school districts within Illinois, I was curious how Lauren Fagel would present Illinois’ state standards initiatives so as not to impinge upon the already high academic standards already established in Lake Forest’s two micro school districts, District 67, K – 8th and District 115, 9th – 12th.

Armed with booklets, The Common Core:  A Bad Choice for America, by Joy Pullmann, a Research Fellow at The Heartland Institute, I arrived early to place a booklet on each chair in the meeting room. These excellent resource booklets about Common Core can be ordered through The Heartland Institute for distribution by calling 312-377-4000.

Although her request to me was congenial, Assistant Superintendent Lauren Fagel informed me that she would prefer to have the booklets removed from the chairs and put on the tables where other handout material was available for the taking. To her credit, Ms. Fagel did tell those gathered about the booklets placed on the table by Mrs. Thorner and published by The Heartland Institute.

Handouts on the table, along with Heartland’s published booklet by Joy Pullman, were a Parents’ Guide to Student Success, one each for Kindergarten through 8th grade, and a Parents’ Guide to Student Success (High School English) and Parents’ Guide to Student Success (High School Math).  The Parents’ Guides were produced by the National PTA.  For more information, full Common Core standards can be found at www.corestandards.org .

Stated predominately on the front page of each guide, which differed only when referring to the grade level of each hand out:

This guide provides an overview of what your child will learn by the end of kindergarten in mathematics and English language arts/literacy.  It focuses on the key skills your child will learn in these subjects, which will build a strong foundation for success in the other subjects he or she studies throughout the school year.  This guide is based on the new Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states.  These K-12 standards are informed by the highest state standards from across the country.  If your child is meeting the expectations outlined in these standards, he or she will be well prepared for 1st grade.

 The hour time allowance wasn’t nearly long enough to find out much about Common Core other than what  Lauren Fagel presented through her slide presentation.  I felt very much alone as the only individual in the room who seemed knowledgeable about Common Core and the controversy surrounding its application as states, parents, and teachers are beginning to pull back from Common Core upon discovering what Common Core education standards would mean if fully applied.

In answer to a question before the start of the meeting, Ms. Fagel personally informed me that such a pullback of Common Core standards wouldn’t occur here in Illinois, or in the Lake Forest School System, as Common Core State Standards were sanctioned and adopted by the IEA, thereby making the implementation of Common Core mandatory in Illinois school districts.

First off, Ms. Fagel informed a somewhat pathetic low turnout of 20 or so individuals that a major change was taking place in many schools throughout this country, but not so much here in Lake Forest and in the neighboring Village of Lake Bluff, District 65, because Lake Forest and Lake Bluff already had in place high educational standards for their student population. Fagel continued, “We now have the opportunity to further enrich our students by having Common Core standards operate as guideposts along the way.”

In speaking about Common Core expectations, Ms. Fagel cited what appears on Common Core websites:  “To give students the critical knowledge and skills that they will need after high school.”  Accordingly, Common Core standards are geared to teach students to 1) Analyze, 2) Comprehend, and 3) Evaluate.  Ms. Fagel further described Common Core standards as representing the floor level, but in no way indicative of the ceiling.

A slide presentation outlined Common Core Anchor Standards in Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening from K – 5, followed by the same Common Core Anchor Standards for grades 6 – 12. Math standards were likewise enumerated for each grade level. While Common Core standards delay Algebra until the 9th grade, LFHS will continue to keep Algebra at the 8th grade level.

I regret not having a chance to ask Ms. Fagel what would happen to the existing high standards in the Lake Forest School Districts given that states may not change Common Core standards.  They must adopt all of them at once and may only add up to an additional 25 percent to set Common Core requirements.

Although Ms. Fagel insisted that Common Core was not a curriculum as such, the issue of testing must be considered as a means for accessing student achievement.  Mentioned by Ms. Fagel was PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and its race to develop assessments so teachers and administrators can evaluate student progress.

According to Ms. Fagel, PARCC has yet to bring its testing material to fruition so it’s ready for use; nevertheless, a national testing system based on the new standards is already being rolled out which will test students regularly from the third grade to ensure that their Common Core-based education is proceeding smoothly.  It is almost certain that SAT’s and ACT’s used nationwide in admissions to higher-learning institutions will be aligned with the new Common Core standards.

Somewhat strange to me, as one whose school days are more than 50 years behind me, are Common Core Anchor Standards in Writing as they relate to the range of writing to be covered by students:  Students must write arguments to support claims.  Less emphasis will also be placed on creative writing. 

Regarding Common Core Anchor Standards for Literature (K-5), students will analyze how and why individuals, events and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text with an emphasis placed on reading non-fiction.

A parent did complain how her first grade daughter had been turned off from reading because she did not like to read non-fiction.  What will happen when she advances to higher grades?   English and Language Arts Common Core standards place emphasis on reading dry technical writing, like government documents and technical manuals, as opposed to literary classics.  Under Common Core at least 50% of reading assignments must consist of informational texts.

In that Common Core standards focus on core conceptual understanding and procedures starting in the early grades, learning multiplication tables is most likely considered old-fashioned and obsolete?  And what about spelling and cursive writing?  Common Core State Standards do not require children to learn how to write in cursive.

Math and English standards were focused on initially as they were the two subjects expected to be he least controversial among the voting and taxpaying public.  Common Core standards are not being extended to social studies, science, history and more.  Suggested history textbooks are being accused of having a strong liberal bias.

In science, called the Next Generation Science Standards, students will be forced to learn a steady stream of controversial propaganda of everything from the theory of evolution to largely debunked theories advanced by U.N.global-warming alarmists about supposed human impacts on “climate change.”

There are also the National Sexuality Education Standards being written for Common Core.  They have as a goal to provide clear, consistent and straightforward guidance for sexuality education which is developmentally and age-appropriate for students in grades K-12.

It was Lauren Fagel’s goal to make Common Core sound palatable and reasonable, but whether Common Core has what it takes to elevate this nation’s floundering education system can only be determined when a comparison is made of student performance before Common Core standards and after Common Core has been fully implemented for a number of years.

Common Core might very well do some good in those schools whose students rate way below par academically, but will Common Core State Standards be able to work wonders on students who did poorly prior to the adoption of Common Core?  I doubt it.

As for high achieving schools such as found in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, Common Core might even result in lowering educational standards.  A substantial amount of retraining will be necessary for teachers to learn how to successfully teach the Common Core way in schools throughout Illinois. The implementation of the new standards could also cost cash-strapped state governments some $16 billion to implement.

Fair to question is whether this nation’s students are being used as Guiana pigs in a one-size-fits-all educational experiment that many feel is destined to perform badly or even fail? The vast majority of countries where students perform more poorly than they do in America have nationalized education.

Without question, Common Core standards fail to address the specific needs of a state or a child, but even most troublesome is that it is designed to produce a generation of progressive, liberal-minded adults and citizen activists who will see this nation in a way completely alien to what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they created a nation that offered such great hope and promise to future generations of Americans.

[Originally posted on the Illinois Review]

Nancy J. Thorner

Nancy J. Thorner is a writer, cellist, and Tea Party activist based in suburban Chicago. (read full bio)