Thursday, November 12, 2015

Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?

Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, by Mercedes K. Schneider. Teachers College Press, 2015, 245 pp,  $29.95 was reviewed by Edd Doerr.

A “common core” of K-12 education in math and reading sounds like a good idea on the  surface, given the complexity and mobility of our society, but the controversial “Common Core State Standards” system (Common Core or CCSS for short) that started off late during the Bush administration is nothing so simple. Mercedes  Schneider, a veteran public school teacher and author of the important 2014 book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education  (which  I reviewed in Voice of Reason No. 128 at, traces the development and “selling” of Common Core in this well-researched, carefully documented report on the who, how and why of this  little understood movement in the schools that serve nearly 90% of our nation’s kids. This book is essential to understanding what is happening in American public education today.

Now, to get to the heart of the matter, let’s all too briefly summarize Schneider’s opus, quoting the author. “CCSS is a hurriedly produced product intended to impose high-stakes outcomes onto those without power over it. In general, CCSS is not owned and valued by those  required to institute it – current American public school teachers and administrators nationwide. This alone makes CCSS destined to fail.” Common Core grew out of George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind,” with its “dependence on high-stakes testing outcomes to ‘prove’ that education was occurring – or else.” CCSS was largely pushed by big-money entrepreneurs and so-called “reformers” with little actual connection to teaching, including such conservative school-voucher-promoting outfits as the Fordham Institute,  headed by one Chester Finn, appointed in 2015 to the Maryland state board of education by Republican governor Larry Hogan. (Years ago Finn was a speaker at a Catholic University conference on vouchers; I was there and heard him declare that he was “ashamed to be a Jew” because the main Jewish organizations opposed vouchers; a prominent rabbi in the audience responded appropriately.)

Schneider explains that two groups, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, got “their unsuspecting state education systems” to commit to “what would be a set of inflexible standards tied to punitive assessments,” a set-up that “did not emerge from teacher practitioners and other education stakeholders.” And all this before the CCSS had actually been created. She shows that the CCSS was never field-tested before being foisted on the states by the federal government.  She concludes that “In the name of educating children, profitability assumed center stage – an exploitation that is indeed tragic for its corporate-serving end.” Then: “Those who love and respect the locally controlled American classroom  -- and resist its takeover by profiteers or by right-minded but misguided nonprofits who, for funds received, must produce studies, plans, influence, and results – need not despair.”

Schneider’s conclusions are worth citing. “We  need to put an end to policies and programs that betray our vulnerability for worshipping standardized test scores. Test-centric education allows for incredible scapegoating and profiteering even as it bankrupts our children’s education experience.” And: “A second lesson is that CCSS is principally the creation of those outside of the K-12 classroom. . . . There was no piloting of CCSS, and this incredible oversight continues to be excused by CCSS promoters. . . . [It] reduces public education to a dollar sign.”

The emphasis on endless testing in just two subjects tends to stifle other subjects, such as social studies, the arts, phys ed, languages, etc. Note that the respected 2015 Gallup education poll showed that fully 67% of Americans polled agree.

A short review  cannot do justice to this powerful, important, 5-star book. It needs to be purchased and read by everyone who cares about the future of education in our country.

For a 2014  interview with Mercedes K. Schneider see 

Bill Gates and the Push to Privatize Public Education

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