Common Core: A Trojan Horse?

The deceptively innocuous-sounding name belies the crippling effects a centralized K-12 education curriculum will have on the United States once it is allowed to take effect. Ze’ev Wurman, software architect, electrical engineer and longtime math advisory expert, feels Common Core is a federally-enforced “mediocre national benchmark” that “marks the cessation of educational standards improvement” and will consign the country to a non-first rate future.

Incursion by the federal government in matters pertaining to the curriculum or content in public education is prohibited by the Constitution and echoed in the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, 1970 General Education Provisions Act and 1979 Department of Education Organization Act.

The 2001 reauthorization of ESEA, the No Child Left Behind legislation, marked a shift that squarely involved the government in establishing education standards and student assessments. With Common Core, however, the reach and scope of federal control and the lawlessness are breathtaking. This essay attempts to outline the main issues. The initiative deserves further analysis.

The Common Core States Initiative was part of 2009 stimulus package. Prohibited by law from direct control of public education, it represented an attempt by the federal government to establish a straw horse, a public beard to induce states to adopt the program to compete for gain shares of $4.35 Billion in Race To the Top grant funds.

CCSSI was presented as a state-led effort “coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards, assessments, curriculum, texts and instructional materials were all developed by two independent private consortia, SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers consortium. They were selected by the Department of Education and awarded more than $300 Million in federal grants.

Although SBAC and PARCC had not yet written the standards for mathematics and English Language Arts, the states had to commit to them sight unseen in order to receive the RTTT funds, the states were in desperate financial straits due to the economic downturn. Forty-five states and Washington, DC all agreed to accept CCI. NY and Florida each got $700 Million.

CCSSI is a national initiative masquerading as a state-sponsored program. States will be required to develop massive databases involving personal information about students and their families. This is an invasion of privacy that is prohibited by the Family Education and Privacy Act. The information will be shared with the Department of Education and the Executive office as well as other federal agencies.

The standards, curriculum and assessments in mathematics and English Language Arts were developed by a 29-member Common Core Standards Development Work Group. The members represented testing experts, professors of education, one mathematician and several teachers and school administrators.

Instead of experts in the much-needed STEM subjects, the work group and the 25-member Validation Committee consisted of employees of testing organizations like ACT, College Board and Achieve. The members of the two three-person committees that wrote the entirety of the national K-12 standards for mathematics as well as ELA were non-education professionals as well.

Sixty individuals who lacked adequate qualifications or credentials were designated by the federal government to undertake the Herculean task. That the product designed to develop critical thinking and to teach 21st century standards for college and career readiness in the global economy without approval of oversight by the public or nation-wide consultation with educators and experts has caused such furor and outrage is both understandable and appropriate.

There was a single college professor of mathematics, James Milgram from Stanford University but not even one college or PhD-level professors of science, technology or engineering. Milgram refused to sign off on the final draft. He warned that by the seventh grade, the CCI math standards would put American students two years behind their peers from Singapore, Shanghai, Japan and the other high-performing countries.

John Goodman, a math professor at New York University, echoed Milgram’s concerns. He felt the CCI math standards imposed “significantly lower expectations with respect to algebra and geometry than the published standards of other (leading) countries.”

The concerns were prompted by the shift from 8th to 9th grade for Algebra I and the reduction in emphasis in basic principles such as addition, subtraction, fractions and division in elementary school in favor of abstract reasoning and problem solving. Panel member Dr. Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas expressed similar misgivings about the math standards.

The ELA standards are equally sub-standard. 50% of classic literature will be replaced by informational texts from kindergarten through 10th grade. In the last two years of high school, 70% of what students read will consist of informational texts, political speeches and magazine article. Gone are Mark Twain, John Milton, Homer, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald and countless other great Western writers.

A significant number of the literary selections chosen reflect the strong emphasis in multiculturalism. An emphasis on Islam is equally striking that is amplified by a $135 Million federal grant to install books on Islam in every public school library with no funds allocated for books on Judaism or Christianity.

Pioneer Institute estimates the costs to implement Common Core to be $17 Billion for the 1st seven years in addition to the funds each state allocates for education in its annual budget. The Congressional Budget Office was not asked to prepare an estimate lest it become obvious CCI is a federal program.

The public is waking up to the specter of national overhaul of public education, lowering of standards and federalization of the system. States are backing out of their commitment and refusing or delaying the implementation of the standards.

Massachusetts, the only state to score in the top three on PISA assessments, dropped significantly in rank after implementing Common Core. In New York, 70% of 8th graders failed the math exam and 74%, the English exam. In one Harlem school, just 7% of students passed in English and 10% in math.

Where do we go from here? There is only one answer. Michelle Malkin is right. She minced no words in her indictment of CCI as “rotten to the core” and her warning that “the corruption of math education is just the beginning.” It must be rejected and rescinded. Our children and our country deserve better.

About the Author:  R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

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1 reply
  1. Laurie Norman says:

    We had come so far and now we digress. The end is is sight for the entrepreneurship of America unless our children rise up and demand more from us. It appears we adults are incapable of doing this on our own. We seem to be full of ourselves and too long on the dole and afraid to demand excellence of anyone anymore.

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