Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Who Is Profiting From the Common Core Standards?

Common Core Standards (CCS) is one of the fastest growing Ed Deforms, with over 30 states already having adopted them in hopes of winning relatively small Race to the Top grants from the Obama administration. The basis for the “reform” is the presumption that all U.S. children should be learning the same things and all American teachers should be accountable for teaching the same things.

While this might seem a no brainer, it turns out that standards were already fairly consistent between states. On the other hand, imposing rigid standards stifles academic freedom, reduces opportunities for “teachable moments” and addressing student-generated questions, and it has a tendency to promote broad, superficial learning at the expense of critical thinking, creativity and learning material in depth.

Like most “reforms,” CCS is also a cash cow for corporate education profiteers like the textbook publishers (districts must buy new books to accommodate the new standards) and test publishers (who design and sell the new tests to districts adopting the CCS).  It has also opened the door for consultants and others who hope to make a fortune training teachers and administrators how to work within the new CCS.

CCS: A Cash Cow For Corporate Education Raiders
David Coleman is one of these consultants (see Schools Matter and Susan Ohanian) and the “chief architect” of CCS. Like many of the most well-known Ed Deformers (e.g., Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Walton Family, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Mike Bloomberg), Coleman had virtually no real experience in the classroom. In fact, according to Schools Matter, his only pedagogical experience was a little tutoring he did while an undergrad at Yale, where he studied English. After this, he went on to work in business, making a lot of money with the Grow Network, which was bought by McGraw-Hill in 2005. In 2007 he left McGraw-Hill and co-founded the nonprofit Student Achievement Partners, which played a leading role in creating the Common Core Standards. He now leads Student Achievement Partners in their work helping teachers and policymakers to implement the Common Core State Standards.

CCS: Creating Passive and Compliant Workers and Consumers
Ohanian and Schools Matter both rail against Coleman’s crackpot ideas, like his claim that no one really “gives a shit about what you feel or what you think.” Thus, he argues, schools need to deemphasize fiction and rid themselves of the notion that students should critique texts or speculate about them, since no one gives a shit about what they think anyway. Therefore, he argues that the teacher’s job is to keep kids on the text, as if the text was some sort of pure Truth, closed to interpretation or criticism. This, he insists, is what will make children competitive in the Global Market.

In reality, this is what will further stifle their ability to think for themselves and kill their enjoyment of learning. However, this may indeed make them more competitive in the Global Marketplace since the majority of jobs will be low wage service sector jobs that do not require great levels of initiative, creativity or critical thought. It will also encourage passivity and servility, traits that are much sought after by employers.

CCS: A Trojan Horse for Union Busting?
If Coleman’s predictions come true and teachers become mindless servants of the “texts” and the “standards,” CCS will hasten the deskilling of teachers, making them even cheaper and more replaceable. Why bother with 2 years of graduate school when the teacher’s job is merely to test students on the absolute truth of the texts which have been created by the all-knowing experts at McGraw-Hill and Pearson?

This will surely reduce the teacher shortage, since anyone with a four-year degree can stand in front of a bunch of kids and tell them to read the passage on page 41 and answer the review questions at the end. It will also solve districts’ budget problems since a bunch of automatons are a lot cheaper than a bunch of unionized professionals.

One might be inclined to call me bombastic or paranoid. Yet the unions have mostly rolled over and let CCS pass in their states without a word of caution or protest. Many have actively collaborated with their governors or legislatures to get CCS passed, not only because of their desperation for some of the federal RttT crumbs being waved before their faces by the Obama Administration, but also because their typical response to almost any criticism of education is that that it must be correct and therefore, as professionals, we must lead the mob. The California Teachers Association was certainly in this category.

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