Sunday, October 4, 2015

No, Mr Bennett, Common Core is not Conservative.

One often quoted piece on the "Conservative Case for Common Core" was written by former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett. The article appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 2014, and is often promoted as the raison d'etre for conservatives to back the common core.

However, Mr Bennett's notions of conservatism are quite misguided. Let's examine some of Mr. Bennett's statements and given them consideration. Let's begin with Bill Bennett's original premise:

"Let's begin with the ideas and principles behind the Common Core. These educational principles have been debated and refined over decades." 

That is about the only place I might agree with Bill Bennett. Certainly there is a consensus on some basic issues, such as reading and multiplication. However, nothing in the common core actually reflects that consensus or research. The use of what was once regarded as non-standard, inefficient algorithms has never been widely accepted. Whole language which rejects standard phonics instruction has never been entirely embraced at the national level. Indeed, these issues, along with the use of controversial curriculums like Everyday Math and Turk Investigations have continue to be controversial even in areas where Common Core was adopted. Further, the rejection of cursive writing was never on the national curriculum controversy radar, and yet Mr. Bennett's broad assertions suggest that these were entirely settled matters. 

For this reason, I would have to reject, at least in part, Mr. Bennett's original proposition on educational consensus. 

Indeed, the standards on "informational texts" and the emphasis on writing over reading are contrary to nearly 100 years of research on teaching reading and writing.  The informational texts in the curriculum crowd out the teaching of complex literature needed to produce critical thinking skills and to develop proficiency in reading and writing. Dr. Stotsky, the engineer of the very Massachusettes Miracle you seek to emulate through the common core, has warned of this in her testimony in several state legislatures and national forums. You would be well served to read her work and testimony on the matter. 

Let's take a look at his next statement. 
"First, we can all agree that there is a need for common standards of assessment in K-12 education." 

No, Mr. Bennett, I cannot and will not concede this point.  First, I don't see the need at all for these common assessments.  Who needs them? Certainly not I, and certainly not most of America's children.  American children may need many things, but "common standards of assessment" is never on the list of anyone except "educrats" who seek to make money or federal research dollars.  Second, the only way that this "common standard" to work  is if the federal government gets involved in education. As a conservative who regards the US Constitution as a document worthy of defending, what you are actually asking is an end to the 10th Amendment.  Mr. Bennett, my "need" to support and defend the US Constitution is prior to your "need" for common standards funded by the Gates Foundation. Indeed, Mr. Bennett, one of the cornerstones of the American Conservatism is the support for  the US Constitution--the very document you would trash to achieve your ends.

"Nearly all Americans agree that to prepare a child for civic responsibility and competition in the modern economy, he or she must be able to read and distill complex sentences, and must be equipped with basic mathematical skills."

Mr Bennett, this is a rather broad sweeping statement that is not even a central tenet of American Conservatism. Besides that point-- What poll do you reference? Your statement suggests that there is some sort of agreement on the goal of  public education being something that accommodates the needs of global elites rather that local communities.  Mr Bennett attempts to equate civic responsibility with global competitiveness two very different ideas.     Furthermore, the point of education is not to "compete in a modern economy" but to prepare students to lead and serve in a free society. The point of post secondary education may have the goal of producing competitive worker bees, but that has never been the goal of primary and secondary education. Furthermore, the point of disagreement among Americans  is not "Should children be able to read, write, and understand complex sentences," but in the "How."  This answer varies greatly across communities in the United States, even among teachers in the same community. Common Core undermines this by dictating a pedagogy and a scope and sequence and by subverting the 10th Amendment. This is something that no conservative would ever concede. 

What is regarded as a "modern economy" is a very nebulous concept that will vary greatly across the United States. Mr . Bennett would destroy the very foundation of our civil society as understood by the American people to achieve a system that would be competitive with nations that are less free. Strangely, people from these "less free" nations strive to immigrate to the United States so they may be free to compete. Mr. Bennett would destroy local control of education as preserved by our founding fathers in the name of international competitiveness and less freedom. I regard that as neither civil or competitive. 

But, if for some reason I thought "American competitiveness" was a worthy goal, I certainly would NOT have selected the common core. The research on both the Darro Standards in California by Dr. James Milgram and on the Common Core from the Hawaii Department of Education using the P-20W have shown that if students do not make it beyond Algebra 2 in High School, they have less than a 2% chance of graduating with a STEM Degree and have less than a 30% chance of graduating with ANY four year degree--even English. Because the Common Core Standards, by their very design, prevent the average student from progressing beyond Algebra I in high school, these standards actually reduce America's competitive position in the global economy.  

"When I was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the 1980s, I asked 250 people across the political spectrum what 10 books every student should be familiar with by the time they finish high school. Almost every person agreed on five vital sources: the Bible, Shakespeare, America's founding documents, the great American novel "Huckleberry Finn" and classical works of mythology and poetry, like the Iliad and the Odyssey."

Strangely, Mr. Bennett, these very topics have been scrubbed from most of the curriculum that presumably meets the common core standard. The Odyssey and the Iliad, standard stories used in Alaska to discuss native literature is no longer on the list. Shakespeare has been reduced as well, all to make way for the "informational texts" that the common core standards dictate must be covered.  The Common Core actually reduced these very concepts, it does not increase them. Even more so, the religion that is emphasised in these curriculums have an overwhelming bias toward Islam and the Koran over Christianity, the Bible, and other religions.  Huckleberry Finn has also hit the dustbin, or have been greatly modified,  to make way for teachings on "White Privilege," or other more banal pieces of literature that are in the text exemplars. If getting these literary topics into classrooms was your goal, Mr. Bennett, then you have failed in epic proportions. Mr. Bennett, I suggest you read Dr. Sandra Stotsky's analysis of the common core and how it has greatly reduced classical literature in favor of "informational texts."

The same goes for math. Certain abilities—the grasp of fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios and the like—should be the common knowledge of all.

Mr. Bennett, have you actually read the common core standards? Do you realize that these very topics are either absent, or have very little coverage in the common core? Have you not looked at the work by Dr. James Milgram and Professor Ze'ev Wurman on the common core math standards? The very topics you claim to want to promote are absent from the curriculums that meet the very standards you are promoting. 

In 2009 the Education Department created Race to the Top grants, federal funding for states that met certain educational benchmarks. To qualify, states were required, for instance, to demonstrate that they had a common, high-quality set of standards. Common Core standards satisfied the criteria.

 How strange it is read something that is being deemed "conservative" by consenting to more federal mandates!  Indeed, the ONLY standards that qualified for Race To The Top funds were those that were Common Core or a rebranded variant of those standards. Besides being illegal for the federal government to dictate standards and curriculum, there is no evidence that common standards actually produces a better result or high student test scores. Indeed, if one looks at countries at the top and at the bottom of the standardized testing rankings on tests like the TIMSS, countries that have both common national standards can be found. Common national standards does not make an education system great--at best it only codifies mediocrity. 

In conclusion, I find nothing particularly conservative in any of Bill Bennett's arguments for the common core--conservative or otherwise. There is nothing in American conservatism that calls for compitulating to illegal federal mandates and national data systems. There is nothing in conservatism that calls for the end of the 10th Amendment. There is nothing conservative about the standards, and the curriculum that is being promoted as meeting these standards does not even reflect anything that Mr. Bennett seeks to promote!

 But American Conservatism aside,  the very goals that Mr Bennett seeks to achieve through the common core remain unmet. Anyone who values the US Constitution, Christianity, or American  exceptionalism or American competitiveness should be promoting these standards and the curriculum that is being promoted by the major publishers in the United States as fulfilling these standards. 

If fifty years of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have shown anything, federal involvement in education has stifled American achievement in test scores and reduced America's competitiveness on the national stage. They are not conservative or worthy of being promoted by a former member of Ronald Reagan's cabinet

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