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Some High-profilers Gunning for Common Core

April 1, 2014

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) surely are causing quite a stir. That is what happens when non-teachers try to impose their wills upon the American classroom.

(I have written extensively on CCSS, including its creation, promotion and funding. For hours of enlightening CCSS reading, click here. To read about the contract between states and the federal government regarding CCSS, click here. For a crash course in CCSS lies versus truths, click here. For a CCSS comparison with state standards and NAEP scores, click here.)

Legislatures across the nation are wrestling with the CCSS Question: Dump, modify, or keep as is?

Of particular interest to me are the handful of high-profile individuals who are pushing hard to Keep the Core.

They are not current classroom teachers. They were never career classroom teachers.

In this post, I highlight some such “power people.” I haven’t space enough to write about all persons of influence who are campaigning for the Core. What I aim to capture are those I believe exert the most influence.

Arne Duncan

First on my list is US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Even though he went on the record during a March 14, 2014, White House press briefing as saying that states “had the right” to drop CCSS because “this is a state-led effort,” Duncan’s overt (and certainly uncouth) promotion of CCSS is undeniable.

If Duncan truly advocates that states are “free” to drop CCSS, then he can nullify the Race to the Top (RTTT) requirement of “common standards.” Though the RTTT initial application does not mention CCSS by name, it does include this description of the “common standards” requirement:

Common set of K-12 standards means a set of content standards that define what students must know and be able to do and that are substantially identical across all States in a consortium.  A State may supplement the common standards with additional standards, provided that the additional standards do not exceed 15 percent of the State’s total standards for that content area.

However, further in the RTTT application, states are pointed toward “Appendix B” in completing the Standards and Assessments (70 points) section of the application, described as follows:

The extent to which the State has demonstrated its commitment to adopting a common set of high-quality standards, evidenced by (as set forth in Appendix B)

Appendix B happens to be the CCSS memorandum of understanding (MOU).

In it, states “agree” to be “state led.”

Allow me to reiterate:

In order to vie for federal education dollars, states must complete the CCSS MOU as part of the RTTT application. In the CCSS MOU, the federal government is telling states to be “state led.”

Arne Duncan has the states legally bound to CCSS via the CCSS MOU with USDOE.

Thus, his comment that states are “free” to drop CCSS means nothing because the final word rests with Duncan. One can read as much between the lines here:

The Blaze asked Duncan during the White House press briefing Friday to comment on the final approval in the Indiana legislature.

“They absolutely have the right to do this,” Duncan told The Blaze. “This is a state-led effort; it always has been, always will be. And whatever Indiana decides, we want to work with them to make sure that students have a chance to be successful.” [Emphasis added.]

States are tied to the federal government via RTTT. CCSS is part of that tether. In order for states to be “set free” from CCSS, they must reckon with Arne.

Jeb Bush and His Sidekick, Lamar

Jeb Bush is also pushing CCSS.. Despite Duncan’s extensive involvement in CCSS and the power he exerts over states’ “choice” to adopt CCSS, Bush was in Tennessee on March 19.2014, promoting CCSS as “not federal.” Bush was accompanied by former US Secretary of Education and current Tennessee US Senator Lamar Alexander:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is urging [Tennessee] officials to stay the course on Common Core education standards despite what he called an “avalanche” of criticism from those who oppose them.

Bush said at an education forum with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander on Wednesday that the standards are key to improving educational achievement levels around the country.

…He ascribed the opposition to Common Core to what he called “myths” about the standards being part of a federal takeover of local classrooms. [Emphasis added.]

Note the wording Bush uses: “federal takeover.” Bush does not use the term “federal overreach” or “federal delivery of public education to privatizers”; such is too close to the truth. CCSS is more aptly described as a politically-aided enabling of corporate America to bypass accountability to the American voter.

In order to perform this democratic bypass procedure, CCSS proponents must make some amazing claims.

Never mind that neither Bush nor any other human being has bothered to test CCSS prior to implementation. This complete lack of research support for CCSS efficacy does not stop CCSS proponents from publicly declaring CCSS as “key” to improving All That Could Possibly Ail American Public Education. Moreover, CCSS proponents faithfully testify that untested CCSS will make the USA the winner in some corporate-reform-created contest regarding “the global economy.”

It is worth noting that in November 2012, Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) pushed the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to withdraw its already-approved anti-CCSS resolution.

Bill Gates

No list of high-profile, pro-CCSS individuals would be complete without billionaire, democracy-corrupting Bill Gates. Bill has really been spending the big bucks o CCSS, with the latest tab at approximately $2.3 billion. He has also been speaking of late to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and to 80 senators and other elected officials, faithfully plugging a CCSS that will never touch the school where the Gates children attend, Seattle’s elite Lakeside School.

However, let it never be said that Gates has not been consistent in his CCSS support. Back in 2009, in a speech to the National Council of State Legislatures, “co-chair” Gates offered the following excerpts as part of his complete speech on so-called education reform.

The entire speech is worth a read. Here’s just a smidge:

You (legislators) are the authorizers and appropriators of school reform in America. The president and the Congress can make recommendations—and they have passed a stimulus package with billions of dollars you can spend to advance school reform—but ultimately, you decide.

I hope you decide to accelerate reform….

Without measurement, there is no pressure for improvement. …

Charter schools, in my view, have been the lead researchers in the most important recent finding in the field of school reform. Namely: The most decisive factor in student achievement is the teacher. …

No factor advances student achievement more than an effective teacher. …

We need to take two enabling steps: we need longitudinal data systems that track student performance and are linked to the teacher; and we need fewer, clearer, higher standards that are common from state to state. The standards will tell the teachers what their students are supposed to learn, and the data will tell them whether they’re learning it.

Fortunately, the state-led Common Core State Standards Initiative is developing clear, rigorous common standards that match the best in the world. Last month, 46 Governors and Chief State School Officers made a public commitment to embrace these common standards.

This is encouraging—but identifying common standards is not enough. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards. …

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better. …

All states and districts should collect common data on teachers and students. …

This responsibility—to a great extent—lies with you (legislators).

I’m asking you to draw on the stimulus funding to do two things:

1. Embrace common standards and data systems so we can know where we stand and how to move forward.

 2. Raise the quality of teaching by measuring teacher effectiveness, encouraging innovation, and spreading best practices.

I know you’ll face pressure if you push for reform.

This is a national challenge.

We need to measure progress. We need to hold teachers and schools accountable. …

If your state doesn’t join the common standards, your kids will be left behind; and if too many states opt out—the country will be left behind. … [Emphasis added.]

Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. And Gates-inflicted peer pressure for legislators to belong to the Gates-purchased-and-defined, reformy in-crowd.

Chris Minnich

Minnich’s name might not be familiar to many; however, his position is: Minnich is the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), one of the two owners of CCSS.

CCSSO has been in the news for its annual legislative conference held in March 2014.

Achieve President Michael Cohen and Education Trust President Kati Haycock– both major promoters of CCSS– were present. Neither is a legislator. Both have substantial vested interest in seeing CCSS imposed upon the nation’s schools as planned. Along with ACT and College Board, Achieve was the third principal organization “at the table” for CCSS development; Haycock’s Ed Trust is heavily Gates dependent for its operating expenses.

This brings us back to CCSSO CEO Minnich. In his bio on the CCSSO website, Minnich is credited with “leadership” for CCSS– the supposedly “state-led” CCSS:

Chris Minnich assumed his role as Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in December, 2012. Chris has worked at CCSSO since 2008, when he was hired to direct the Council’s standards program-the work that would later become the Common Core State Standards (Common Core). In 2009 he assumed the role of Strategic Initiative Director of Standards, Assessment and Accountability, where he led the development and adoption of the Common Core in 45 states.

Minnich was hired to induce “state leading” in CCSS creation and adoption.

There’s more:

In the last two years (page copyrighted 2014), Minnich has led the Council’s advocacy and communications teams in rallying states to collaboratively reform their standards and accountability systems. His efforts have been invaluable in advancing the national implementation of the Common Core, and cultivating essential cooperation between states and the federal government to improve education for all students.  [Emphasis added.]

Minnich “rallied states.” Minnich “cultivated” the state-federal-CCSS connection.

However, in this Huffington Post piece, Minnich tries to paint the “incredible work individual states are doing to implement new education standards” as separate from his “directing,” “leading” and “rallying” states around a “common standards” effort that would be highly unlikely to have transpired without repeated and calculated “leading” of, say, a former Harcourt (now Pearson) assessment developer and promoter.

Here’s the zinger:

Minnich is connected to Pearson, and his background is test-test-test:

Minnich has an extensive background in assessment and accountability work. From 2005-2008, he held multiple positions at Harcourt (now Pearson), all focused on the advancement and improvement of assessments. Minnich led the development and deployment of a teacher-centered online portal focused on assessment education. [Emphasis added.]

Randi Weingarten and Dennis Van Roekel

The same CCSSO annual meeting mentioned above found both national union presidents in attendance– and both “unified” in their intent to continue to promote CCSS.

Neither union president dares to broach the idea that teachers do not want CCSS. Both insist upon forcing CCSS implementation, and both are concerned that too forceful a CCSSO push will jeopardize this “set of common standards” that directly affects the professional life of neither:

Weingarten added that she expects that many of her members would call for outright opposition to the standards during the AFT’s summer convention, even though both the AFT and NEA support the standards and Weingarten said she wouldn’t back away from the common core.

During the same discussion, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, while he said the union remained squarely behind the standards themselves, also expressed concern that teachers were not getting enough time to learn the standards themselves, to find common-core aligned curricular materials, and to talk to parents as well as each other. [Emphasis added.]

There you have it, friends:

Our national union presidents “got” the CCSS “back.”

I sure wish I had a union to– oh, I don’t know– stand up for teachers instead of forcing CCSS upon us.

What will it take, Randi? Dennis?

Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee is one of the most controversial figures in the modern push to obliterate traditional American public education.

In this December 2013 Politico article, Rhee features her ignorance regarding CCSS by doing what other for-profit-promoting reformers do: She offers no evidence regarding any connection between CCSS and the implied, expected improvement of the “disparate” international test scores she cites. Rhee simply declares CCSS to be “tough”– the “solution” for the reformer end-all, be-all of ever-higher test scores– and expects America to believe her:

Change is hard. As someone who’s pushed to overhaul failing schools and battled entrenched defenders of an unacceptable status quo, I’m no stranger to controversy when it comes to education reform.

So it’s hardly surprising that Common Core, the tough set of academic standards embraced by 45 states plus the District of Columbia, has been met with disparate pockets of resistance—from the understandable concerns of some parents and teachers to the false narrative of a federal takeover.

How about a “default” federal takeover, Michelle? Or a “coerced federal intrusion”?

As to Rhee’s self-declared “overhaul” of “failing schools,” I have my own chapter in which I dissect such claims in my book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education, to be published in April 2014.

Rhee cites the 2010 Fordham Institute report as evidence of CCSS superiority. However, her evidence is that CCSS is not better than all previous state standards by Fordham’s own acknowledgement:

…According to a 2010 Fordham Institute assessment, Common Core standards are clearer and more rigorous than existing standards in 39 states when it comes to math and 37 states in English-language arts. [Emphasis added.]

So, CCSS is almost better than all other state standards??

What a selling point.

Yet Rhee’s “investment” in CCSS is tied to her nonprofit, StudentsFirst. As education historian Diane Ravitch notes in this December 2013 blog post:

Rhee has a close personal association with the Common Core standards. David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core standards, was the treasurer of the original StudentsFirst board; other members included Jason Zimba, who wrote the Common Core math standards. The only other member of Rhee’s board worked for Coleman’s organization, Student Achievement Partners.

Rhee’s StudentsFirstNY group packed meetings in New York City to endorse Common Core testing and support the Regents’ agenda of rapid implementation of Common Core.

No conflicts of interest here (tongue in cheek).

Michelle Rhee is one callous house of cards. Her support for CCSS should make thinking people run the other way.

Speaking of “thinking people”:

I’m not sure how any thinking person could possibly consider corporate reformer Michelle Rhee as an equal to education historian Diane Ravitch, yet this Governing article does so. It is entitled, A Battle Over School Reform: Michelle Rhee Versus Diane Ravitch. Here is an unbelievable excerpt:

Reading Rhee and Ravitch’s books together is like watching two accomplished pugilists fight a 15-round bout. 

Are you kidding me? Rhee will not even debate Ravitch. She was supposed to on February 6, 2014, but reneged on the agreement because she wanted to do so three-on-three and “could not find a third person.”

Rhee wants CCSS. Ravitch does not.

The difference in their positions is one of evidence. Ravitch expects reforms to be based upon research evidence. Rhee has no evidence backing her CCSS support.

Talking points alone provide no spine for a solid debate.

And so it goes for all of the high-profile CCSS promoters in this post.

They can purchase publicity.

They can offer talking points.

But they cannot back their diehard delivery with evidence that CCSS does anything other than divest American public education of its democratically-protected autonomy.

  1. Harlan Underhill permalink

    Is your bottom line, Mercedes, that the federal government has no valid constitutional role in public education in the states?

  2. jo ann permalink

    Hey Mercedes, you call Michelle Rhee one callous house of cards…I would have called the corporate reformer something a whole lot different! Anyway did you see that her former DC boss Mayor Vincent Gray lost the DC election. I remember when she and Gist worked together in DC and I believe it was Gray who supported her over Gist and that’s how we ended up with the Chiefs for Change Jeb Bush supporter of corporate education in RI!
    Any thoughts?
    thank you…love your column.. jo ann

    • Jo Ann, I touch on the Gist-Rhee connection in my book in the chapter on Rhee’s DC test score erasure fiasco.

  3. Laura h. Chapman permalink

    A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education, to be published in April 2014.
    I look forward to this book. Good summary of some of the leading promoters of unnecessarty and harmful policies.

  4. jo ann permalink

    and not far behind Rhee, is her shadow and fellow colleague from DC Debbie Gist of RI…and this is what she has to say about RI education. Someone better tell her she needs to move next door to MA for the best schools!

  5. NY Teacher permalink

    I just started this at Petition2Congress. It is very easy to sign, copies are automatically sent to President Obama, and your own senators and your representatives. Please take the time to read and the petition entitled: STOP COMMON CORE TESTING. Thank you.

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