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Sol Stern Thinks Common Core Is About “Rich Curriculum”

April 6, 2014

If one is going to entitle a post, A Sorry Attack on the Common Core, which is what Sol Stern did on March 2, 2014, one should really be certain that one’s logic is flawless.

Otherwise, someone might come along and write a post that rips through those weaknesses in logic and, well, show just how “sorry” a rebuttal the Sorry post is.

There was sooo much to address regarding Stern’s Sorry post that my original draft ran upwards 4,000 words. In order to reduce the length, I cut some sections and included them here for those who wish to read on.

Who Is Sol Stern? Setting the Stage

Who is Sol Stern? you ask.

Allow me to provide some background on Stern and his involvements.

Stern is a Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI) “scholar.” The MI has a board of trustees noticeably heavy on hedge fund managers; it should come as no surprise that MI promotes “economic choice”;  “market-oriented policies,” and “free market ideas.”

In other words, MI is a cousin to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC initially opposed CCSS; however, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush stepped in and changed that. Now ALEC “does not stand against” CCSS.

Stern also promotes E.D. Hirsch’s curriculum, Core Knowledge (CK), which was purchased by Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify in 2013. Some of the CK materials are free for download. However, keep in mind that Amplify is a for-profit company already profiting from CCSS and that for-profit companies give away free samples in order to bolster future profits.

Moreover, Stern is associated with the Fordham Institute; he coauthored this CCSS-praising piece with Fordham Institute policy fellow Katherine Porter-Magee, one of the co-authors of the July 2010 Fordham report in which all state standards were graded and compared to CCSS.

In the article with Porter-Magee, Stern maintains that CCSS is “rigorous” and cannot understand “why prominent conservatives” would “criticize” CCSS.

Stern is not a teacher, nor has he ever been a teacher. But he is married to a Manhattan, NY, high school teacher. Not sure if she is under the so-called Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The CCSS “Train”

In his Sorry Attack, Stern states that the CCSS train “has left the station.” What he does not acknowledge is that 46 governors and state superintendents signed on with the federal government to promote CCSS in 2009 before there was “a train.”

Who signs on for a set of standards for his or her entire state without any idea about what those “standards” will be, or will cost, or will require? Who signs on without any evidence that said “standards” will contribute positively to student learning?

Apparently 46 governors and state superintendents do.

Indeed, Stern admits that “we” won’t know if CCSS works until “we” use the American schools as a “laboratory.”

Stern is all for instituting CCSS and then seeing if it works.

Mind you, in the same Sorry article, Stern criticizes Peter Wood for supposedly not having “evidence” to support his opposition to CCSS:

Unfortunately, two recent Minding the Campus articles here and here denouncing the Standards and the newly reconfigured SAT exam by Peter Wood, the admirable president of the National Association of Scholars, contribute little of value to this critical conversation. That’s because his vitriolic attack on the Common Core is mostly evidence-free. [Emphasis added.]

So it is okay to make America’s classrooms “laboratories” but it is not okay for Wood to voice opposition unless his concerns are already cemented in research to Stern’s liking??

Not good enough, Mr. Stern.

However, Stern’s real focus is not even on the admittedly-unproven CCSS but on the CK curriculum. Notice his shift in focus at the outset of his Sorry article:

Although the Common Core train has left the station, we still don’t know whether it will reach its destination of producing more literate and knowledgeable citizens. So it would be useful to have an informed debate about how the states, our “laboratories of democracy,” are doing in implementing the Standards and particularly whether they are moving forward with fidelity to the Common Core’s call for a restored American curriculum built with “rich content knowledge.”  [Emphasis added.]

The CCSS website is quick to note that CCSS is not a curriculum.

Via the catchwords, “rich content knowledge,” it seems that Stern assumes CCSS will lead to CK. His link above, “left the station,” leads to an article lauding CK creator E.D. Hirsch:

No matter how the debate over national standards plays out—and it may never be resolved—one undeniably positive development has resulted from all this. For the first time in almost half a century, education administrators and policymakers around the country are seriously discussing the role of a content-based curriculum in raising student achievement. And that means long-overdue recognition of the ideas of E. D. Hirsch, one of America’s greatest but also most neglected education reformers. [Emphasis added.]

Stern doesn’t care so much about CCSS. He honestly believes that for-profit, test-driven reform will actually lead to “content-rich curriculum”– specifically, to CK curriculum.

I repeat: Stern’s vision is for American public education to follow the CK curriculum, and he believes the politically-orchestrated CCSS will somehow translate into a national following (??) of E.D. Hirsch’s CK:

Until the Common Core Standards arrived, Hirsch and his supporters had little luck convincing [New York] school districts that the key to lifting student academic achievement is a coherent, grade-by-grade curriculum. Now, with the states’ adoption of the Standards and their commitment to complement them with “a well-developed, content-rich curriculum,” there is an opening to do just that. … After a quarter-century of neglect by the education establishment, this is a redemptive moment for E. D. Hirsch. 

Stern, I have to tell you– you are so out of the loop.

CCSS is the hub of a political machine called “education privatization via test-based reform.” The endgame is not “content rich knowledge.”

Higher test scores, Mr. Stern.  All for higher test scores, so that America can be like South Korea– with its label as “the most suicidal society” for its citizens wanting its government to care about them– so much so that the South Korean government had to ban sale of certain pesticides to reduce the suicide rate.

What will you say, Mr. Stern, when your revered E.D. Hirsch’s CK morphs into a brain-numbing test-prep vehicle? Consider that Hirsch’s selling his beloved CK to Amplify could well result in “content rich curriculum” destruction– that Amplify needs CCSS-connected curriculum in order to advance standardized test construction.

So much for unfettered minds reaping the benefits of  CK content richness.

The top-down trickery and punitive intent behind CCSS “adoption” preclude the healthy, free classroom atmosphere necessary for fostering a “content rich curriculum.”

Nothing illustrates this better than the “voluntary” nature of CCSS adoption (tongue in cheek) laced with, shall we say, “federal fiscal incentives.”

Federal Overrreach

Stern criticizes Peter Wood for his concerns about federal coercion in luring states into signing on for CCSS:

Fueling Wood’s discontent is his belief that the Common Core Standards were part of a “deceptive and probably illegal” power grab by the Obama administration, transferring a lot of power over the nation’s schools from local districts and state governments to the federal government. The deception, he believes, comes from the Common Core being sold as “voluntarily” adopted by the states; the illegality comes from disregarding “statutory law that prohibits the federal government’s involvement in creating school curricula.” 

Stern maintains that if people believe CCSS is illegal, there would have been a lawsuit by now, and that no such lawsuit means people really know CCSS is not illegal:

The lawyers argue that the Standards were forced on the states in violation of established constitutional principles and statutory law prohibiting the federal government from imposing curriculum on the nation’s schools:

The lawyers’ brief is nothing more than a bluff by the anti-Common Core activists. Lawyers make arguments all the time about the meaning of the Constitution and federal laws. It’s one of the things they do for their clients. But what makes a legal claim true or not true is not what lawyers say, but rather what judges and juries do in a court of law. With so many disgruntled parents and teachers available for a class action lawsuit, you might think that the Pioneer Institute (or one of the other anti-Common Core groups) would have been eager to test the argument about the illegality of the Common Core Standards in a court of law. The fact that they haven’t done so suggests that they realize they would be laughed out of court. [Emphasis added.]

First of all, it isn’t over yet. Who is to say there are no lawsuits against the federal government for such overreach in the making?

Second, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, Subpart Two, Section 9527(c)(1) is straightforward in restricting federal government connection of funding with either content or standards:


(1) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law, no State shall be required to have academic content or student academic achievement standards approved or certified by the Federal Government, in order to receive assistance under this Act. [Emphasis added.]

The CCSS MOU (memorandum of understanding) is part of the Race to the Top (RTTT) application. Furthermore, even if states use their own standards, in his 2010 Blueprint for ESEA reauthorization, President Obama and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan require states to submit research justifying their standards– research that the federal government will use to judge state standards and decide whether states are eligible for Title I money.

Federal money clearly tied to student academic achievement standards.

ESEA pronounces this as illegal.

Consider also this excerpt from the 1970 General Education Provisions Act, which Peter Wood also cites:

No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, or to require the assignment or transportation of students or teachers in order to overcome racial imbalance. [Emphasis added.]

Offering money for CCSS adoption is a form of control, and CCSS does constitute a “program of instruction.”

Who knows? Maybe someone will sue now, Mr. Stern.

But there is more.

“Voluntary” CCSS

Stern maintains that CCSS adoption is truly voluntary since five states did not adopt and have faced no consequences:

Wood also writes that the public has been sold the grand “deception” that the Common Core Standards were adopted “voluntarily” by the states. But he fails to mention or account for the fact that five states declined to adopt the Standards in the first place, yet weren’t penalized in any way. That alone seems to make use of the word “voluntary” perfectly apt. [Emphasis added.]

Ahh, Mr. Stern, CCSS adoption is far from “voluntary” for the thousands of stakeholders affected by it.

Only two individuals were required to sign on for each state: The governor and the state superintendent.

They signed a contract, like this one from Louisiana, with the federal government– in 2009.

In Louisiana’s case, only 29 out of 69 districts voted to adopt CCSS– in 2010. (Governor Bobby Jindal and then-State Superintendent Paul Pastorek had already signed the contract but had not yet submitted it.)

In 2010, the USDOE changed their CCSS submission rules to allow a governor and state superintendent to sign onto CCSS regardless of how many districts endorsed the idea.

In June 2010, Louisiana was officially tied to CCSS.

Cut to April 2014.

Paul Pastorek is no longer state superintendent.

Bobby Jindal is distancing himself from CCSS.

However, removal from CCSS now requires legislative action– a much messier, more complex situation than the two signatures required to bind Louisiana to CCSS.

My school district did not want CCSS in the first place, nor did the majority of Louisiana school districts.

We’re stuck with it, anyway.

Hardly voluntary, Mr. Stern.

CCSS is political. It has little to do with authentic education.

In the current top-down, corporate reform atmosphere, stakeholder voice is not ignored in genuine education decision making.

David Coleman

Wood is concerned about the “dumbing down” of CCSS math and of the SAT in order to accommodate a lowered college-entrance expectation.  Stern says that Wood offers no evidence. However, in his ugly post criticizing education historian Diane Ravitch, Stern acknowledges the perception that America’s college freshmen are “dumb”:

The widespread sense of how “dumb” the country’s college freshmen are nowadays was a big reason the nation’s governors called for the development of the Common Core Standards. 

What is… naive here (I’ll forego calling it “dumb”) is that the governors “called for” CCSS. In his Sorry article, Stern dismisses the idea that David Coleman “orchestrated” CCSS.

According to Stern, the governors conceived CCSS.

In May 2013, Coleman spoke at the Harvard Center for Educational Policy Research. He offered the following information on the who called whom to CCSS:

When I was involved in convincing governors and others around this country to adopt these standards,” Coleman stated, “it was not ‘Obama likes them’ – do you think that would have gone well with the Republican crowd? [Emphasis added.]

Clear enough?

Following his CCSS sale, Coleman then becomes president of College Board. His bio bills him as an “educator,” a term in corporate reform parlance that means “I have a prominent role in education yet have little to no classroom teaching experience.”

Like Stern, Coleman has no classroom experience.

In my book, Chronicle of Echoes: Whos’ Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (due for release any day now, in April 2014), I have a chapter on Coleman and his CCSS.

To doubt that Coleman is playing a central role in “aligning” college entrance with CCSS high-school exit is to deny the fast-tracking nature of corporate reform “rising stars.”

Part of Stern’s disbelief extends from Coleman’s age:

In Wood’s telling, Coleman orchestrated the Common Core Standards and then, in partnership with the Obama administration, imposed them on the states — all in order to lower standards and dumb down K-12 education. To accommodate the millions of new Common Core (mis)educated high school graduates, Coleman then reinvented the SAT, thus forcing the colleges to lower their entrance requirements. And this near revolutionary transformation of American education — for “social justice” purposes, according to Wood – has unfolded in little more than five years.  Quite a coup for the 43 year old Mr. Coleman. [Emphasis added.]

No coup at all, Mr. Stern. Corporate reform promotes “young” privatizing “talent”:

CCSSO CEO Chris Minnich is 33 years old.

Louisiana State Superintendent John White is 38 years old.

Teach for All (the international version of Teach for America) CEO Wendy Kopp is 46 years old.

Former DC Chancellor and StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee is 44 years old.

Stand for Children founder Jonah Edelman is 43 years old.

Each of the above individuals advocates for the divesting of the traditional public school in favor of for-profit “reform.”

Just like Diane Ravitch has shown time and again.

Time to Close

Mr. Stern, there is a calculated attack on public education. I realize that you don’t want to believe it is true. You refused to see as much in Ravitch’s Reign of Error. Perhaps you would have liked the book better had she only mentioned your hero, E.D. Hirsch.

Wake up, Stern. Corporate reform does not care about “rich curriculum.” It cares about high test scores. It cares about “no excuses” and privately-managed education that is attractive to hedge fund investors. It cares about a disposable teaching profession that does not require pension funding.

As far as corporate reform is concerned, your 2012 words regarding the bypassing of your hero still hold true:  “…E. D. Hirsch [is] one of America’s greatest but also most neglected education reformers.”

However, in your criticism of Ravitch, you note that “this could have been her moment, just as it is Hirsch’s.”

As of April 4, 2014, Diane Ravitch’s blog has had 11,108,489 page views for 7641 posts. She has 11,430 followers on her blog and an additional 81,964 followers on Twitter.

On Twitter: Education privatizer Michelle Rhee is behind Ravitch by 16,000.

Every time Ravitch posts, almost 100,000 people receive a notification.

Her best day on her blog yielded 69,277 views.

One of her posts– regarding the abysmal treatment of North Carolina teachers– has been viewed by more than 300,000 readers.

And this on a blog that is not yet two years old.

You don’t need to concern yourself about her not “having her moment.” She certainly has her moment with me and thousands of others directly affected by corporate reform. I am not the “destructive radical on the education Left” that you accuse Ravitch of “ending up with.” I am a classroom teacher of over twenty years, and I am well aware of the attacks on my profession.

I live them in the classroom– not in the think tank.

When my book comes out this month, you should read it. I have 24 chapters on key individuals and organizations exploiting American public education. The book is 508 pages. A full 100 pages are references.

If after reading my work you still believe that the intentional destruction of public education is a myth– and that the goal of CCSS is to advance CK curriculum– then sorry is the word I reserve for your willful blindness.






  1. The CC$$ is about a rich curriculum!!!!!

    OMG. I can hardly type for laughing!!!!!

    • I had to re-read parts because I just couldn’t believe anyone could be that dumb.

      “Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” G.K. Chesterton

  2. Elle permalink

    Sol Stern’s arguments (sigh)…words fail me. Luckily, they don’t fail you, Mercedes. You were (unnecessarily) kind to substitute the word “naïve” for “dumb.”

    BTW…Is the Jonah Edelman you mention the son of Children Defense Fund’s Marian Wright Edelman? If so, WTH!? What will universal pre-K become if he’s an advocate?

  3. bestbookihavenotread permalink

    Reading your posts give me hope. I’m buying the book as soon as it’s out. Thank you for being a voice for public educators in the United States

  4. Mercedes,

    Have you seen this video yet?

    I think you’ll find it interesting.



  5. Peter permalink

    There is something really naive and sad about the folks who want to argue that CCSS will somehow lead to flowering of deep scholarship and rich content in classrooms. How delusional do you have to be to believe that we’ll be giving super-high-stakes tests, but folks will just ignore them and go have scholarly discussions about the classics.

    • Laura permalink

      Wondering what connection Engage NY has with Core Knowledge, districts across California are piloting or in some cases just told to use. Many teachers were sold to pilot modules so they can get a head start on what is coming. The modules are convoluted, verbose, scripted with worksheets that take little consideration of format, they confuse little ones rather than clarify thinking. It includes the infamous Mesopotamia unit in first grade. Why is this curriculum being promoted to districts nationally?
      How are the CC$$ standards not a package of tests and national curriculum?

  6. 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.

  7. BEnjammin permalink

    Where I get your book?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider Takes Down Sol Stern, A Defender of Common Core | GFBrandenburg's Blog
  2. Schneider Schools Sol Stern on the Common Core | Diane Ravitch's blog
  3. Anti-Test & Pro-Core | Georgia SchoolWatch
  4. Florida Teacher’s letter on the State of Education | Dr. Rich Swier

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