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Exxon CEO Just Knows Common Core Is the Answer

December 4, 2014

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are advertised on the CCSS website as “ensuring all students are ready for success after high school”:

Today’s students are preparing to enter a world in which colleges and businesses are demanding more than ever before. To ensure all students are ready for success after high school, the Common Core State Standards establish clear, consistent guidelines for what every student should know and be able to do in math and English language arts from kindergarten through 12thgrade.

The standards …are designed to ensure students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers, freshman-level college courses, and workforce training programs.

That is the extent of any documented connection between CCSS and “the demands of business”: Because the CCSS website says so.

No research exists establishing a sound connection between the claims of CCSS as “ensuring all students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers” and actual empirical evidence that it does so. Nevertheless, CCSS is being promoted by the rich and powerful as The Answer to Corporate-declared Skills Gaps.

Take Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson.

On December 3, 2014, Tillerson told MSNBC:

…In conjunction with an organization called Change the Equation, we surveyed their member companies, as well, and what we found is that 98 percent of CEOs identify skills gap as a serious issue for their companies. Today there are somewhere north of 4 million jobs open simply because we cannot find the right skilled employees to fill those jobs. Now, this is symptomatic of an education system that is not delivering. So, the Roundtable’s education and workforce committee is focused upon, how do we make improvements in K through 12 education? …How do we incentivize states to put in high standards and to put in assessment capability to test their performance against those standards? …The real critical issue, though, is improving educational outcome in the K through 12 system. 

December 3, 2014, Dallas News article continues by noting that Tillerson believes CCSS to be that “skills gap” solution:

“Some have found it opportunistic” to paint Common Core as an example of federal overreach, [Tillerson] said. “But what the common core is not is a mandate on your curriculum. And yet it has been described as the federal government telling you what you will teach. It is anything but that.”

Tillerson believes that Texas has a “skills gap” that CCSS will solve.

Now, Tillerson is the CEO of Exxon, which is located in Texas– Texas, as in the “Texas education miracle” that former President George W. Bush promoted from the Oval Office as the springboard for his punitive, test-driven No Child Left Behind (NCLB). When it came to test-driven reform, Texas was supposed to have already arrived by the mid-1990s, and by 2014, according to G.W., the rest of the nation was supposed to follow.

Except there never was a “Texas miracle.”

Whereas Texas state test scores rose, so did the eventual dropout rates of frustrated students who were not promoted in school. This contributed to an artificial “improvements” in state tests. However, the supposed gains on the Texas state tests were not corroborated with concurrent gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). (For more on Texas Miracle and NCLB, see Diane Ravitch’s Death and Life of the Great American School System.)

Even though the Texas Miracle was a farce, from 2001 until today, the nation is still saddled with NCLB and its test-score-worshiping focus.

Where the goal is the appearance of a test-driven system, there will be gaming of that system. One issue that is overlooked by the likes of Tillerson in his promotion of “higher” standards is that sometimes, the standards are not higher– but the college expectations become lower. If this were not so in the case of CCSS, there would be no need to bring college admissions tests “in line” with CCSS or insist that higher education conform to CCSS.

All is to be centered on an experimental CCSS.

Texas could not bring itself to be “state led” into CCSS and is one of five states that did not adopt it in the first place.

Untested CCSS is a corporate-and-ed-policy outgrowth of a failed NCLB.

One would think that the test-crazy promoters of CCSS would have tested it first— especially since CCSS is built on NCLB, which is a failure built on yet another– a Texas– failure.

And one would think that the CEO of a major corporation like Exxon would first investigate the connections among CCSS, NCLB, and the supposed Texas miracle that he is now complaining about because it never happened in the first place.

To do so would require Tillerson to admit that the decades of test-score-driven reform in Texas might have actually exacerbated his publicly-lamented, Exxon-employee “skills gap.”

Not likely. Bad for the business of CCSS promotion.

But here is the best part of Tillerson’s December 3, 2014, lament:

“I don’t think the [K-12] schools realize that we’re their customer,” [Tillerson] said. “They need to produce students with skills that allow them to get a job. If they don’t, they are essentially producing a defective product. And in this case, the product is a human being. It’s tragic.” [Emphasis added.]

What is “tragic” is Tillerson’s and other arrogant, entitled CEOs’ twisted perspective that the chief goal of educating human beings is for those human beings to become objects of corporate use.

The end game of education is to convince the 99 percent that the 1 percent is “their customer” in order to milk that 99 percent for as much as is possible— which leads to another important angle, one that involves Exxon’s position as a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC’s) corporate board.

Exxon’s ALEC connection is most pronounced because of the ALEC/Exxon push for fracking. Tillerson is all for fracking until it affects the property value of his ranch. Then, he sues.

But back to ALEC and CCSS:

In December 2011, ALEC actually approved an anti-CCSS resolution. In it, ALEC cited CCSS for having “no empirical evidence” to indicate that “centralized education standards result in higher student achievement.” And though in December 2014 Tillerson tries to convey that CCSS is not “the federal government telling you what to teach,” in 2011, the approved ALEC resolution stated that “imposing a set of national standards is likely to lead to the imposition of a national curriculum and national assessment upon the various states, a clear violation of the Elementary Secondary Education Act…”

So, just to be clear, what Tillerson now calls a “badly distorted… nationwide push for common academic standards” ALEC agreed with even as Exxon served as a member of its corporate board.

Less than a year after voting to approve ALEC’s anti-CCSS stance, in November 2012, former Florida Governor and influential ALEC member Jeb Bush convinced ALEC to rescind its official anti-CCSS stance.

Jeb Bush continues to staunchly support CCSS, and now the CEO of an ALEC corporate board member is right there with him.

One Bush brother screwed up American education with NCLB, and now another stands firmly by yet another test-score-driven, nationwide education experiment in CCSS.

Tillerson ought to use some of that critical thinking he expects of Exxon workers to mull over the facts in this post.


Schneider is also author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education

previti chronicle pic


  1. 2old2tch permalink

    Wasn’t there a time when companies expected to have to train their own workers?

  2. Timmy Mac permalink

    So that’s why my 1st Grader came home with a Chemical Engineering book instead of a Dr. Seuss book. Slacker only knows HALF the periodic table and he’s almost 7! I might have to get him off the “college track” and get him started on a career track. Am I a bad parent if he’s undecided about his career choice before he enters 2nd grade?? This is utterly ridiculous. And the amount of people that nod their heads in agreement when this drivel is read scares the crap out of me.

  3. Love your writing! Can’t wait to read your next book!

  4. Harlan Underhill permalink

    Some people would hear the concept of “objects of corporate use” as “the ability to get a good job.” I see nothing wrong with that, though I am skeptical, along with you that the CCSS will have that effect. ALL wealth in this country comes originally from the private sector through taxes on workers and businesses. The weakest part of the liberal approach to education is its anti-business bias.

  5. Laura chapman permalink

    Defective products….just toss them in the dump unless they meet my needs and can prove they are worthy of living, breathing.
    I think this is not a matter of being anti-business.
    It is about the crass treatment of humans as worthless unless they contribute to a corporate bottom line. You seem to ask that we turn a blind eye to the idea that corporate power does not equate to corporate expertise or values that are always admirable. If corporations were authoritative on maters of wealth and education and you name it, the economy would not have tanked in 2008 and this CEO would care as much about the consequences of fracking on other people’s property as his own ranch.

  6. Corporations and industries have different needs and different management styles—all the standardized testing leading to a rank and yank education culture will not result in what these ignorant and foolish CEOs want in a ready to work employee right out of high school and/or college.

    If Exxon REALLY wanted workers coming out of public high schools ready to work for Exxon’s corporate environment, then why not develop partnerships with local high schools/colleges and implement internship programs and develop specific vocational classes that students may voluntarily take that result in a certificate in addition to a high school degree upon graduation?

    The public high school where I taught for the last 16 years of my three decades as a classroom teacher had a vocational certificate partnership program with local business and industries, and it’s still there after several decades.

    But what if they are not ignorant and foolish and this is what they really want and it has nothing to do with being ready to work out of high school and/or college?

    • Lloyd, Tillerson spoke of such partnerships with community colleges, but just until K12 if “fixed,” so to speak. Foolish.

      • This is the same reasoning coming out of the Obama White House and Arne Duncan’s DOE explaining why the RTTT and CCSS insane, testing mania leading to ranking, yanking teachers and closing public schools came first, and the national early childhood education program was planned to roll out in 2015, when the White House asks support of Congress to fund the program with $75 billion.

        It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that the $75 billion will go to private sector corporate Charters, and the public schools will be left out of the program if it is funded.

        And it also makes sense that if the $75 billion is intended for the private sector to take over a national early childhood eduction program, there is a strong chance the GOP dominated Senate and House will approve the Bill—-unless Tea Party Republicans balk and protest forming an alliance with non neo-liberal Democrats in Congress to stop it.

        This is the same as filling a cart with a heavy cargo without a horse to pull it, and then expecting the cart to take off and reach its destination on time. And when the cart doesn’t make it, they blame it on the driver even though he was ordered to get the cart there on time without the horse.

  7. Exxon set records for the highest profits in the history of humankind in recent years, so they know something about success. But their success comes by exploiting others, by gouging consumers at the pump every day, mega-consolidation, buying politicians and lobbying them so they subsidize “exploration” costs. So Exxon is one of the nation’s biggest welfare queens.

    Exxon is also anti-education because they are anti-science, funding studies to seed doubt about climate change so they are committed long-term to polluting the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels for profit.

    It’s so ironic that Exxon is so big and powerful because they were Esso, or Standard Oil who was the poster child for monopoly control and under-handed market-manipulating cutthroat capitalism in the US, and they are doing it all over again.

    What I don’t get is why Exxon’s corporate board doesn’t care about the Earth and sky that their kids will inherit, its as if they’re willing to live a life of excess today and screw their own.

  8. Exxon has been up to these antics for some time now. They were an early innovator in pushing the ultimate testing metric – the AP exam – even before Lord Coleman ascended to his College Board throne. The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), begun under Tom Luce, failed Texas gubernatorial candidate and later undersecretary for Education under George W., was funded by Exxon Mobile. (All good things used to come from Texas; nowadays it’s Chicago.)

    NMSI pushed what became AP’s for all, spawning “verticle alignment” in math and science curricula served with a healthy side $$$ portion of consultants, workbooks, software, CD’s, texts, and of course test fees. Contemporaneously, those teaching AP classes had to, for the first time, develop and submit (on their own time and uncompensated) to the College Board an original curriculum for approval. Here in Massachusetts, the local flavor – MMSI – also included merit pay to teachers for student scores of 3 and above.

    See: where you can see the usual lies: The US is falling behind in the global knowledge economy and testing will solve that.

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