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The Core of the Problem: Common Core Initiative Is Unaffordable and Trashes State Sovereignty - By Joel Aaron

February 08, 2013 J

Wow, have I got a deal for you! I’m the federal government and I’ll give you $400 million dollars to set up an education program that will cost you $585 million dollars to implement over 7 years. I’ll do this in exchange for virtually all of the control over your State’s education standards, curriculum and student privacy so that I can prepare your students for an inferior experience in higher education at a nonselective community college rather than a four year-university. What do you say, Howie Mandel? Deal or no deal? In 2012, Georgia said “deal” and signed on the dotted line! (NOTE: The Georgia General Assembly still has time in the 2013 session to rebut the “deal”, return the money and get out of the game, as they should).

This raw deal is called the Common Core Initiative and it comes in exchange for Race to the Top federal funding for Georgia. It equals a loss of state sovereignty from a fed-driven program seeking to control student achievement standards and curriculum development. All of this for an initiative that costs more than it distributes in benefits, according to a commissioned study by Washington-DC based Accountability Works. It is an effort that claims a “college-readiness” goal, while, in reality, dumbs down student preparedness. In other words, a bad apple all around.

Loss of State sovereignty in education
The adoption of the program in 45 states was fast-tracked without legislative input based upon a carefully crafted timeline that virtually insured a hasty process with federal dollars on the table for a very short window. The Standards were developed with funding from a number of private foundations, administered by two DC-based trade groups, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The grants were awarded to their preferred DC-based contractor, Achieve, Inc., for the purposes of developing a “common set of K-12 standards” that are “substantially identical across all States in a consortium.” The Department of Education (DOE) admitted the “goal of common K-12 standards is to replace the existing patchwork of State standards [currently in existence]”. When the DOE announced its Race to the Top state education grant program through an allocation from the 2009 “Stimulus Bill”, it adopted the Standards and objectives laid out by this DC-led Standards consortium. Among other things, eligibility for Race to the Top grants required states to demonstrate a carte blanche commitment to Common Core before the Standards were even finished without an opportunity to study them, pilot them, discuss them with legislators and citizens or study the fiscal impact. Achieve warned that “states [like Georgia] who adopt [the Common Core Standards] are expected to adopt them in their entirety.”

Breaking the bank with a fiscal black hole
DOE’s coercive efforts toward state adoption is somewhat understandable once you realize the implementation costs for states and taxpayers; it far outweighs the fiscal benefits dangled by the grant money received. Common Core involves increased cost in at least four areas: textbooks and instructional materials, professional development, assessments, and technology and infrastructure for carrying out the computerized assessments. Many states have not conducted due diligence on the costs, though, the Center on Education Policy – a pro-Common Core group – reports 30 of 32 states responding admit to the difficult task of finding resources. Accountability Works estimates Georgia will experience a minimum $185 million dollar implementation gap over 7 years; our little stake in a $15.8 billion dollar nationwide gap that state taxpayers will face in order to implement Common Core.

Race to the Middle – Student dumbing down through curriculum shift
A 2010 study of the pro-Common Core Thomas Fordham Institute admits that the Standards are inferior to those of several states and no better than those of about a dozen states. Former Texas Commissioner of Education, Robert Scott, pointed to Georgia’s relatively high education standards as an argument against the need for starting over, at a recent legislator dinner in Atlanta.

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, a member of the Common Core Validation Committee and professor at the University of Arkansas, surmises that Common Core’s English language arts standards are defective and “…weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework.” She pegs the reading levels that common core tests currently deem acceptable at about 7th grade. The humanities and social studies curriculum de-emphasizes classic literature in favor of so-called “informational texts”. This, effectively, waters down critical thinking skills as it avoids teaching context.

The Common Core math standards are no better. Stanford University Mathematics Professor R. James Milgram, also a member of the Validation Committee, concludes that the standards will put students two years behind those of many high-achieving countries, such as those in East Asia.

Privacy threats to parental and student rights
Federal statute formerly prohibited the Department of Education from maintaining a national student database. The Race to the Top program circumvented this prohibition through the 2009 State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. The Fund’s accessibility provisions require states to build state longitudinal data systems (SLDS) to collect data on public schools students. All 50 states complied. According to DOE, the intent is to “capture, analyze, and use student data from preschool to high school, college, and the workforce”.

What does it all mean?
Former Texas Commissioner of Education, Robert Scott, addressed Georgia lawmakers in early February, pointing out some of the possible motivations and implications of Common Core. They include the creation of a national marketplace for organizations involved in curriculum publication, streamlining and standardization of curricula, circumvention of the normal oversight and authority reserved for state and school level education systems, and an elimination of open records and intermediaries from the curriculum writing process. It means a loss of local tradition, a re-training for educators under an entirely new pedagogy, a threat of politicization of the classroom, and more.

Robert S. Eitel and Kent D. Talbert, former deputy general counsel and general counsel, respectively of the U.S. Department of Education, concluded that “these standards and assessments will ultimately direct the course of elementary and secondary study in most states across the nation, running the risk that states will become little more than administrative agents for a nationalized K-12 program of instruction…” Considering the circumstances, the parental outcry on behalf of our children should be reaching a crescendo right about now.

Joel Aaron is the Communications Director of Americans For Prosperity Georgia.

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