Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reply to Common Core

Reply to Question about Corporate Control Via Common CORE
By Neal Resnikoff

Albany Park Neighbors for Peace and Justice Neal Resnikoff.
Photo courtesy of Substance News.
Reply to Ron Estvan‘s comment.
Ron raises a number of important points for consideration.
Ron is certainly right that the ruling class in the U.S. has always used its power to have education serve its aims. No question about that.

However, Common Core is distinct in its program for public education and students in that it tightens the relationship of the parts, and closes many of the spaces that have been open in schools and for teachers to be innovative and encourage children’s creativity and all-around development.

The (“higher”?) standards set (secretly) by a body of mainly non-educators chosen by corporate funders and initiators  determine everything else in Common Core. That is, there’s a requirement that everything be aligned with the standards, which are not open to change by states or local areas. When a governor of a state signs on to Common Core that means adopting the whole package, starting with  developmentally inappropriate or otherwise  unacceptable standards for each grade.

On unacceptable standards, in Language Arts, for example, “close reading of texts” is commonly to be done without presentation and consideration of historical or social context, or discussion and evaluation of the content of the readings. This particular conception of “close reading” rules out a broad discussion of issues raised by readings, and does not encourage true critical thinking.  I cannot speak knowledgeably about the problems that many critics have raised about standards for math.
There has been a lot of discussion by educators, with many examples, about how developmentally inappropriate the Common Core standards are for elementary school children.
The character of Common Core does have a lot to do with the particular time we’re in.   The U.S. ruling class is in big trouble, especially internationally-- where competitors like Japan, Germany and China threaten to take over the economic lead of U.S. corporations.  And I agree that the U.S. corporations no longer need the same number of highly trained technicians and innovators from the U.S.  In fact, Common Core is designed to have most students fail (for example, with  the test-makers choosing cut-off points for grading tests),  undoubtedly so failing students can be prepared for the rank-and-file of the military and low level jobs--and made to feel that they got “what they deserve.”

The curriculum under Common Core is narrow and tightly controlled with less role for any teachers’ decisions. It’s an oppressive set-up which is expected to produce mostly obedient  graduates who do not think broadly about the rights and wrongs in the society, including students being prepared for management careers. 

Standardized testing, while always suspect in terms of its validity in testing more than class background and ability to take tests, and often used in suspect ways in the past, such as tracking students, did not generally overwhelm the curriculum to the extent it is doing under Common Core.  And, extremely important, the high-stakes tests are now to be systematically used to unfairly judge teachers and schools by how well their students score. Demoralizing teachers isn’t new, but this is more extreme and harder to get around. And there is the related issue of privatizing “failing” schools.
Common Core also has something quite new, which is vast data collection on students (starting in kindergarten, and perhaps pre-kindergarten) through high school (and perhaps beyond),  and their families, on a large scale which will get out (one way or another) to employers, the military, etc.,  and where parents will be unaware or not allowed to opt out. 
Along with this is the new emphasis on use of computers, not only for test-taking but also for monitoring students and using this data to design “corrective” lesson plans and curriculum content. They are also being developed to replace professional teachers with monitors or aides.  So at this point in history the ruling class has more highly developed technology which is being used for greater control in all spheres of life. They’re at the point where they can track individual key strokes on each computer, and have a highly sophisticated method of surveillance where they’ll be able to assess student behaviors and attitudes like never before.

So with all this, it’s  very good that parents and teachers are today more aware of what’s going on than ever before, are generally very angry when they learn what’s going on, and are organizing to say NO to various parts of Common Core and to Common Core as a whole.
At present in Chicago, the drive to opt out of the Common Core PARCC test to be administered in the spring is an important wedge for getting at all of the issues of education that Ron raises.
We cannot afford to take the stand of, in essence, saying that things are the way they are, and there is little we can do. We need to take the stand that the schools should be our schools, that the people should be the decision-makers, not the corporations.
And this is happening across the country.  For example, in New York State, mass opposition to the data collecting corporation led to InBloom going out of business, and parents are watching to see what  ruling class operatives will try to put in next.  In Boulder, Colorado, almost all the high school seniors as a group refused to take required standardized tests.   There is a movement where parents, teachers and students are insisting on being the decision-makers.
And further, besides all the criticism and resistance to Common Core,  there’s very healthy broad discussion going on about what kind of schools and education should be developed for modern democracy to flourish--the role of the arts, discussion of social issues, true critical thinking, and decision-making by students, parents, teachers, people in the wider community.

A good thing that the imposition of Common Core has inadvertently stimulated is wide discussion about what kind of democracy we want. This started when the public learned about the completely undemocratic decision-making involved in the design and implementation of Common Core and began to realize that corporations had directly funded and controlled the whole process of re-shaping public education.
Parents, teachers and the general public have protested against how Common Core further narrows what is being imposed on children and talked about what orientation and focus they want in public education and their right to be involved in making decisions about the orientation and focus of public education in the U.S.

Do we want education to narrowly serve the needs of corporations and their military? Or do we want it to prepare students to become thinking people who can make sound value judgments about the world we are living in and can contribute to making  a new world?
So, to sum up, Common Core is an important development by the ruling class to further control and narrow curriculum-- not to mention privatization and much higher profits by the high-tech, testing, textbook and lesson plan corporations.
We certainly need to analyze what Common Core is and the role it plays. Most importantly, we need to collectively oppose it and insist that we, the people, be the decision makers about schooling and organize to oppose the dangerous direction in all spheres of life being taken by those who now rule the society--and desperately want to have everything under their control.

What do you think?

Neal's comment  (Post on

Neal I think it is important to note that the Illinois learning standards established prior to the implementation of the common core where also fully supported by corporate interests. In fact if you read professor Michael W. Apple's books on the history of U.S. curriculum you will discover text book corporations and psychological/standardized test designers have for close to one hundred years played the critical role in the development of what are now called state standards.
I think your comments over dramatize increased corporate involvement in this area, educational curriculum has always been designed to support the market economy of our nation, the common core is not at all unique in that regard. But where the common core is different in my opinion is in its radical increase in complexity and its presumption that eventually most students with time and supposedly rigorous instruction will be able to master a level of complexity expected of middle class and higher income high school students by as early as late middle school.
There is a deeper agenda here and that is over time to reduce the number of people receiving college credentials hence access to a wide variety of occupations in our nation. The additional complexity of the common core and associated tests will also be used to limit access to two year technical and vocational programs.
While my argument, which follows similar analysis being developed in Europe by left wing economists,runs contrary to the predominate narrative that the U.S. economy needs an ever more highly trained workforce, I believe it to be valid because of globalization. More and more intellectual work in the field of computer science will be moved off shore where individuals with advanced skills and degrees can be had much cheaper than here.
Even the skilled trades are being impacted by this, many structures are now built faster and with fewer workers out of modules that have been produced by computerized machines that in some cases are programmed in part by off shore consultants.
The Common Core can not be extracted from its historical context. Indiana under Republican leadership opposed and rescinded a move to the common core, the learning standards now in place in Indiana still fully reflect the corporate interests that dominate the education of that state's workforce.
Rod Estvan

1 comment:

  1. 1) Neal's right about CC's being a more rigid , nose to the grindstone approach to the classroom. It's qualitatively different from the point that Ron made that education has always reflected the perceived needs of those who in large part control the market economy, i.e. the ruling class. There is less "open space" in a teach to the test environment. CC's also in tandem with the increased importance of extracting big profits from the education sector of capitalist enterprise, a relatively minor player until fairly recently. 2) Separately, there seems to be a contradiction between the assertion that CC's based on the belief that if pushed hard enough, working class 8th graders can perform at the levels currently being achieved by upper middle class high school students and the assertion that the goal is to increasingly exclude students from college and junior college training programs with an eye to hiring cheaper labor abroad. Of course it could be that CC is being pushed from a variety of points of view, all of them reactionary.

    Steve Livingston, retired CTU delegate