Common Core opposition is no joke
Published on -6/5/2014, 10:09 AM
It's hard to tell what's a bigger joke: Common Core or Common Core critics. Right-wing hysteria that Common Core will turn our children into gay socialists -- not kidding about that one -- is overshadowing legitimate reasons to oppose it. The problem with Common Core isn't Barack Obama is brainwashing our children. It's that the brand new curriculum is being ruined by the same old tests.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative began innocently enough under George W. Bush. Governors and state education officials convened to determine what to teach our children in math and English to get them ready for college. Then Obama got elected and offered competitive grants to states through Race to the Top, whereupon Common Core became an insidious plot to destroy America.
It's gotten a little out of hand. In March, a Florida state representative said the purpose of Common Core was to "attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can." The Oklahoma legislature just voted to repeal Common Core standards because, as one state representative said, it was "indoctrinating" children into socialism. An Alabama tea party leader warned legislators voting to adopt Common Core would damn them to hell because it promoted "acceptance of homosexuality, alternate lifestyles, radical feminism, abortion, illegal immigration and the redistribution of wealth."
I am neither kidding nor done. The American Family Association predicted Common Core would make it impossible for children from right-thinking families to survive in secular society, forcing the creation of "a parallel society" with a "parallel economy, parallel job opportunities." Not to be outdone, WorldNetDaily warned Common Core would turn America into Nazi Germany.
Amid this cacophony of kooky, it can be easy to chalk up the opposition to a different strain of Obama Derangement Syndrome. But most of the opposition to Common Core deals with how standardized testing has turned schools into a "massive stressball," in the words of comedian and public-school parent Louis C.K.
When Louis C.K. went on a Twitter rant to his 3.4 million followers about how the pressure had made his daughters miserable, people noticed. "My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!" he tweeted.
Suddenly, the country's education policy was getting more press than Benghazi. He took criticism from Newsweek and Vox about how he didn't understand how Common Core was raising standards. That criticism misses the point that with Common Core, the testing tail is wagging the teaching dog just as it was under No Child Left Behind. As Louis C.K. explained during an appearance on David Letterman's show, it's the testing -- not the standards -- that was stressing his kids.
"Well, the way I understand it, if a school's kids don't test well, they burn the school down. It's pretty high-pressure," he said. "And the tests are written by people nobody knows who they are. It's very secretive. ... (Teachers and students) prepare for these tests for a long time. A lot of the year is about the test. Teaching to the test they call it."
Actually, we do know who writes the tests: Pearson, the world's largest testing company. The testing giant has been working hard behind the scenes to make sure it would cash in on Common Core, sometimes illegally. Last December, Pearson paid $7.7 million in New York state to settle accusations it used its charitable foundation to help its for-profit parent company develop course materials and software for Common Core.
If you thought that would disqualify them from the Common Core bonanza, you filled in the wrong little oval. In May, Pearson won the testing contract for Common Core states. We don't know how much money this is, but at $24 per student, we could be looking at the largest testing contract in history.
It's fun to mock the paranoid tea party rantings. There's no way Common Core will turn our children into gay socialists. Only ice-skating while singing "Let It Go" can do that. But because high-pressure standardized testing still is the stick we use to measure schools, Common Core could make your children hate learning. And that's no joke.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and the Quorum Report.