Article by Owl Magazine’s Editorial Staff | Additional Reporting by Megan Dell | Photography by Faras Aamir | Owl Staff
“Parents, take control… If you have questions, confront them!” Robert Small, an Ellicott City resident and parent, voices his concerns about the Common Core academic standards at a 2013 meeting between parents and the Maryland State Department of Education. Small’s outburst led to his arrest for disrupting a school function.
There have been a growing number of concerns regarding these standards, defined by CoreStandards.org as “a set of clear college and career ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.” What is often neglected in this discussion is how the standards were determined and who stands to profit.
According to The Washington Post, the development of Common Core began in 2008. Gene Wilhoit, director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, and David Coleman, President of the College Board, (a testing corporation) asked Bill Gates to “bankroll” the development of a set of national standards since previous attempts to mandate national standards through the federal government had failed. Gates agreed, and through his foundation contributed more than $200 million to promote Common Core.
Meanwhile, President Obama offered a total of $4.35 billion to states willing to participate in the 2009 “Race to the Top” initiative, a measure passed in the wake of the failure of the No Child Left Behind Act. Essentially, any state that agreed to adopt a set of “college ready standards” was granted a chunk of this money; however, if they declined, they would have less funding because of the recession during the previous year.
The majority of states signed on to the Race to the Top mandates by adopting Common Core. According to the Pioneer Institute, the implementation of Common Core will cost an estimated $16 billion over a seven-year period.
In order to align with Common Core standards, new textbooks and computer-based standardized tests were written. According to Educationweek.org, testing companies and organizations such as Pearson, CTB/McGraw-Hill, and Educational Testing Service, among others, were given contracts and awarded hundreds of millions combined. CNBC.com reports, Maryland has a $60 million contract with Pearson.
Microsoft and Apple also stand to profit from the technology used. In Los Angeles alone, the school system spent $1.3 billion purchasing iPads from Pearson for every student, according to Workers.org. Microsoft, founded by Bill Gates, developed Common Core software with Pearson for the Windows 8 platform.
While some critics focus on the corporate profits gained by Common Core measures, teachers’ unions and parents have raised concerns about the increased emphasis on standardized testing.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), questions the connection “between test scores, the effort of teachers and the success of children. It just ignores everything else that goes into learning.”
Due to these misgivings, the AFT recently turned down a $5 million grant from the Gates Foundation.
Bel Air parent Genevieve Elder shares these concerns. “Trying to pack a child full of information to memorize is not learning. Something is coming before the children’s best interest,” says Elder.
Additional concerns regarding the drafting of the standards come from other education professionals.
Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch says, “The writers of the standards included no early childhood educators, no educators of children with disabilities, no experienced classroom teachers; indeed, the largest contingent of the drafting committee were representatives of the testing industry.”
Dr. Sandra Stotsky was the English language arts specialist on the Common Core validation committee; however, she did not sign off on the final report approving the standards and has become a vocal critic of the standards.
Stotsky shares, “Common Core was/is not about high-quality national education standards. CCSSI was and is about how to lower the academic level of what states require for high school diplomas and for admission to public colleges.”
How could this impact HCC? Currently, high school students take an ACCUPLACER test to determine readiness for HCC entry-level credit courses, such as ENG 101.
“Roughly 60% of all HCC students enrolled in credit-bearing college classes require one or more transitional course,” according to HCC Professor Chris Jones, who previously served on the Statewide Common Core Algebra II Curriculum Committee.
However, Jones shares, once the Common Core “PARCC” tests are implemented, high school juniors who receive 4 or 5 (out of 5) on the tests will be eligible to enroll in entry-level credit courses without taking placement tests at HCC. But will they be ready for college level material?
Additional academic concerns include the implementation of the standards. No pilot testing was done to determine the effectiveness of the new standardized tests and the testing was not phased in. Teachers also report a need for more training, according to Education Week Research Center.
“Many schools and teachers were unable to update their curriculum before they were rushed to test students according to the new standards,” explains Diann Woodard, the President of the American Society of School Administrators.
Ravitch adds, “Common Core Standards are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs. Almost all trying an unknown program at the same time.”
Another element of Common Core standards that many find troubling is the fact that they were never voted on by Congress or the state and local governments.
Why is it, then, that billionaires and corporations are deciding what is the best way for our children to learn?
Instead of relying solely on standardized testing, we should give more credit to teachers to evaluate student performance.
Perhaps the U.S. should take note of countries like Scotland, “the best educated country in Europe,” according to a report by the Office for National Statistics in the U.K.
“In Scotland, national education policy emphasizes a wide range of approaches to assessment, including presentations, performances and reports,” shares NPR.org.” These are designed to measure higher-order skills like creativity, students’ well-being and technological literacy as well as traditional academics. Schools and teachers have a lot of control over the methods of evaluation.”
In a democratic society, the people should be involved in the process of determining how its citizens are educated. That means organizing or joining grassroots efforts to make the voices of parents, teachers, and students heard.