Common Core: Walmart's Answer to Education in the Age of Austerity

 “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

― Nelson Mandela

Education is, indeed, the key to changing the world.  As our forefathers declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. . . that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Declaration of Independence

But, what’s happening in the name of education reform today is not going to change the world in the way that Mandela or the authors of The Declaration of Independence meant.  In America, under the guise of education reform, an initiative called Common Core is an insurance policy issued by some of the most powerful think tanks and foundations of both the left and right to mega-corporations, such as Walmart.  Ultimately, Common Core, through its behaviorist methods, will provide legions of workers educated-in-name-only, ready to accept low-wages inside union-less quasi-sweatshop service jobs.  The 1% gets wealthier while the 99% are mired deeper into austerity and have no recourse but to accept these conditions set by employers.

Poor education can lead to poverty and desperation.  Walmart, along with many any other big-box retailers, welcome the poor and uneducated.   Profits will continue to roll in while goods are produced in foreign countries by cheap labor, and free trade is the handout from the government to corporations.  Never mind that an educated workforce means more consumer spending, happier families with equal opportunities, a content population of highly-skilled workers in jobs they like; in other words, a prosperous United States of America with a strong education system, low poverty, and equality for all.

Common Core is an insurance policy for mega-corporations, and following close behind in the fine print is the proliferation of charter schools and vouchers, and all are to the detriment of our schools and our society.  As Diane Ravitch, NYU Research Professor of Education, (blogs at dianeravitch.net) puts it, “Charters and vouchers are not only privatization, but they promote greater segregation and social stratification.” 

Common Core (CC) standards in math and English have been written under the direction of two authors:  David Coleman and Susan Pimental, who work for Achieve, an organization founded in 1996 by governors and Fortune 500 CEOs for the sole purpose of writing these standards. The development of science and social studies/history are yet to be developed.  Here are a few of the major funders of Common Core:

  • The Walton Family Foundation (richest family in America worth $93 billion; spent $3.8 million alone opening charter schools just in Chicago)(1)(2)
  • Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (touts education reform while using donations from for-profit companies to lobby for state education laws that could benefit those companies)(3)
  • Bradley Foundation (funded conservative think-tanks with $1.4 million since 2001 to skew the results of public survey regarding the support of privatization)(4)
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (granddaddy of them all, the Gates’ have committed $76 million to CC plus at least $150 million in grants to push privatization)(5)(6)

Bill Gates is a major player in Common Core’s assault on education, and he has proclaimed himself an expert in education.  He loves the idea of school privatization.  You can read more about his stance in New Jersey City University Professor of Education Lois Weiner’s blog How to understand that "fawning interview" with Bill Gates - look to the World Bank  http://newpol.org/content/how-understand-fawning-interview-bill-gates-lo... Here is Gates’ revealing interview:  http://www.fastcompany.com/3007841/tech-forecast/bill-gates-education-we...

Many prosperous, highly influential foundations  have poured billions into Common Core, but little is known about its success rate as CC is barely a pilot project in a few school districts. Where CC has been adopted, the reports have been wholly negative.  The Missouri pilot, as described by a Joplin teacher (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-turner/the-common-core-nightmare_b_3521825.html) has been disastrous for teachers and students.   Michigan and Indiana have passed legislation of a “pause” in the implementation of CC.  There are mixed reviews, but even teachers who have something positive to say about CC also have numerous questions about the future of public education.  http://stateimpact.npr.org/indiana/2013/01/30/as-indiana-starts-transition-to-common-core-teachers-split-on-new-standards/   Michelle Rhee (former chancellor of DC public schools and a proponent of “transforming” education), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan received plenty of criticism and bi-partisan pushback in Michigan.  http://www.mlive.com/education/index.ssf/2013/06/common_core_standards_funding.html

Why would states blindly accept an initiative that gives them so little information and asks for no input from the States or from administrators  and teachers?  Here are a few reasons:

1)  Cash for public vs. private--School districts are being de-funded by federal and state governments.  So much of taxpayer dollars are being routed into charter schools, which are private schools funded by taxpayers, with uncertified, inadequately trained teachers, with no school boards to answer to, and additionally funded by conservative foundations and corporations.   The money for private charter schools is being usurped from public schools, especially those in poor districts.  In Wisconsin, Gov. Walker’s new budget includes $7,000 per student for private voucher schools, but only $150 increase per child in public schools; therefore, voucher schools receive, on average, about $300 more per student in most Wisconsin districts.  http://www.greenbay.k12.wi.us/Hot-Topics/Documents/Vouchers/handout%203.pdf   So what are cash-strapped districts to do?

2)  Phony Promises --Federal grants called Race to the Top have been promised to the states IF they adopt the Common Core in its entirety, no questions asked.  However, as in the case of school districts in Arizona, according to a July 7, 2013 article in The Arizona Republic, “When the Arizona State Board of Education approved the new standards in 2010, the state banked on getting a $250 million federal Race to the Top grant to help districts implement the standards. The state got one-tenth of that,”   In fact, it is estimated to cost Arizona $131 million over the next two years to implement CC, and it was reported that many districts are diverting funds from programs funded specifically to aid in educating the poor and English-language learners. “ http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/20121213common-core-funds-lacking.html#ixzz2YNVPTl8z 

3)  Make room for charters--Public schools are being closed across our nation by Wall Street governors (Illinois, Pennsylvania, DC, Michigan to name a few) because the schools are “failing” or enrollment is too low.  Schools are considered to be failing if a high percentage of the students do not pass the rigorous testing being forced onto school districts.  Resources are consistently depleted annually; this leaves the states with the power to close schools or coerce students into private schools.  Poverty, parental involvement, funding, lack of resources (i.e., textbooks and basic supplies) are not taken into consideration when making decisions about closing schools.  This is a losing proposition for most districts, and it is another way for the Obama administration and Congress to weigh our society down with austerity instead of prosperity.  CPS Budget Cuts: Protesters March Against School Closings, Cuts Downtown http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/cps-budget-cuts_n_3480594.html

4)  Children or pigeons?--Common Core is a pavlovian, behaviorist style of learning.  Children will become like the pigeons in B.F. Skinner’s experiments.  The three basic learning styles of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic will not be addressed with the CC standards.  As a former English teacher, GED instructor, and Job Skills teacher of adults, I know you cannot expect a person of any age to learn some facts, be tested, and then declare them successful or not.  Give a cookie, get a response. http://dianeravitch.net/2013/07/05/an-english-teacher-responds-to-common-core/

Common Core standards are confusing and the tests are, apparently, fraught with meaningless drivel.  As David Craig, County Executive of Harford County, Maryland, writes, “According to the Maryland Common Core “Standards for Mathematical Practice,” first-graders are expected to “decontextualize — to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents — and the ability to contextualize, to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved.”  ‘I’m sorry, but that is further out there than Pluto, and I have no idea what that means. Neither will 7-year-olds and their hapless teachers.’ ”  http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jul/12/common-cores-abstraction-distraction/

5)  Special Education students fall prey to privatization--Will Common Core/charters/vouchers meet the needs of special education students?   Special education children often struggle to pass assessments, and when too few students pass, funding is drastically reduced thereby creating the danger of closing schools’ doors.  The special education children will be the victims of more austerity via education reform.  If “disabled” students stay in school, they’ll be relegated to the corners and not given the attention they deserve because if schools have a low success rate, they will not get Race to the Top federal grant money.  http://dianeravitch.net/2013/06/07/teacher-review-this-is-how-common-core-works-in-my-classroom/

Private charters are given funding for special education students, but time and again if these children are admitted, they often are not taught by specially trained teachers.  Private schools also have the option of denying any application for any reason.  If these children are admitted and then charters cannot meet their special needs, these children can simply be removed from the school.  This scenario is not allowed in public schools.  One such case occurred recently.  Kindergartener Trinity was removed from a private voucher school when the school could not deal with the child’s anxiety (even though the State of WI gave the school over $6,000 to provide special instruction just for Trinity).  She was admitted to a Milwaukee public school and thrived where the Milwaukee Public School system served her with NO additional monies from the State.  Some Wisconsin voucher schools struggle to meet needs of students with disabilities  http://www.stevenspointjournal.com/article/20130707/SPJ0101/307070219

6)  Excellent teachers on the chopping block--Teachers will be evaluated based upon their students’ performance on the Common Core standardized tests.  This is simply wrong.  Any good teacher will, of course, give tests, but there are so many other fairer and more interesting ways of evaluating students’ knowledge, i.e., group discussions, visual presentations, listening skills between student partners, and sometimes just talking one-on-one teacher and student.  CC allows no time for innovative teaching; it’s all about rigorous testing and then judging teachers based on test results.  Teachers who engage their students in active learning have already lost their jobs due to performance-based evaluations and being replaced by inexperienced teachers of which many are trained by Teach for America (a teacher training organization pushing charter schools) that have poor track records.  David Patten personally describes this process in the article Teacher: How my job went from great to infuriating http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/04/21/teacher-how-my-job-went-from-great-to-infuriating/

7)  One size does not fit all--Benchmarks are set for kindergarten through 12th grade.  With Common Core, there is little or no time for individual development, play time for elementary students, honing of critical thinking skills, analysis, logic, writing, listening.  These are more important skills to develop than to superficially memorize facts and then regurgitate them on tests.  Common Core touts that its reading program emphasizes the reading of informational pieces, not so much literature that demands critical thinking and analysis.  Many teachers in schools already working with the CC report that their young, elementary students are spending long, grueling hours over days being tested, students are getting frustrated and extremely fatigued, and the CC standards are too institutional and rigid.  Big box test companies are putting profit ahead of students, teachers, and schools.  A Tough New Test Spurs Protest and Tears http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/education/common-core-testing-spurs-outrage-and-protest-among-parents.html?_r=0

8)  Internet, everyone?--Common Core assessments MUST be given online; therefore, all schools will have to be well-equipped with computers and internet access, which is something poorer school districts have struggled with for years.  If they can only afford ten textbooks for every 40 students (yes, that’s a reality), there are no funds left for computers.   In fact, the federal government (through the Department of Education) awarded $330 million dollars to just two big-box digital companies that will administer all the CC assessments to all school districts.  Therefore, not only will mega corporations profit from Common Core, but also digital companies that will administer the tests, and publishing companies such as McGraw-Hill and Pearson Education.  In addition to the problem of resources for computers and internet, many rural areas do not have the bandwidth required to administer the computerized CC tests.  According to nonprofit Education Superhighway, that sampled about 15% of U.S. schools across 18 states, “approximately 59 percent of schools have enough bandwidth to administer basic computer tests, but that only 23 percent have enough bandwidth to handle online tests and textbooks.”   How are the Walton family or Bill Gates or the federal government planning on remedying this problem?  According to an article by Ashley Bateman in Williamsburg, VA, cell phone companies may be required, by the Obama Administration, to raise their E-rates an additional $5 per phone line in order subsidize K-12 technological needs to accommodate Common Core.  http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2013/07/13/feds-may-raise-phone-taxes-fund-common-core-test-taking

It has been affirmed by the parents, teachers, administrators, and the general public that we should be able to compete at a higher level with other countries, especially in math and science.  But, even though austerity makes school systems struggle and flounder, the solution for Americans and our children is not the totalitarian Common Core.  Most studies conclude that poverty is the leading cause of poor results among the K-12 student population.  That doesn’t mean these schools are failing; it means we need to end austerity, help poverty-stricken districts and work with schools to make improvements in the infrastructure.  Teachers must be well-trained and well-equipped to teach our youth.  It does not mean America should throw the system away and start all over at a huge cost to students and huge profits to Walmart and other corporations or to feed the huge egos of Bill Gates and other philanthropists. 

But, if you believe that Walmart deserves employees who are eager to earn low wages, who are okay with having little or no benefits, and who won’t try to organize to fight for workers’ rights, then you might be all for Common Core education reform.   If you want to return to the practice of eugenics and of hiding our disabled, poor, and disadvantaged from society, then you might be all for the Common Core masquerade.

But, if you envision real education reform that will not privatize, but fund public schools with a Wall Street Sales Tax, rebuild infrastructure of run-down schools, and treat every school equally, from Hollywood Hills to Detroit, and effectively educate every child from the poorest to the wealthiest without exception and every student no matter what their development or potential might be, then please join United Front Against Austerity in the fight against Common Core and its cohorts.   Take action.  Tweet, call, email, and write your legislators, go to school board and PTA meetings, write editorials and blogs, express your voice to inform everyone you know about this assault on education.   Here are a few sources to get you started on your own research:

Footnotes:

  1. http://walmart1percent.org/the-walton-family-foundation-how-much-do-they-give-and-to-whom/
  2. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/05/15/1209270/-Marchers-denounce-Walton-Family-Foundation-for-undermining-Chicago-s
  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/03/jeb-bush-education-foundation_n_2802536.html
  4. http://www.onewisconsinnow.org/p-is-for-payoff.pdf
  5. http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/the-ambitions-of-bill-and-melinda-gates-controlling-population-and-public-education
  6. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/05/12/gates-gives-150-million-in-grants-for-common-core-standards/

Additional Resources:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Core_State_Standards_Initiative
  2. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/national-standards/the-problems-with-the-common-c.html
  3. http://www.empoweredga.org/Articles/Spencer/common-core-questioning-success.html
  4. http://www.fairtest.org/common-core-assessments-more-tests-not-much-better
  5. http://www.empoweredga.org/Articles/Spencer/common-core-questioning-success.html
  6. http://www.twincities.com/politics/ci_23356167/wisconsin-deal-would-expand-private-school-vouchers-boost
  7. http://thenotebook.org/blog/136042/major-motive-behind-common-core-profit-not-education
  8. http://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/more-teacher-comments-on-common-core/
  9. http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2013/05/highland-park-teacher-resigns-online-in-frustration-.html
  10. http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/teachers-what-are-your-thoughts-on-the-common-core-standards/