Editor’s note: This column is from the March 2011 edition of Townhall Magazine. Be sure to order your subscription today to make sure you get the newest issue.
Over the past few years, a mix of political, corporate and foundation interests has launched American education on a profound and largely unnoted revolution. Its victims are the democratic process, educational freedom, local control and parental authority.
The story dates back decades, but its current phase began in 2007. That year, the Gates and the Eli Broad foundations pledged $60 million to inject their education vision, including uniform “American standards,” into the 2008 campaigns. Then, in May 2008, the Gates Foundation awarded the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy a $2.2 million grant “to work with governors and other key stakeholders” to promote the adoption of standards. The following month, Hunt and the National Governors Association hosted a symposium to explore education strategies.
In December 2008, during the transition to the Obama administration, the NGA, the Council of Chief State School Officers and Achieve, Inc. (an entity founded by NGA, governed by six state governors and six corporate leaders, and funded by several mega-corporations and foundations) set out their education vision in “Benchmarking for Success,” funded by the Gates Foundation. It outlines five “reform” steps, including nationwide standards.
NGA wanted to implement its plan quickly -- and avoid the tedium of the democratic process. If given the chance, the people -- through their elected representatives -- might muck around with, or reject, NGA’s eventual product. (That’s what happened with the Constitution; the people demanded the addition of the Bill of Rights.) The 2009 stimulus bill provided NGA’s breakthrough. It increased the Education Department’s discretionary spending by 25,500 percent, giving it a fresh pot of money and a means to shape state and local curricula without congressional interference.
In March 2009, one month after passage of the stimulus bill, the Education Department announced a two-part “Race to the Top” “national competition” to distribute the money. It tied 14 percent of the proposal evaluation in the first round to commitment to ratifying (with an August 2010 target date) and implementing the standards. A state could not get money unless it signed onto the standards.
Meanwhile, NGA and CCSSO had formally launched their Common Core Standards Initiative to develop and implement national K-12 academic standards. They planned to “leverage states’ collective influence to ensure that textbooks, digital media, curricula and assessments are aligned” with the standards. CCSSO President-elect Sue Gendron aptly described it as “transforming education for every child.”
The cash-starved states jumped for a share of the $4.35 billion. By June 2009, only Republican Govs. Sarah Palin of Alaska and Rick Perry of Texas had refused to join the effort. Perry argued that it would be “foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington, virtually eliminating parents’ participation in their children’s education.” He said it “smacks of a federal takeover of our public schools.”
In March 2010, NGA released the “first official public draft” of the standards, followed by a June release of the final product. The two first “winners” of R2T funds were announced that month. At that point, to meet the deadline for the second and larger round, states had only two months to commit to adopting the standards. Regarding New Jersey’s June 16 adoption, Rutgers professor Joseph Rosenstein remarked in Education Week, “Deciding so quickly … is irresponsible.”
In May 2010, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell sided with Texas and Alaska and withdrew from R2T and the standards. He argued that Virginia’s “standards are much superior” and are “validated” (the federal standards have not been field-tested). Nonetheless, by the end of June 2010, 16 states had formally adopted the standards. By the Aug. 2, 2010, R2T application deadline, 31 states had adopted them. That number now stands at 42.
NGA is becoming even more involved through the development of “a State Policymaker Guide to Implementation … planning the future governance structure of the standards and convening the publishing community to ensure that high-quality materials aligned with the standards are created.” The Gates Foundation is developing new courses “with content aligned to the common-core standards and [is] reinventing and realigning traditional courses like Algebra 1 and Geometry to the common core.” And it seems that the administration will request additional R2T funding. It seemingly also intends to tie Title I education funds -- a dramatically larger sum that few states can do without -- to agreement to national standards and tests.
This entire process was problematic.
First, there are the standards themselves. They cover fewer topics than what children are learning now. The Gates Foundation explains that “fewer” means “giving students enough academic preparation, without exceeding the math and literacy requirements that evidence demonstrates are necessary to enter two-year colleges.” And to keep the people in line, the NGA ruled that states “may choose to include additional standards beyond the common core as long as the common core represents at least 85 percent of the state’s standards in English language arts and mathematics.”
There are legal issues. The federal role in the standards initiative contravenes laws prohibiting the Department of Education from directing a state’s curriculum.
Furthermore, the underlying process showed great disrespect for the American people. The discretionary nature of R2T excluded the people’s representatives in Congress from a meaningful decision-making role. Likewise, the short time frame and huge R2T cash incentives were intended to exclude the states from meaningful decision making. The Founders considered a great defect of the Articles of Confederation to be, as stated by Alexander Hamilton, “that it never had a ratification by the People.” They did not make that mistake with the Constitution, and they would be disappointed that we have not learned the lesson.
And then there’s the NGA. It is not an official body of the states. Yet, it is acting like a legislative body and, on a transformative initiative, helped cut the American people out of the democratic process. Each governor is responsible for safeguarding that process. A good start on that would be to reform the NGA.
Email Emmet McGroarty
A recent study by Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett should strike fear into the parents of students across America. This new study, entitled “Cracks in the Ivory Tower?: The Views of Education Professors Circa 2010,” takes an in-depth look at how today’s education professors view their role in society and in preparing the future teachers of our nation’s children. The results are distressing.
Observe this nugget from the study’s key findings:
Asked to choose between two competing philosophies of the role of teacher educator, 68 percent believe preparing students “to be change agents who will reshape education by bringing new ideas and approaches to the public schools” is most important; just 26 percent advocate preparing future teachers “to work effectively within the realities of today’s public schools.”
It would appear as though the people teaching tomorrow’s teachers believe that it is more important for future teachers to be “agents of change” than to be “effective” teachers within “the realities of today’s public schools.” As if that isn’t enough, the study also found the following:
The vast majority of education professors (83 percent) believe it is absolutely essential for public school teachers to teach 21st century skills, but just 36 percent say the same about teaching math facts, and 44 percent about teaching phonics in the younger grades. You read that correctly: only about a third of the professors teaching our children’s future teachers think teaching math facts is essential. And less than half view teaching phonics to younger children as essential. Meanwhile, 83% view “21st century skills” as essential. Those skills are defined in the study as “critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and global awareness.”
Yes, “global awareness” and “collaboration” are apparently viewed as being more important than math and reading.
Meanwhile, the study points out that “Just 37 percent say it is “absolutely essential” to focus on developing “teachers who maintain discipline and order in the classroom.’” This is despite the fact that discipline in the classroom and student management is, as Jay Mathews at the “Washington Post” calls it, “the hottest topic among young teachers.”
Another great teaching method approved by the Department of Education is Flocabulary. Yes, Flocabulary. I don't know about you but I'm getting extremely weary of hearing about the crazy ideas in what passes for education these days. Worse than hearing about it, our children are being subjected to these ideas in schools as though they were lab rats.
The following is one of the latest versions: The web news site from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma “NewsOK.com” reported the Oklahoma City public school district is taking a second look at a plan to teach at-risk students using rap and hip-hop after receiving complaints over one lesson referring to the founding fathers as "old dead white men." (I wonder how you can be old and dead at the same time.)
The program, known as “Flocabulary”, is an educational tool that uses rap and hip-hop music to help students learn and memorize basic principles of vocabulary, reading, writing, social studies, math and science. The district was authorized to spend $97,000 in federal funds on the program and has already spent $10,000, This is education? Are you kidding me? Old Dead White Men??? Our Founders? Everyone in a position of authority in this school district should be fired immediately. Look at the lyrics of one of the rap songs to be used in this program. One particularly controversial song entitled "Old Dead White Men," describes President James Monroe's presidential term by saying:
"White men getting richer than Enron.
They stepping on Indians, women and blacks.
Era of Good Feeling doesn't come with the facts.
Andrew Jackson thinks he's a tough guy.
Killing more Indians than there are stars in the sky.
Evil wars of Florida killing the Seminoles.
Saying hello, putting Creek in the hell holes.
Like Adolf Hitler he had the final solution.
'No, Indians, I don't want you to live here anymore."
I personally am curious how many present day students understand the first line which includes Enron. Most have never even heard about ENRON or understand what it was.
Flocabulary CEO and co-founder Alex Rappaport says that the lyrics are meant to keep students engaged and promote discussion. According to the Flocabulary website, its programs are being used in more than 10,000 schools nationwide and are "proven to increase student motivation."
Flocabulary? What the heck is Flocabulary and why should American parents want their children to learn the hateful trash in that rap song? The description on their website reads, "Flocabulary is a small educational publishing company with a strong commitment to making a positive social impact." Those lyrics do not sound very positive to me. Beyond that, I think our children have had enough social impact. How about some good old fashioned instruction which will provide them with English, math and science impact for a change? Rap isn't spoken in the real world where these students will be expected to earn a living. After reading the lyrics, I still wonder how many students know what Enron was.
If this Flocabulary really is in 10,000 schools across the nation, it may well be in your child's school. What are you going to do about it? In case you were wondering why our public schools so often perform so dismally, we may have found our answer…The Department of Education with their $49,700,000,000 (49.7 billion dollar) requested budget for 2011 is sending $100,000 to Oklahoma for Flocabulary.
The NGA should vote to eliminate the Federal Government from the Education business totally. If we have not learned anything else, we have learned that Federal Government and education do not coencide in the same statement.
Government is totally useless to all citizens and a tax drain on the majority of us.
It is a totally useless operation that only increases costs and decreases the learning ability of students. Ergo, we have undergone 40+ years of dumbing down by the Federal Government.
Get rid of the Federal Government Education involvement and we will all get smarter immediately.
When ever I hear the words "Collective" I hear COMMUNISM! When I hear ;"Progressive" again I hear COMMUNISM! What I see from the article, is that the Congress needs to be told get the hell out of education! The government couldn't run a legal brothel in Nevada, so what makes them believe they can educate a retarded fruit fly?
What is needed id for the people to take back the local school boards, county and state educational systems. Tell the Federal Government to stick it up their rear ends and get back to the basics of education. Get back to having literate students, not knuckle dragging simi-intelligents we see today. The better educated kids are in conservative principles the harder the left has to work to subvert them.