NORTH BERWICK — Maine’s schools are racing to implement the Common Core State Standards. Teachers and administrators are rushing to change their curricula and syllabuses and to revise or purchase teaching materials to “align” with the standards. School administrators are preparing for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests, which are critical to the standards.
Yet what do Mainers really know about what is described as the greatest uncontrolled experiment in the history of U.S. education? The answer is “too little.” And we may be in for a rude shock as a result.
The Common Core standards are often described as “state-led” and designed by experienced educators to ensure our children are “college- and career-ready.” But the reality is far removed from the rhetoric.
In fact, neither the Common Core State Standards nor the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium were state-led. Both are privately owned and controlled.
The Washington Post reported Jan. 18 that the standards were written by several Washington organizations led by Student Achievement Partners. This nonprofit is headed by David Coleman, a former management consultant with no teaching experience, according to a Huffington Post profile last August.
According to The Post, few real educators were involved with drafting the standards. However, the testing industry was prominent.
The standards are funded by the Gates Foundation, which has spent nearly $200 million on the project. The Obama administration agreed to support this effort by requiring states seeking Race to the Top funding or waivers under the No Child Left Behind Act to join the Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced Assessment consortia.
So, the reality is that “state-led” means “states coerced by the federal government to accept standards and testing privately funded and designed by a select few industry insiders.”
The Common Core standards had claimed to be “internationally benchmarked.” But last August, the Common Core website was changed to make the weaker claim that the standards were “informed by other top-performing countries.”
This is an important difference. True benchmarking would have required extensive research and comparisons between the standards of top-performing countries and the Common Core standards. But “informed” can mean just a passing glance. As for “college- and career-ready,” the standards have never been tested. Even supporters such as the Fordham Foundation admit the Common Core standards are weaker than some existing state standards.
But standards by themselves don’t affect education much. Change requires consequences, and that’s where tests like the Smarter Balanced Assessment come in. This is a high-stakes, computerized test to track students, teachers and schools. Thus, the states are forced to provide curricula that adhere closely to the standards.
As Bill Gates himself told the National Conference of State Legislators in 2009, “We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards.”
As for the tests, the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education, established by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service to review the tests, reported they “will be far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes.” And yet the Pioneer Institute think tank estimates the states will have to spend nearly $16 billion to implement testing over the next seven years.
As for data, the National Governors Association makes it clear that tracking students from preschool through the workforce is critical to the Common Core standards. Maine agreed to do such tracking by joining the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Recent changes to federal privacy laws allow sharing this data with for-profit third parties.
InBloom, funded by the Gates Foundation, sells a “data store/warehouse, which holds … student data across grades and subjects, such as individual student names, demographic information, discipline history, grades, test results, teachers, attendance, graduation requirements, even detail of standards mastered.” InBloom seeks to market products with this data.
Not surprisingly, nearly half of the states that joined the Common Core are leaving. Many teachers and administrators who initially supported the standards have changed their minds after experiencing their full implementation.
The idea that the Common Core criteria are just “standards” that Maine can revise to its liking is simply false. Common Core is an untested corporate-federal program that will radically change America’s public schools and redefine Maine’s Learning Results. And yet this program was sprung on Mainers without any serious review.
As a local-control state, Maine must do better. We all should demand a moratorium on the Common Core standards until our school boards, administrators and legislators fully and fairly discuss the costs and implications of the standards for Maine.
— Special to the Press Herald