On of Diane Ravitch’s blog posts today includes a link to a post written by Mercedes Schneider that reports on Arne Duncan’s latest effort to punish a state for opting out of the Race To The Top requirement that state’s adopt the Common Core. Diane Ravitch wrote an overview of Duncan’s action:
When Indiana recently threatened to drop the Common Core, the US Department promptly sent out a letter threatening to withdraw the state’s waiver from NCLB, on grounds that Indiana had promised to adhere to high academic standards as a condition of getting the waiver.
The irony here is that Indiana already had superior academic standards prior to adopting the Common Core. Even the conservative policy group, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, rated Indiana’s academic standards as at least equal to, perhaps superior to, the Common Core.
Ah… but Indiana’s academic standards weren’t linked to one of the de facto national assessments that Duncan wants to use to “…measure teacher performance” through VAM… and if he lets ANY State opt out of either the CCSS OR the standardized tests that accompany them he will need to allow ALL of them consider the adoption of different standards. What makes all of this especially problematic for Duncan from Schneider’s perspective is that the USDoE web page offers the following “Fact” in its FAQs:
Fact: The Common Core is a state‐led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. … State adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory. …This work is being driven by the needs of the states, not the federal government. [Emphasis added.]
This is the “grassroots-led-initiative” meme that the Common Core advocates keep repeating and that even anti-privatization bloggers echo… a meme that is increasingly difficult to prove as Duncan punishes states like WA for abandoning CCSS tests and contemplates punishment in IN for their failure to adopt the Common Core.
As I’ve written in earlier posts, there is a need for nationally determined scope and sequence in academic content areas and there is a means for democratically developing such a scope and sequence through the use of open source software… but instead of using technology to facilitate a national consensus among teachers Duncan and the USDoE decided to accept a Gates Foundation grant and summon a small band of “experts” to write the “Common Core” and get several official sounding state organizations and national teacher organizations to endorse it. Over the past several weeks whenever I read a news article or blog post that describes the Common Core as grassroots I write a comment explaining that it is a de facto mandate, citing the recent decision to withhold $$$ from WA as evidence. I can now add IN to the list….
eClassroom News, an online news source for educators, published a post today describing the “…need to build a National Repository of Educational Materials (NREM), an online library of lessons in a range of subject areas with pre-assessments, instructional content and media, practice tasks, quizzes, and mastery tests.” Building such an open source online library is not a new idea to some national governments… if you click on the link you’ll find that India is doing just that!
Oh… wait a minute… we can’t have the FREE exchange of information and we certainly can’t have the government facilitating it! We need to find a way for textbook manufacturers, software developers, hardware salespersons, and testing companies to make a profit!
From my perspective, this is another case of the USDoE taking the wrong path. Instead of using the billions of dollars of stimulus money to develop something like an NREM, which blogger Carol Lach analogizes to the Genome Project, and/or provide ALL schools with broadband, Arne Duncan used stimulus money to issue a de facto mandate for the Common Core, Value Added high stakes testing, and the promotion of for-profit charter schools. Not only is the another case of taking the wrong path… it is an example of what could have been…
An AP story on the Mustang School District’s decision to offer an elective course developed by the Museum of the Bible is a case study in why the Common Core might be a good thing… and why grass roots democracy in the form of local school board governance might be problematic.
Without assigning names to the players in the drama, it seems that a wealthy fundamentalist who serves on the board of directors of a museum devoted to celebrating the Bible found a like minded school board in Oklahoma, “The Buckle of the Bible Belt”, and offered them a chance to pilot a new HS curriculum “…billed as a way to teach archaeology, history and the arts through Bible stories”. The new curriculum uses a textbook that covers:
…the role of religion in early America, discussing the New World as a haven for those seeking to escape religious persecution. It also talks about the role of religion in art, citing the role of patrons such as the Catholic Church and wealthy families during the Renaissance.
The book also uses popular culture, mentioning songs written by U2 that it says are based in the Psalms, to illustrate the Bible’s modern relevance. It does not name specific compositions.
From the outset, the book describes God as eternal, “faithful and good,” ”full of love” and “an ever-present help in times of trouble.”
The wealthy fundamentalist, who declined to be interviewed by AP, “…said he wants the program in thousands of schools by 2017.”
And who is the as yet unnamed wealthy fundamentalist? None other than Steve Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby, whose name has been all over the newspapers because he sued the federal government after the passage of the Affordable Care Act claiming that providing certain types of birth control to its workers would violate the religious freedom rights of the company’s owners.
In years past I’ve witnessed some of my colleagues deal with school boards with a majority of fundamentalists who wanted to ban books, re-introduce prayer, and propose curricula based on Biblical teachings. After a few years these candidates, who often ran without being clear about their intentions, got voted out of office. What makes this story disturbing isn’t that a school board adopted a curriculum that a Religion Professor at SMA described as lacking “scholarly insight”, that kind of thing has happened in the past. What makes this disturbing is that an individual with deep pockets and a penchant for litigation is behind the introduction of the curriculum and intends to expand this curriculum into other schools. And what schools in what states might be open to offering an elective funded by the Museum of the Bible? Methinks it might be the very states that are abandoning the Common Core because they don’t want the federal government meddling with local control.
Bottom line: we live in a complicated world… but one where the person with the deepest pockets will have the biggest megaphone. I think we’ll be hearing more about this in the months ahead.