Common Core Dilemma is the Bomb

23 Jun

Mercedes Schneider’s new book is “evidence based” and damning. She concludes with “CCSS [Common Core State Standards] cannot work.” And “It is destined for the education reform trash heap, just like the punitive, test-driven No Child Left Behind (NCLB) from which it emerged.”

In Common Core Dilemma, Schneider shows herself to be a masterful researcher and clear thinker. She takes on the daunting task of making this Machiavellian episode concise, engaging and understandable. She triumphs.

If you never heard of the common core or “corporate education reform”, this book will be a difficult but necessary read and there is no choice but to educate yourself. If on the other hand you have been immersed in this issue since 2009, Common Core Dilemma will confirm your worst suspicions and demonstrate that you might have been naïve but certainly not cynical.

The opening chapters document the roots of CCSS sewed within Bill Clinton’s goals 2000 and the creation of the non-profit Achieve Inc. by the National Governors’ Association (NGA). Achieve became the corporate vehicle for producing the “state led” CCSS and goals 2000 accelerated the quest for national education standards.

Louis Gerstner, IBM CEO, is identified as the “godfather” of Achieve. As the keynote speaker for the NGA conference in 1995 Gerstner stated three urgent education goals for 1996: (1) high national academic standards with accountability, (2) the standards must happen NOW, and (3) don’t be sidetracked by academicians. Louis was well positioned to shape education policy; not only had he been to school, he had hired people who had been to school. In 1996, the governors of NGA held their Education Summit at Gerstner’s IBM conference facility in Palisades, New York.

As I read this documented history, I started wondering if Bill Gates’ personal competition with IBM and Gerstner had something to do with his decision to become an education “reformer”?

Ironically, the National Governors Association created their own non-governmental non-profit or was it really Gerstner who started Achieve? In any case the organization that wrote the CCSS was the creation of 40 governors and 49 corporate executives at the 1996 IBM meeting. No practicing educators were involved. No wonder Diane Ravitch calls this “corporate education reform.”

Mercedes sums up the attitude, “No need to meaningfully involve teachers in changes that Achieve, Inc. had already decided needed to be instituted.” After all we were warned by Gerstner, “Don’t be sidetracked by academicians.”

The precursor to CCSS, American Diploma Project (ADP), is explained. In her description, Schneider details the three principal organizations involved, Ed Trust (Kati Haycock), Fordham Foundation/Institute (Checker Finn) and Achieve Inc. These three non-profits garnered huge corporate largess while developing and promoting ADP. Schneider notes that during the ADP standards development when Achieve defined American education as failing; Achieve was repudiating its own claims of success two years earlier.

The story of how Achieve’s 2008 paper “Out of Many, One” became the central document for selling CCSS illustrates clearly that CCSS certainly was not a state led effort. It was the effort of incorporated non-profits financed by other corporations and corporate executives.

An intriguing set of relationships appear in the story of David Coleman and his Student Achievement Partners (SAP). Coleman is known as the lead writer of CCSS. It was he and the President of Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), Gene Wilhoit, who went to Seattle and convinced Bill Gates to finance the development of CCSS.

The “reformer” relationships are surprisingly intertwined. David Coleman had a previous lucrative business deal with Chicago Public Schools through his startup company Grow Network. CEO Arne Duncan gave him a $2.2 million non-compete contract to analyze testing data in 2002 and renewed it in 2003 for $2.1 million. Coleman and his partner Jason Zimba sold Grow Network to McGraw-Hill and started Student Achievement Partners (SAP) in 2007.

The lead writers of CCSS were David Coleman, Jason Zimba and Susan Pimentel all from SAP. The rest of the original 24 writers were from Achieve, College Board and ACT. Today, Coleman is President of College Board and the man who helped him sell CCSS to Gates, Gene Wilhoit, has left CCSSO and taken the lead at SAP.

The only person amongst the original group of 24 people who wrote the CCSS that had any classroom teaching experience at all appears to be Zimba. He taught physics at Bennington College for a short duration. And strangely enough the president of Bennington College while he worked there was David Coleman’s mother, Elizabeth Coleman.

Bill Gates the billionaire who dropped out of Harvard only to become the richest man in the world by means that are not entirely above scrutiny, paid for both the writing of CCSS and for insuring they get good publicity. The insane amounts of money Gates doled out to organizations that supported his education ideas such as “without measurement, there is no pressure for improvement” is thoroughly documented and explained.

Gate basically became the de facto national school superintendent or secretary of education only more powerful. It is estimated that the spending on CCSS by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation may run into the billions of dollars. It is a complete distortion of the democratic process and has led to bad and wasteful policies. Policies like mandating a nationwide change to a new pedagogy that has never been tested and demanding that all schools across America abandon their current curriculum and develop a new one immediately with no transition time.

An enlightening chapter explains the amazing CCSS Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was signed by 46 governors and theirs state school chiefs before the CCSS were ever written, thus locking them in to the “voluntary” standards. It explains how it came about, the implications and the need for the lock-in.

The final few chapters deal with the enormous amounts of money mega-corporations like Pearson are planning to make from CCSS. It appears the real reason all the states had to have a standardized education is to pave the way for mega-corporations to dominate the education testing and publishing industry. It allowed them to take their products to “scale” where smaller local companies could never compete. As Mercedes points out “the goal of CCSS is not excellence. It is standardization.”

Common Core Dilemma is definitely a book that anyone trying to defend public education from privatization and profiteering should have in their library. For the uninitiated to the corporate takeover of public schools it will be more than an eye opener. Finally, it’s an informational text so David Colman would surly approve of it for your high school students to read.

4 Responses to “Common Core Dilemma is the Bomb”

  1. deutsch29 June 23, 2015 at 7:14 pm #

    Thomas, thank you for such a careful, detailed review of my book. I deeply appreciate your endorsement.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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