Common standards are rotten to the Core

In the recent session of the state Legislature, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 359, which was introduced by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and touted as a comprehensive education reform bill. To my mind, the legislation was like putting a small Band-aid on a large and serious wound.

It is now almost a year and a half since the results of the education audit were released. Eric Schnurer, the president of Public Works, the company that performed the audit, was quoted at the time as saying, “we think you’re the only state where the (education) system is essentially set up as a fourth branch of government.”

The audit revealed that West Virginia State Code has created a Department of Education that is a centralized bureaucratic monster, designed to keep it independent of the Legislature. In other words, it isn’t accountable to anyone — not voters, not parents, not taxpayers.

It is three years ago this month that the West Virginia Department of Education issued a press release announcing that it had agreed to sign on to the Common Core State Standards. The press release quoted then-West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine as saying, “the Common Core State Standards build upon the success of West Virginia’s 21st century learning vision called Global21.”

I do not know to what success he refers. West Virginia’s school system chronically ranks near the bottom of national surveys. Global 21 sounds eerily akin to the United Nations Agenda 21. So instead of local control, this is a step in the opposite direction, toward the globalization of education.

Paine also said, “I am excited to have a common framework from which to share best practices with fellow state superintendents across the nation.” However, that is not what Common Core is. It isn’t even a set of standards, rather it is curriculum using a top down approach, and once a state signs on, it loses all control. According to many educators it actually lowers academic standards. To top it off, the lion’s share of the funding for creating the curriculum was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — that’s Bill Gates of Microsoft fame and fortune.

The curriculum isn’t the only controversy surrounding Common Core. Aside from the lowering of standards and the curtailment of the ability of the classroom teacher to innovate, probably the most disturbing aspect of Common Core concerns data mining. The data collection is purported to include not only student test scores and academic records, but personal data such as nicknames, medical records, extracurricular activities, religious affiliations and much more.

According to Mary Black, director for Freedom Project Education, “It leads to total control and total tracking of the child. It completely strips the child of his or her own privacy.” Considering all the recent headlines about the scandals involving the violation of our civil liberties by government agencies, parents should be concerned.

In a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education, Missouri Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer wrote the following: “We understand that as a condition of applying for grant funding, states obligated themselves to implement a State Longitudinal Database System used to track students by obtaining personally identifiable information. We formally request a detailed description of each change to student privacy policy that has been made under your leadership, including the need and intended purpose for such changes.”

So far, nine states have already agreed to adopt the data mining process with parents having no say in this decision. This so far involves “pilot testing,” sending students’ personal information to a database managed by inBloom Inc., a private organization funded largely by the Gates Foundation (surprise!). A concern, besides the sharing of the data with the government, is that inBloom can sell the student data to corporate customers.

One of the stumbling blocks to implementation is the cost of the infrastructure. A portion of the 2009 stimulus money was earmarked for that purpose. (Is that what West Virginia’s “routergate” scandal was about?) In order to fund future infrastructure costs President (I will not raise taxes on the middle class) Obama, has proposed a new federal tax on your phone bill.

As more people learn about the true nature of Common Core, opposition continues to mount. Of the 45 states that were initially enticed by federal grant money to say yes to Common Core, Indiana recently was the first to rescind its acceptance. Twelve other states have initiated legislation to do the same. West Virginia is unique in that we have allowed the tail to wag the dog. Structural reform is desperately needed, but that won’t happen until we change our voting habits.

— Elliot Simon

writes from Harpers Ferry


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