Barack Obama, having little else in his arsenal, began his first debate by touting his signature education program “Race to the Top.” Joe Biden also cited “education” in his debate with Paul Ryan. Last Tuesday, Obama even turned a question about gun control into an opportunity to boast about his education policies. During the final debate, Obama repeatedly claimed that continued government investments in education are necessary to compete with China and to develop “clean energy technology.”
Race to the Top may have been the one domestic policy initiative that did not garner the universal ire of Republicans — indeed, it has many GOP supporters. They likely do not realize what a monster they have birthed by promising to follow federal Common Core curriculum guidelines (in math and English/language arts, so far) as part of the Race to the Top contest for $4.35 billion in stimulus funds.
The potential payoff to well-connected software companies like Microsoft and curriculum and textbook companies like Pearson threaten the likelihood of Solyndra-style failures, with about as much benefit to the taxpayer. While Obamacare puts health and well-being into the hands of federal bureaucrats, “ObamaCore” (as Race to the Top has been dubbed) puts education into their hands as well. The threat to taxpayers is set to come after the election.
The nonsensical debate answers regarding the benefits of Obama’s education plan should give clues. When the first question at the town hall debate came from a 20-year-old student in college but worried about his job prospects after graduation, Obama talked about making college “affordable” and bringing back manufacturing jobs, which wouldn’t be of interest to most college students. On October 17 when Thomas Friedman cited Race to the Top as a “jobs creator,” Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had no response.
To his credit, Mitt Romney replied to the college student by addressing the jobs college graduates would want. He again referred to Massachusetts’ top national ranking,which occured before Democrat Governor Deval Patrick chucked the prior high standards for the Common Core. Although its proponents claim that Common Core increases academic rigor, education professor Sandra Stotsky — a major force behind Massachusetts’ previously high standards — refused to sign off on Common Core, referring to its “empty skill sets.” Others have noted the emphasis on the lowering of standards that is necessary for the goal of “closing the achievement gap.”
In my recent report, I added to the discussion by looking at some of the Common Core lessons now being peddled by school districts and freelance Common Core entrepreneurs. Among these materials was a horrendous “Common Core-compliant” book titled Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies by professor Marc Aronson. Extremely manipulative, historically inaccurate, and age-inappropriate for middle school students, Aronson’s book is a continuation of the Soviet disinformation campaign of diverting attention about the communist threat to J. Edgar Hoover’s alleged homosexuality. Sadly, it is these kinds of materials – tracts that meet the new focus on “informational text” — that school districts are now forced to buy. Teachers, professors, and freelance writers who had previously resisted standards now see a bonanza, as schools replace traditional literary works with books about such subjects as diamonds, snakes, New York City gangs, public artists, and yes, Justin Bieber.
Teacher training also has been going on apace, at considerable cost to taxpayers. In Georgia, our Public Broadcasting affiliate produced the teacher training videos. PBS, already the recipient of the largesse of taxpayers, has been eagerly promoting Common Core materials through its sites.
The testing is being developed by two consortia that have divided up the states; tests will be conducted nationwide by computer. Linda Darling-Hammond — close colleague of Bill Ayers — heads up the testing content specifications for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which received $176 million of the total $360 million for test development (the remainder went to PARCC, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).
As I note in my report, critics predict the eventual elimination of private schools and home schools, as mandatory national tests obviate their current standards and curricula. Education Week, the Gates Foundation-funded Common Core promotional organ, recently noted – brightly — that Catholic and other private schools are already voluntarily adopting Common Core standards because of “practical considerations,” like the new college-entrance exams that will follow Common Core.
The same journal then asked readers: “Are You Tech Ready for the Common Core?” The article featured a drawing of a man at the edge of a diving board over a huge wave. The editors, I do not think, want taxpayers to really know the financial tsunami that is coming with the mandate for national testing.
While many of the “conservative” think-tanks and politicians have received Gates Foundation money (the biggest funder of Common Core), a few like the Pioneer Institute and the Heritage Foundation have raised alarms. Among these are costs down the road as the federal government is empowered to dictate education policy — and its attendant compliance costs — to the states.
The Pioneer Institute estimates that costs for technology/infrastructure alone will be $6.9 billion over seven years. One of the Common Core committee members who refused to sign off on the math standards, Ze’ev Wurman, predicted that South Carolina’s testing costs per student would rise to $100 as compared to today’s $12. The state of Georgia currently spends $5 per student on testing, but costs are expected to quadruple at a minimum. Tellingly, the money has not been “found yet,” according to Melissa Fincher, associate state superintendant for assessment and accountability.
The Education Week article linked the recently released “technology guidelines” for Apple, Google, and Microsoft Windows, and quoted Raj Manhas, superintendent of the 14,000-student North Thurston schools in Washington state, where districts must turn to the voters for approval on tax levies for technology purchases. Voters twice rejected technology levies for his district, but Manhas used money from a general fund levy to buy new needed devices for Common Core.
Manhas, though, is concerned about the “technology gap” between “districts that serve wealthier communities and districts with lower-income families.”
No doubt that will be a concern as districts scramble to keep up with the mandates coming from Washington. Such technology “gaps” (and “curriculum gaps,” etc.) will then need to be addressed by the federal government, either with mandates about redistributing state tax funds or by increasing federal funding through the Department of Education. New York City’s schools deputy chancellor has already indicated a need for additional funding to implement the program.
And all this for testing that replaces objective standards and cultural coherence with dubious measurements of “higher order thinking,” “collaboration,” and “deep understanding” that Darling-Hammond favors. This is precisely the kind of curriculum she, Bill Ayers, and the other radical educators from the 1960s have been agitating for for decades.
When their candidate Barack Obama got into office, they found a way to implement them on a national scale under a deceptively named program called Common Core. And we will be left paying the bill.