Understanding the Common Core: How Conservative Conspirators Want to Destroy the Nation's Educational System May 21 2014

While born out of good intentions, few aspects of America’s educational system draws the kind of divisive scrutiny as the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Initially advocated for by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers as a means of creating educational standards for students across the country in grades K-12, Common Core sought to ensure that every student graduated high school with an equal chance of future academic and occupational success.

A 2004 study by the nonprofit, nonpartisan education reform group Achieve titled Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts found that many kids were graduating from American high schools unequipped with the knowledge need to excel in college, and that many employers felt recent high school graduates unprepared for even entry-level positions. The report counseled that parents and students were being lulled into a false sense of security believing that a high school diploma would provide adequate preparation for the “intellectual demands of adult life.”

In 2009, 44 states and the District of Columbia agreed to use Common Core’s standards for all students at different grade levels in the subjects of English Language Arts and Mathematics in an attempt to bridge the gap that had developed in the U.S’s educational system. Previously, states has instituted individual standards that made it impossible to judge whether a child in, say St. Louis, graduated high school with the same set of knowledge tools as someone from Seattle. Perhaps most importantly, uneven standards made it difficult to adequately judge where American children stood academically in comparison to other kids from around the world.

To ensure that children learn at the same level, Common Core views a child’s education like a staircase that moves up from Kindergarten to the 12th grade. Each step along the way marks a necessary skill children need to learn before they can move to the next. Benchmarks are placed along the way that allow parents, teachers and students to assess whether a student knows everything he or she needs to at that point in his or her educational development.

A Controversial Curriculum

Opposition to the standards set by Common Core has polarized many, and arguments against the initiative range from the legitimate to the down right loony.

Those who question the practically of Common Core – rather than its intent - point out that the program receives an overwhelming amount of financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who helped to craft many of Core’s standards behind closed doors without consulting outside organizations wanting input; that many view the short timeline between the creation and implementation of the program as unrealistic and warn that it could recreate the high-pressure testing culture that earmarked the largely reviled No Child Left Behind; and that, while enrollment in the program is voluntary for states, only those adopting the Core’s standards are eligible for funding from the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program.

While these arguments seek to point out the potential failings of a hastily implemented educational reform, those who view the intent of Common Core as a blatant attempt to undermine the very foundation of life in America remain the initiative’s loudest opponents. Many within this vocal opposition fully believe the program a liberal conspiracy designed to indoctrinate children and transform them into homosexual slaves of the system, or at least that’s what they want the public to believe.

A new report from the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center makes a the compelling case that Conservative pundits and members of the Christian right have created a factless propaganda campaign against Common Core that wants to tear down not only the initiative, but the entire institution of public education in the U.S. itself.

According to the SPLC report, the radicalized opposition to Common Core attempts to perpetuate the belief that the program serves as a conspiratorial campaign designed to indoctrinate children with liberal, anti-Christian dogma; wrest away control of education from local governments to the federal government; and that big business has teamed with the federal government in a scheme to track student’s personal information from kindergarten to college.

Members of the Tea Party, “Patriot” and other Christian-Right groups – including the socially conservative agenda advancing billionaire Koch brothers – have dedicated serious money, time and manpower to destroy Common Core anyway possible, often through the use of inflammatory rhetoric.

In a 2013 newsletter, Anita Staver, president of the Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing Christian ideals, wrote that, “Public schools have become the most dangerous places in America. We cannot stick our head in the sand while our children are held hostage in government indoctrination camps.”

A letter published in the Catholic magazine Crisis written by Phyllis Schlafy, head of the conservative group Eagle Forum, bashed Common Core standards as “active promotion of gay marriage, and other federal efforts designed to dismantle society.” Schlafy stated, “We cannot remain complacent as this administration takes aim at our children.”

While it’s easy to suspect these thought as only coming from extremists, the SPLC report cautions against assuming these beliefs as only shared by members of little known, far right organizations.

In 2010, nationally syndicated radio host Glen Beck sponsored two conferences against Common Core, and has continued to bash the initiative online and through his on-air program. “This is top down education from the federal government, dictating to local schools what they must teach and how they must teach it,” said Beck in a video from his site, TheBlaze.com.

The SPLC believes that this type of campaign against Common Core has grown along with general attacks against the public school system as a whole, with right-wing Christian groups using the initiative as a means to restart previously fought battles over the teaching of evolution, prayer in school, sexual education and efforts to protect the rights of LGBT students.

A recently published report by Politico claimed the Koch brothers founded FreedomWorks, an organization credited with the foundation of the Tea Party, was using the debate over Common Core to increase support for religious and private school vouchers, with the end goal of eventually destroying the U.S. Department of Education entirely in mind. A look back at David Koch’s history as a Libertarian politician offers a glimpse into why two of the most influential political donors in the country have picked a fight with public education.

In 1980, Koch ran for Vice President of the United States on the Libertarian ticket, the year the platform for his party reportedly wanted a “complete separation of education and State,” claiming that government controlled schools interfered with individual free choice and that the “operation, regulation and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”

Unknown Battle

Despite the war that rages over Common Core, a poll conducted by the University of Connecticut found that most Americans have no idea what many are arguing about. According to the poll, only 39 percent of Americans have ever even heard of Common Core. Of those who are aware of the program’s existence, 27 percent believe it will have no impact on the quality of education in the U.S., while 30 percent say it has a detrimental effect.

Even those who work closely with Common Core standards find themselves conflicted about the role the initiative plays in the classroom.

Ed Doris, a recent graduate of the University of Missouri-Kanas City’s School of Education who teaches students using Common Core standards in the Olathe, Kansas school district, can see both sides of the argument.

“It’s all I’ve known,” said Doris. “Part of me appreciates the need for standards as a means of aligning instruction nationally. The need for this is two fold – One: the skill set of a graduate from high school needs to be understood by both colleges and employers. Two: common standards provides for more protection from skewing data by school district.” (A reference to the legacy of No Child Left Behind that found some school districts falsifying test scores to meet federal standards for funding.)

However, Doris did have his reservations.

“The standards themselves haven’t been created in the open and have been mainly control by the Gates Foundation. The fact that the creation process was not transparent bothers me and many teachers of others subjects I know, especially math.”

Resources for a Better Understanding

If educators who were schooled in how to teach Common Core to kids find it difficult to fully grasp its place in the public education system, how can parents and the public in general gain a better understanding? Fortunately, a number of valuable resources are at the publics’ disposal that aim to better educate what Common Core means to education.

AchieveTheCore.org - A nonprofit organization founded by three lead writers of the Common Core State Standards, AchievetheCore.org operates under the goal of helping parents, students and teachers better understand the standards set forth by Common Core in both Math and English Language Arts. The website contains hundreds of resources on literacy and math standards, and offers advice on what career preparedness standards colleges and high schools should implement individually.

CoreStandards.org - The home website of the Common Core Standards Initiative, CoreStandards.org offers in-depth information about each state’s standards and basic information that every parent should know. The site also features a Myths vs. Facts page that helps to debunk many of the lies and disinformation used by Common Core’s opponents.

SmarterBalanced.org - The website for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a state-led consortium working toward the successful implementation of Common Core standards in all 50 states, SmarterBalanced.org identifies the most successful resources currently used to implement core standards and offers strategies for how these tools can be replicated in other states.

TeachingChannel.org - A collection of teaching videos from members located around the country, TeachingChannel.org offers teachers a way to connect in order to share successful stories and strategies for better reaching their students.

Here at Teaching Resources Center, we also offer a number of useful products that help parents and teachers gain a better understanding of how to reach students using Common Core standards.

Building Fluency: Lesson and Strategies for Reading Success offers a wealth of practical ideas for helping young students become better readers. The book includes easy to use assessments and spelling patterns children should master for fluent reading.

For math, we offer Common Core Collaborative Cards – Algebraic Thinking, a set of 120 cards that features problems that actively engage students and promote conversations about math in the classroom.

By utilizing these and other resources, parents, teachers and students can become more knowledgeable about what Common Core means to education in America. Only when more people know that facts about Common Core will the lies, posturing and scare tactics used by groups out to destroy the initiative finally be put to the rest.