Editor’s note: The following is the second in a two-part series. Part one, “Common Core — what is it and how does it work?”, appeared in the Sept. 10-16, 2014, issue. That part focused on explanatory information from the Common Core website, www.corestandards.org. This second part addresses the other side — opposition to Common Core. The Illinois State Board of Education adopted Common Core June 24, 2010, and it is in effect at public schools throughout the state this school year.
By Susan Johnson
Now implemented in 45 states, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have drawn fire from various segments of the educational spectrum — teachers, students, parents and education administrators. Is it merely a case of “buyer’s remorse” or that school administrators did not thoroughly research it? Or is there something else?
The Common Core website says the program was developed by state education chiefs and governors in 48 states to establish standards for kindergarten through 12th grade. But as Bonny Garcea, former high school English teacher and now an online tutor, points out, the group of people responsible for creating Common Core was selected by the Gates Foundation. No public records of these meetings were kept. Groups not included in writing Common Core were high school English and math teachers, early childhood educators, school board members and parents. The main writers, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, had no teaching experience.
Validated by whom?
After CCSS was written, it had to be approved by the Validation Committee. Two content experts were on the committee: Dr. Sandra Stotsky (English Language Arts expert, professor emerita and former senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education) and Dr. James Milgram (professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford). Both refused to validate the Common Core and now speak out against it.
Jason Zimba, a lead author of the Core mathematics standards, has publicly stated the standards are low and are “not only not for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine careers), they are also not for selective colleges.”
Garcea says she has personally seen some of the essay and multiple choice questions and approved readings on practice tests. She asserts they are biased and, in many cases, anti-American. Students had to read and write about articles on bioengineering, in which the only articles provided were favorable. The same applied to pro-global warming articles.
Garcea added: “One essay topic I saw asked, ‘How is the state like a family? How can the state be even better than a family?’ A multiple choice question I saw asked students to choose who had ultimate authority over people, and the correct practice test answer was ‘the government.’ These kinds of assignments and test questions and answers seem like attempts at controlling the way students think.”
The math standards are supposed to bring all students up to the same level without lowering any previous standards. But Garcea sees problems here. Students cannot use the stacking method for addition and subtraction that all previous generations learned. In fact, many teachers disallow it and mark students wrong for using it, even if their answer is correct. The Common Core method takes so much longer that, by the end of high school, most students won’t have achieved a higher level in math and will end at algebra. Students who excel in math are forced to work at a slower pace and soon lose interest.
Garcea is not the only one to note danger signs. Dr. James Milgram, the only mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the math standards. He said that “… by the end of seventh grade Core Standards are roughly two years behind” those of the high-achieving countries, like Finland.  Parents, some of whom are engineers, attempting to help their children with math homework, are forced to walk away, unable to help with the methodology. In geometry, the Common Core standards are criticized for “abandoning Euclidian geometry in favor of an untested experimental approach and not adequately requiring students to understand how to make conversions between fractions, decimals and percents.” 
NCLB or Race to the Top?
The Common Core website says it is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative and that the federal government played no role in the development of Common Core. The CCSS were not part of the Race to the Top program. The website states: “The federal government gave competitive advantage to Race to the Top applicants that demonstrated that they had or planned to adopt college- and career-ready standards for all students. The program did not specify the Common Core or prevent states from creating their own, separate college- and career-ready standards.”
Here’s what happened: The U.S. Department of Education gave states a very brief window in 2010 to sign on to the not-yet-written Common Core standards in Math and English Language Arts. It also promised relief from the coming financial penalties to be imposed by No Child Left Behind. No state had met the math and reading goals of that much-maligned standard. The federal government dangled $4.3 billion of Race to the Top funding before cash-strapped states, available out of “stimulus” funds. 
Unlike any previous education standard, CCSS is copyrighted by two lobbying groups, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  The NGA is a Washington, D.C.-based lobby group. Governors, like the rest of us, did not find out what the standards entailed until they were implemented.
The CCSS website says: “Local teachers, principals, superintendents, and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students.” In practice, school districts are told they may add up to 15 percent of material to the standards, but may not change the copyrighted materials. Common Core requires two solid weeks of testing each school year, with third graders wasting valuable enrichment time training on keyboards for high-stress testing. 
The outcome, according to Common Core opponents, is that kids who formerly loved math now hate it. Similarly, the same critics suggest children who used to enjoy reading at home as well as school have stopped doing it. There is a systematic removal of literature from the curriculum. Some of what remains is inappropriate for the grade level. By the fourth grade, students are to be reading 40 percent “informational texts,” and by 12th grade, 70 percent. What are these “informational texts”? They include “Invasive Plant Inventory” and Euclid’s Elements (listed in “Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, Appendix B).”
The Ohio Liberty Coalition (OLC) is one of several groups helping broadcast some parents’ concerns over two “text exemplars” recommended by CCSS, pointing to what they allege are graphic sexual passages in the novels suggested for 11th-grade students.
As commentator Jason Hart wrote in an article dated Sept. 16, 2013, Ohio is one of the states that agreed to implement Common Core, and is now one of several states where parents have rallied in opposition to it.
“Excerpts from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban are included in a Common Core document which asserts the included text samples ‘should serve as useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range for their own classrooms,’” Hart suggested.
“The inclusion of Morrison’s novel in the Common Core list was first highlighted by the blog Politichicks, and the Common Core list has been shared by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).
“The Bluest Eye, OLC wrote in August, ‘is about a young girl who is abused and raped by her father and then abused by another man to whom she appeals for help. Even heavily edited, the excerpts contained in the Politichicks article are extremely graphic and it is hard to believe anyone would want to expose young people 15, 16, and 17 years old, to this material.’ … “ State School Board President Debe Terhar also expressed opposition to the book being taught in Ohio K-12 schools.”
Hart also noted, “In a separate Sept. 13 post about Dreaming in Cuban, OLC encouraged parents to contact Governor John Kasich’s administration and express their disapproval of the books recommended in Common Core’s ‘text exemplars’ list.”
Personal data collection alleged
The CCSS website says, “There are no data collection requirements for states adopting the standards. … Implementing the Common Core State Standards does not require data collection. The means of assessing students and the use of the data that result from these assessments are up to the discretion of each state and are separate and unique from the Common Core.”
Bonny Garcea suggests otherwise. “Different from past education-related data collection,” she says, “this data collection will identify individual students and save their records forever, including every score ever earned and even comments on attitudes and beliefs. This information can even be shared with third parties for non-educational issues. The federal government is not allowed to maintain a national student database, but it gets around that rule by getting states to agree to Common Core by offering money as an incentive and then making states who took the money create identical data collection systems as part of the Common Core deal. The federal government also gave states grant money if they made such collection systems, so it can be shared easily. The information contains the following in addition to school performance: health history, disciplinary history, family income range, voting status, and religious affiliation. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was gutted in 2012 and no longer protects students. Pretty much anyone can have their information if they ask in the right way.”
So far, more than 100 Roman Catholic dioceses have adopted CCSS, as have many Lutheran Church Missouri Synod school districts. Locally, the Rockford Christian Schools have adopted it.
What if parents want to opt out of Common Core? They can refuse to have their child take part in the standardized testing. That was the advice offered at the July 22 “We Will Not Conform” event held in selected theaters nationwide, hosted by Glenn Beck. But before doing that, parents are advised to learn all they can about this program that can affect their child for years to come. So far, four states have repealed CCSS, and opposition is mounting.
Dr. Duke Pesta, a nationally-known opponent of National Standards including Common Core, will speak on the topic “Fighting Common Core: Round 2,” at 6:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 19, at Hoffman House Convention Center, 7550 E. State St., Rockford. Dr. Pesta is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, and the academic director of Freedom Project Education. He received his M.A. in Renaissance literature from John Carroll University and his Ph.D. in Shakespeare and Renaissance literature from Purdue University. A free-will offering will be taken.
Seating is limited. Enter the word “Common” in Event Brite for Rockford, IL events to reserve your place. For questions, e-mail WuzzupEduc@gmail.com or call (815) 797-2595.
From the Sept. 17-23, 2014, issue