Editor’s note: Read a correction to this part of the series here.
By Susan Johnson
Nearly 190 people gathered Friday evening, Sept. 19, at Hoffman House, 7550 E. State St., to hear Dr. Duke Pesta, an academic speaker on behalf of Freedom Project Education (FPEUSA.org).
Dr. Pesta was introduced by Aaron Wolf, associate editor of Chronicles magazine, publication of the Rockford Institute. He thanked the Freedom Project for bringing Dr. Pesta and David Drake to Rockford. Drake is director of Development and Outreach in Freedom Outreach Education. Dr. Pesta received his M.A. in Renaissance literature from John Carroll University and his Ph.D. in Shakespeare and Renaissance literature from Purdue University. He has taught at major research institutions and small liberal arts colleges and is active in educational reform. He developed and implemented an elective Bible course that is now available for public high school students in Texas. He is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and the academic director of Freedom Project Education. A summary of his speech follows.
“The only way we can take control of our children’s education is to vote in school board elections and take whatever steps you can,” said Dr. Pesta. “One of the great problems we have with Common Core is they do it with bullet-board cards, listing ‘Myths’ and ‘Facts’. I’m not going to do that. You can’t do Common Core in sound bites; 98 percent of what you will hear is not even from me. I want you to fact-check me.
“Common Core is a terrible, terrible bi-partisan problem; it transcends party lines,” he said. “Much of the blame for Common Core is laid squarely at the feet of both parties. As a teacher myself for 22 years, this talk is not intended to be anti-teacher, whether they support it or not. Your teachers and principals did not ask for it. If you find that I’m not lying, do your homework. Be very respectful in the way we deal with this. Approach school officials respectfully. Common Core has been in our schools for over three years, since 2008. It has been slowly integrated into schools and is in pretty deep now. Teachers found that many of the textbooks had been replaced over the summer with Common Core materials.
“When you try to get answers from the people who support it, you don’t get much more than little cards,” he continued. “It should be transparent, but they won’t debate it. They don’t have to. It was put in your state without anybody being consulted until after it was done. … Even if you think Common Core standards are a good thing, we will show you how it was put in place, and no one has ever challenged it. When you try to get people to talk about it, you get the same harangue — ‘they are just standards.’
“What is Common Core?” he asked. “It is an abbreviated term used to refer to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative, which leads you to believe the states played a part in it. But they didn’t. These standards were written, validated and put in force before anyone had a chance to see what it was. In Wisconsin, about 60 teachers got to see it, but not before the state took it, and they had no ability to reject the standards or suggest changes. No state legislators or teachers’ unions got to vote on it, much less parents.
“The vast majority of governors didn’t take it,” he said. “In Wisconsin, one man brought it to the state. They are a set of national standards for English and math. Everything must be in line with Common Core standards, including literature, music and art. Who wrote them? Joy Pullman works with Heartland Institute and has written an article about the five people who wrote Common Core.
“One main writer, David Coleman, has never been a classroom teacher,” Dr. Pesta continued. “He was the roommate of Arne Duncan [now secretary of the Department of Education] in college. Duncan also has never been a teacher. Teachers are beginning to balk because they had no say. Coleman is the chief architect, but he immediately left Common Core and became the CEO of the college board. He has never been elected to anything. The people who did this are utterly unaccountable to taxpayers. The copyrights for the educational standards are not owned by the federal government or governors or state legislators. The NGA [National Governors Association] and CCSSO are the sole owners of the standards.
“Who authorized these people to do this? Who are they answerable to?” he asked. “These standards were written and copyrighted by two Washington lobbyist groups. The NGA website says it is a lobbying group whose purpose is to get lobbyists in touch with politicians to shape government policies. The sitting chair of the NGA pulled her state out of it. No governor in this country is even remotely qualified to have done it. But at least you can vote governors out of office. You have no way to get at these people. Their primary ambition is money. Back in 2009, Bill Gates initially ponied up the money for these standards. What is Bill Gates’ educational background?
“When you criticize Common Core, the people who did this had no educational background,” he said. “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent over $4 billion on the CCSS. There is not a single major educational organization that supports Common Core that did not get paid by Gates. Even before it went into effect, he was writing checks to the National Education Association and the National Catholic Education Association. Look up any foundation or think tank supporting Common Core, and you will find a hefty contribution from the Gates Foundation. The oft-cited Fordham Institute has received at least $3,461,116. (see http//www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2014/04/16/Common-Core-the-Fordham-Institute -and-the=-D-C-Edu-Blob)
“How did it get into the schools? Whether or not you see the copyrights, how could these people put it in the public schools?” he asked. “… There is nothing in Common Core that gives them the authority. The only way that it ended up in your state was because of the Race to the Top program. In 2009, the president decided to set aside money for education departments. In conjunction with Arne Duncan, President Obama created the Race to the Top program, and the federal government would write a check directly to the state. The state of New York received $700 million to spend however they liked. The only stipulation was that any state that took the money had to accept the Common Core standards when they were finally written. Even the states that did not win initial grants from the government received other contracts.
“Given that this is how it happened, do you think the people would still support it if they knew Bill Gates supported it?” Dr. Pesta asked. “What if instead, you had the Koch brothers or some right-wing group? Do you think the people who supported them would still support them? [Sen.] Harry Reid would be opposed. This is like a banana republic. Why didn’t they just take it over like health care? They couldn’t. The government is prohibited from setting up a national standard of education.
“[Gov.] Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is now suing the federal government because he figured out what they did,” he said. “This copyright is such a boondoggle — it just provides a cover. What was the mechanism that put it into the states? If it is state-led, the states should be able to withdraw. That’s not what happened in Indiana. Indiana was bribed, but they wanted out. The federal government said, you can pull out, but we’re going to withhold $225 million in the education budget. Now Oklahoma pulled out, and they are also being blackmailed. How is that not federal?
“We have a federal government that jealously guards what it does,” Dr. Pesta said. “Our government has been trying to keep you from doing what you want. Arne Duncan and other officials were enabled to do it. In 2009, before the standards were even written, the president was handing out money for Race to the Top. They were paying states to take the standards. Can we dispel the myth that the federal government is not responsible? Whatever criticism comes from this talk tonight, they will not attack that. Arne Duncan has sent federal agents into various state schools to make sure those states are implementing Common Core the way he wants it. These are federal agents in schools in 14 states looking over the shoulders of superintendents and principals to make sure they implement Common Core the way the federal government wants it done.
“We live in a weird world where truth is relative. If you are a conservative or a Christian, your credentials are discredited. The only real criticism I get is that I’m right wing. The only people who oppose Common Core are tinfoil hat-wearing Republicans that demonize the term ‘Tea Party.’ Who are the people who oppose Common Core?
“How about the two chief lawyers in the administration?” he said. “Both are lifelong Democrats who quit over Common Core. Robert Eitel and Kent Talbert have written a paper, ‘The Coming Federal Takeover of Education.’ In imposing the Common Core State Standards, the federal government is violating three standards and put America in danger. You have already seen what happens. The second thing is these ridiculous testing data. It isn’t reported directly to your teachers; it goes to Washington, D.C. …
“The New York state teachers’ union demands a pull-out because three states had Common Core first — New York, Florida and Kentucky,” he said. “They have already had two years of Common Core testing. The New York teachers taught Common Core, but only if they had to. They found a lot they didn’t like, so they kept teaching other things. After they did the first test, nothing except Common Core appeared on the test. In January 2014, the board of the New York State United Teachers Union moved to withdraw its support of Common Core State Standards. This union represents more than 600,000 education professionals in the state and is also asking the state Board of Regents to remove state Education Commissioner John King Jr. from office. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, is pulling back on its once-enthusiastic support of the Common Core academic standards; labor and roll-out were ‘completely botched.’
“NEA President Dennis Van Roehel said they will not succeed without a major course correction — including probably rewriting some of the standards and revising the related tests with input,” according to a statement issued in February 2014.
“The teachers won’t even get to see the questions the students got wrong. In July 2014, it was reported that “the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers’ union, opened its convention by announcing a step back from support of CCSS. AFT will now provide monetary grants to teachers who want to critique the standards or even write new ones. The AFT Executive Council is introducing a resolution to declare that the standards had noble intentions but have failed the state due to outside meddling and an inordinate focus on standardized testing.”
To be continued …
From the Oct. 15-21, 2014, issue