Editor’s note: Part one of this series appeared in the Oct. 15-21, 2014, issue. Read a correction to part one here.
By Susan Johnson
This is the second part of Dr. Duke Pesta’s lecture Sept. 19 at Hoffman House in Rockford. Dr. Pesta is an academic speaker on behalf of Freedom Project Education (FPEUSA.org).
Chicago Teachers’ Union President Karen Lewis said: “I agree with educators and parents from across the country; the Common Core mandate represents an overreach of federal power into personal privacy as well as into state educational autonomy.” Pesta said Common Core “eliminates creativity in the classroom and impedes collaboration. We also know that high-stakes standard testing is designed to rank and sort our children, and it contributed significantly to racial discrimination and the achievement gap among students in America’s schools.
“The entire CTU voted to approve 30 anti-Common Core resolutions. The CTU resolution dated May 7, 2014, declares that: ‘Instructional and curriculum decisions should be in the hands of classroom professionals who understand the context and interests of the students’ and ‘the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice.’ Common Core standards were developed by ‘non-practitioners’ including ‘test and curriculum publishers’ and ‘education reform foundations such as Gates and Broad Foundations.’ And ‘as a result, [the standards] better reflect the interests and priorities of corporate education reformers than the best interests and practices of teachers and students.’
“Pearson Publishing owns 80 percent of the American textbook market. They bought up half of the publishers in the country.
“The first definition of Common Core: it is an unholy alliance between an out-of-control federal government and a very small group of crony capitalists who wrote these tests,” asserted Dr. Pesta. “Who decided we need them? Who originated them? Who paid them?”
A video was then shown. Joshua Katz, a high school math teacher in Orange County, Florida, described the toxic culture of education that started in the 1980s with No Child Left Behind. Katz said, “Public education companies realized they could channel millions of dollars into their program, using the terms ‘rigors’ and ‘accountability.’ Both political parties get to take credit for their disastrous results. The U.S. Department of Education report, ‘A Nation at Risk,’ proved that teachers and students were failing. That is what we need — new textbooks for new students. We need our private education companies. The only way to keep it going is to perpetuate a vision of failure. There is no long-term profit in student success. Our testing culture begins in elementary school.” Katz said his colleagues work with third-graders who suffer from anxiety with high-stakes testing. “No matter what the teacher tells the student about how good they are, if they don’t score high on that test, it starts to affect them beginning in kindergarten.
“They have to solve the problem. This is like Pearson and McGraw-Hill and ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council, which promotes privatizing education]. The Common Core will do even more damage because of the way they address critical thinking. It is not critical thinking. It is developmentally inappropriate rote. True tests promote success and integrity. It is killing our kids’ chance to learn.
“In the late 1970s, we created the Department of Education. We survived 200 years without this department and did very well. But Pearson and McGraw-Hill forgot that all that money that was going to the schools needed to go into the Department of Education. These tests proved that teachers, schools, and students were failing, or the standard ways of doing things were thrown out. Every five or six years they throw it out and get new textbooks.
“If you are a private company like Pearson, there is no money to be made in something that works. For kids from kindergarten through high school, nothing has changed mathematically, so all you need is one solid textbook that you can use from year to year. Remember new math? The basics of our numbers have changed now? No, all you are getting is social engineering. This comes at the expense of actual math knowledge — but it has become more obfuscate. Second, the only way you can reasonably understand Common Core is as a three-legged stool; remove any one leg and it falls. The first leg is the Common Core program, the second is the federal government, and the third is private corporations.
“Common Core standards are not curriculum; they are just standards. Pearson Publishing was writing textbooks to meet the standards even before the standards were implemented, to meet the explicit needs of the people who wrote them. There was no way to train teachers other than through the pedagogy that was handed them. Who trained them? The textbook. Try to learn Common Core outside of the textbooks. It can’t be done. The stories that come down, the quizzes and materials in the back — it is all done for them.
“At the federal level in Washington, the kids are the target, and the teachers are merely there to facilitate one to the other. What are you going to do if you are a teacher who doesn’t like it? Now in New York, if the teacher is fired, the union has their back. If the teachers get either the state on their side or the union — but we don’t get to hear it,” asserted Katz.
Pesta said: “Common Core is completely top-down. It is not state-led but federally-led, an overreach of government. ‘When the tests are aligned to the common standard, the curriculum will line up as well,’ said Bill Gates in 2009. You couldn’t know that in Rockford because we haven’t had the tests yet. But you will get them this year. The purpose of this is when we get these national standardized tests in place, the results will show.
“In the last 40 years, we have had 50 different studies done. Every time the reading standards fall, when the Department of Education fails, we have to standardize. What does it mean? We are feeding more and more information to the federal level. There is not one study that correlates between your state and what happens in the classroom. This was done by the left-leaning think tanks like the Brookings Institute. The Brown University study raised the question, ‘What effect will the Common Core have on national achievement?’ The analysis printed suggests that very little impact results.
“There is no meaningful data that comes to your teacher from the tests. But every time the students fail, the tests get bigger. The Common Core group hired a group of 29 experts to come and validate the standards, to rewrite or do whatever they wanted. They only brought one math specialist and one English professor. Dr. James Milgram, the mathematician, refused to vote for them. The English professor, Dr. Sarah Stotsky, said these standards will set the students two years behind.
“How can you justify the standards? Milgram and Stotsky are traveling the country warning people about Common Core, and they were there when the standards were formed. Much of the English literature is pulled out in favor of informational material. The Common Core did not mandate that any books be read, but they put together a list of 450 texts that they approved. Half of the classical literature your kids used to read is gone, and now replaced by handouts of government literature such as pamphlets from the EPA, and it is all one-sided — all political propaganda.
“Why do we teach kids to read by reading them stories? To get them excited. Why not read them a Bill Gates computer manual? We know kids learn to love to read through storytelling and gradually get more complicated literature.
“Exemplars within the English Language Arts; Science, grades 9-10, ‘Recommended Levels of Insulation,’ Science, Math and Technology Objects, grade 10-11 — ‘Executive Order No. 13423’ (on Environmental Standards). On every level, Common Core has lowered the standard by lowering the reading by half and concentrating on writing.
“In five years, they never produced any proof that the math curriculum was internationally benchmarked. Sarah Stotsky said all they did was to write down the names of high-achieving countries without providing any data. In The Washington Post in September 2013, Bill Gates said it would be nice to know if our education is going to work, but it will take at least 10 years before we know.
“Jason Zimba is the man most responsible for Common Core math. In a free video on YouTube, he admitted that Common Core will not prepare your kids for college or even community college. The brightest ones might be ready to start math. In No Child Left Behind America, we do not start algebra until eighth grade. Zimba admitted it is not going to happen. Several schools have pulled calculus out of the curriculum. Some schools have replaced it with a course called ‘How to Teach Diversity Through Mathematics.’ This is social justice math. It’s not fair that so few kids can do math at a high level. The rest of us get the math we need.
“But since not every kid can do math at the same level, we have to lower the standard so that everybody is comfortable. You have 60 million elementary school kids. To get them all at the same place, you have to lower the standards. Over 12 years of No Child Left Behind, it started under George Bush, but he didn’t write it; Ted Kennedy did. Common Core knows it will go backward, not forward.
“The Irvine County School District in Orange County, California, warned parents that children would not be allowed to work ahead on math problems, and their grade level would not change,” said Pesta.
To be continued …
From the Oct. 22-28, 2014, issue