For years we have asked our education system to focus on “closing the performance gap” between our lowest scoring students and our average scoring students. Well, ok they didn’t really say it that way. They just kept telling teachers to close the gap and most people assumed it was between the lowest performing students and the highest. The reality is that the goal quickly became bringing the low students’ performance closer to the average, which was in itself a mighty goal for some of those students.

We have had a similar gap in teachers’ understanding the truth about  common core. Like some of the low performing students who simply refuse to participate in the public education process because they have already been indoctrinated by the culture of the neighborhood to believe that to do so would be to sell out their culture, teachers have been reluctant to take in the full scope of the changes intertwined with common core because their culture has told them that to do so would be to buy into black helicopter theories. Therefore, like a close reading project on steroids, they will only consider the standards by themselves in a vacuum and stand perplexed about why the public is so upset about them.

This week the President of the NEA began leading the way for the teachers at least to the middle of the truth about common core. In an AP interview, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia came out strongly against the standardized testing which started with NCLB but exploded with RTTT and the NCLB Waivers. “What’s really behind the toxicity of this testing insanity is that they are now hooked to high-stakes, life-changing punishments if you don’t hit your cut score.”

Most significantly in her interview was her connection between the testing and the standards.

“We want high standards for kids. Critical thinking, creative problem solving. Those are standards worth fighting for. But there’s nothing magic about the Common Core.”

She went on to explain that if you have a test aligned to standards but then begin assigning consequences for not meeting a particular cut score, like refusing to promote a child or negatively evaluating a teacher, you have poisoned both the standards and the test. The standards don’t stand alone. They are used in conjunction with other features like testing and data collection. How else do you know which teachers to evaluate poorly if you aren’t tracking individual student scores tied to individual teachers? The standards themselves are only one lever in a much larger machine.

Eskelsen Garcia is getting closer to the truth, but she is not yet at the top tail of the bell curve. In the interview she also said, “tenure opens the door for teachers to stand up and say, ‘In my professional opinion, this is not the right thing to do for children,’ without fear of being fired.” The truth is that hundreds of teachers are afraid of losing their jobs if they acknowledge that common core is not magical and may in fact be harmful to some students. In IL teachers have been warned that they will be charged with insubordination if they speak against common core. In MO some teachers have been warned that they cannot even speak ill of CC on their own private social media. Tenure has actually garnered very little for teachers yet their unions cling to it. Listen to this video from Louisiana at about 4:15 and hear what one teacher describes as the atmosphere in the teacher’s lounge today.

He  is explaining what used to be the norm of conversation in the teacher’s lounge. In the past we used to hear “How can I get this kid some extra help?”  “This year go sit in a teacher’s lounge. You hear crying — professional grown women crying. Totally ridiculous. They’re upset. They’re mad because they can’t do their jobs.”

No doubt these are tenured teachers. But they are crying because they can’t stand up and say that, in their professional opinion, they don’t think teaching this way is good for students.

Common Core was not created in a vacuum and will not be used in a vacuum purely as stand alone standards. They are part of a grand test of private wealth over government. Can the resources of a few billionaires and private businesses be used to make government-run schools do what they want – to produce a profit and a predictable workforce? Andrew Carnegie tested the theory eighty years ago. Bill Gates, Pearson, McGraw Hill, ACT and the College Board carry on the test today.

At a recent presentation with Dr. Sandra Stotsky in St. Louis where many teachers and administrators were present, they quacked back the talking points given them by their culture and exposed their ignorance of the big picture. They are still on the back side of that truth curve where there is no connection between the standards, the tests, the data collection and the central planning of the workforce.

Just as they hope to bring up the lowest performing students, we hope to bring them up to the understanding of the rest of us who oppose common core. Our job will be made easier as our predictions come true when the tests are rolled out and the kids are scored as failing by the design of the cut scores, as school districts magically all find themselves in need of education products and services that they thought they were above needing to get their kids to score better, as the technology they are clamoring for because it will supposedly help them teach better begins supplanting their teaching, allowing school districts to reduce their ranks, they will see that the public’s predictions weren’t so black helicopterish.

They will also find a public who is hardly likely to approve any new taxes to pay for all those new materials, professional retraining and endless upgrades or maintenance of technology. Since salaries account for about 80% of most school district budgets, where do they think the districts will turn when there is no new income stream to fund this stuff?

John Gotto, thirty year education veteran and historical writer said,  “Pick up a fifth grade math or rhetoric textbook from 1850 and you’ll see that the texts were pitched then on what would today be considered college level. The continuing cry for ‘basic skills’ practice is a smoke screen behind which schools preempt the time of children for 12 years…” Magic is about smoke and mirrors. At least Eskelsen Garcia got something right. There is nothing magical about common core.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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