The National Education Association has always been a supporter of common core. They received  almost $4 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote the standards, adding their professional stamp of approval to help the sale. They have just found another way to profit from this education reform effort. Partnering with the for-profit firm BetterLesson, they rolled out a $7 million free platform with more than 3,000 lessons aligned to the Common Core State Standards which teachers can access. This offering, while currently free, is part of a larger service provided by BetterLesson which would charge districts $60/teacher to be part of the lesson sharing network. They will also be branching out into the professional development market – so much money to be made in education, especially when you standardize it for most of the country.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel challenged opponents of common core with this, “When I sit on panels and someone chastises us for supporting the common core, I always ask: ‘Are there specific things you believe should not be there?’ I never get an answer. Second, I ask, ‘What’s missing?’ I don’t get an answer. And the third thing I ask is, ‘What is the alternative? What do you want? Standards all over the ballpark, tests all over the ballpark?’ ”

I’m not sure what panels his is sitting on, but they must be populated by fairly low level and low information folks.  There are plenty of critiques out there of the standards (Wurman, Stotsky, Milgram, Pioneer.) There are letters written to the standards writers at the time of development by people honestly wishing to help improve the standards and steer them away from risky terrain they were heading into, letters which detail the problems with the standards but which were completely ignored. Strange that not a single person he has come in contact with has any knowledge of these reports.

When he asks for the alternative to common core, he invokes the new strategy of the proponents. They are trying really hard to pull opposition into the trap of debating the individual standards which will never receive blanket approval from all of academia. The individual standards are not the problem – who controls them is.

The real issue is the one he addresses in his last question – do we want different standards and tests all over the place? In a free market system that is striving for excellence, the answer is a resounding YES. Allowing states to try different standards, sequences, professional development, test designs and curricula is the best way to promote competition for what is best in education. George Will pointed out, “[w]hat begins with mere national standards must breed ineluctable pressure to standardize educational content. Targets, metrics, guidelines and curriculum models all induce conformity in instructional materials.” Proponents are never willing to consider, “What if the writers got it wrong? What if, say, we destroy the desire to learn in a generation of kids because we asked too much of them in their first years in school that they weren’t physically ready to do?”  We won’t just have a few districts around the country whose kids have been traumatized, we will have essentially the entire country dealing with a generation of aimless troubled kids of our own making. Perhaps Van Roekel has never heard the phrase “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

Most of us stopped worrying so much about what other people thought of us in high school. We realized the only way we were going to be happy and successful in life was if we pursued our own dreams and passions. Thinking outside the box became the new goal. Why is it then that the  proponents of common core are attempting to push us all back in the box, saying that we should all think of education the same way and be sure we are loading our children with the same predefined set of knowledge and skills?I too have sat on panels which asked questions that proponents never seem to have an answer to. “Where is the protocol that states can access to get bad or harmful standards changed by CCSSI? What obligation, if any, does CCSSI have to respond to criticism of their standards, and change or improve them? If American students continue to decline in comparison to their international peers on standardized tests after several years of following the CCSS, what consequences will there be for CCSSI and the Governors for failing to deliver the top quality standards that they said would change this dynamic?If Van Roekel can get back to me with answers to those questions, I would really appreciate it.

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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