The largest change in the history of American education is rolling out across America in a most unusual and imprudent way. The Common Corporate State Standards (CCSS) written by corporations to facilitate profits are a colossal copyrighted Trojan horse. The official CCSS web site says, “The NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) hereby grant a limited, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to copy, publish, distribute, and display the Common Core State Standards for purposes that support the Common Core State Standards Initiative. These uses may involve the Common Core State Standards as a whole or selected excerpts or portions.”(1). It sounds very much like some ‘alphabet soup’ government agency has copyrighted the standards but that is not the case – it would be illegal for a government agency to copyright the standards! No, the corporate sponsors and foundations who finance the private non-profits NGA and CCSSO, who wrote the standards, own the copyright. Bill Gates has more sway over these rights than anyone because he put in the most money. No elected or school official has the legal right to alter any of the standards. They must be used as written. Support for the CCSS has been developed by giving money to generate good media and positive scholarly responses. The standards have not been thoroughly piloted. Curriculum supporting the standards has not been written and educators certainly have not been trained in how best to institute this new approach. In fact, most educators do not know much about the CCSS other than it is supposed to increase testing significantly and anyone who questions CCSS or the rush to implement them is for the status quo and for giving incompetent teachers the right to continue harming children with the aid of their evil teachers union.
It seems there are three groups promoting CCSS. Group 1 is made up of very sincere motivated educators who see CCSS as a path of true reform in education that will promote understanding and reasoning. Group 2 is made up by people of extreme hubris who are using education reform as a way to establish their own legacy as founders of new charter schools or of increasing personal power. Many members of this group have no educational training or experience and have no respect for those with experience teaching or administering schools. Group 3 is a large powerful group that sees CCSS as a key to unlocking a fabulous money making opportunity and only care that people believe what they are selling. From them we get such terrible ideas as giving every 7th grader an I-pad and testing regimes that turns learning into a behaviorist nightmare. If reasonable people do not start listening to professional educators these CCSS are guaranteed to be an even bigger failure and significantly more damaging than No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and its evil cousin Race to the Top (RttT).
In a way, group 1 is the most troublesome. Many of its people have doctorates in education, they are young and they want to make their mark in the world. Most of them believe in some form of the constructivist pedagogy advocated by Piaget and Dewey. They are delighted to see a focus on less standards and activities designed for students to create understanding. Many of them believe that the opportunity for true education reform which was thwarted by NCLB has finally arrived. Recently, I encountered a long time acquaintance of mine who fits this description. When I mentioned that the once pro-standards advocate, Diane Ravitch, has pointed out that these standards have not been tested. I was told the Diane Ravitch and I should both shut up and stop obstructing real progress. Because they believe in the educational theories that the standards are purported to facilitate, these people, who should see the perversity of this national standards movement, are blinded to the lurking evils. The big questions that none of these advocates want to face include: How are the standards going to be tested? How will the testing data be used? Isn’t it likely that the school year’s final summative exam will become the accountability tool used by the national leaders of education, public and private, who have arrogated local control over education to themselves? Won’t that turn these standards into just another behaviorist means that undermines good pedagogy?
Bill Gates has done more to advance the cause of CCSS than any other person. The New York Times reported that his foundation spent $373 million on education in 2009 of which $78 million was devoted to advocacy — quadruple the amount spent on advocacy in 2005. Over the next five or six years, the foundation expects to pour $3.5 billion more into education, up to 15 percent of it on advocacy. “The Alliance for Excellent Education, another nonprofit organization, was paid $551,000 in 2009 “to grow support for the common core standards initiative. The Fordham Institute got $959,000 to “review common core materials and develop supportive materials.” Fordham’s president, Chester E. Finn Jr., was widely quoted praising the standards after their March 2010 release (2). In 2008, Gates teamed with Eli Broad and the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) to make presidential candidates focus on issues like standards, teacher quality and accountability. Linda Darling-Hammond was Barack Obama’s spokesperson on education, but during the Democratic Party’s national convention while teachers were in the crowd “fired up and ready to go” Gates, Broad and the DFER were busy hijacking education policy. They were able to push out professional educators like Darling-Hammond who were seen as too friendly to unions and replace them with people like the failed Chicago school CEO, Arne Duncan. He has no education experience or training, yet he became secretary of education. He would not qualify to be a substitute teacher in many school districts. His qualifications were that he supported testing accountability, charter schools and disliked unions. Even educators at places like University of California Berkeley have received large grants to help promote the CCSS. CCSS advocates have successfully used their incredible financial resources to make these standards seem like an idea developed by and supported by enlightened educators from across the nation. Independent voices have been muffled but not quite silenced.
Group 2 the people of extreme hubris and power lust are convinced that public education in America needs them to start a new school system or develop a new education management paradigm. Eli Broad does not appear to be financially benefiting from his philanthropy or his academy for school administrators. This arrogant man strongly believes that trained educators are incompetent fools when it comes to management and that only people from outside of the education community can save America’s schools by employing the wise management practices of the business community. Broad has taken the absurd position that experience in education – unlike experience in all other human endeavors – is a liability so education leadership should be given to people with no experience. It never occurs to him that the biggest problem with American schools is the lack of respect powerful men like him have for professional educators. In my own school district, our superintendent wants to develop a K-16 school system. Under his leadership, our district has started a charter school that is now competing with the local elementary schools which send us their students. The elementary system is well staffed with professional educators and is competently led. The community is served well by these schools. Yet, this lifelong educator that leads my district justifies undermining the difficult work of these fine institutions with his vision for a K-16 institution. Charter schools are appearing in many places that have good public schools – not responding to a need only to the ego of their founders.
Group 3 is a cancer on our society. For the most part they are not concerned with how students fare. They only lust for the profit center that education spending in the United States represents. In addition to the private management groups that are starting charter schools nationwide, Jed Bush is leading a nationwide digital education campaign. Lee Fang reported, “The nonprofit behind this digital push, Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, is funded by online learning companies: K12 Inc., Pearson (which recently bought Connections Education), Apex Learning (a for-profit online education company launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Microsoft and McGraw-Hill Education among others. The advisory board for Bush’s ten digital elements agenda reads like a Who’s Who of education-technology executives, reformers, bureaucrats and lobbyists, including Michael Stanton, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Blackboard; Karen Cator, director of technology for the Education Department; Jaime Casap, a Google executive in charge of business development for the company’s K-12 division; Shafeen Charania, who until recently served as marketing director of Microsoft’s education products department; and Bob Moore, a Dell executive in charge of ‘facilitating growth’ of the computer company’s K-12 education practice.” In another section of the same article Fang tells us about the strategies being put forward by lobbyists like Patricia Levesque, a top adviser to former Governor Jeb Bush. Fang writes, “According to author Steven Brill, ex–DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee’s new group, StudentsFirst, raised $100 million within a few months of Levesque’s remarks. Rhee’s donors include Rupert Murdoch, philanthropist Eli Broad and Home Depot founder Ken Langone. Rhee’s group has pledged to spend more than $1 billion to bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists (3).” Levesque’s remark that Fang referenced was about how much better it would have been if Mark Zuckerberg had given his $100 million to support the right candidates instead of giving it to the Newark public schools.
The motivation for the CCSS was certainly at least in part a view that education in America was poor and needed to be reformed. However, a good case can be made that a sustained attacks on public education which was kicked off by the Reagan administration in 1983 with its “Nation at Risk” report is more responsible for this view than reality. “Nation at Risk” which was produced by mainly corporate actors and with little input from professional educators drew conclusions that were not sustained by the facts. Nevertheless, the meme that public education in America was failing took root and is a justification for the modern corporate driven education reform movement. I called these CCSS the Common Corporate State Standards, because in my view the standards were written by corporations for corporations and have little to do with a sincere effort to improve education. It is much more reasonable to believe that people like Rupert Murdock expect significant return for their investment in these standards than to believe these corporate sponsors are putting up share holder dollars out of their altruistic impulse to support public education. The list of corporate sponsors for the non-profit Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) that owns the copyright on the CCSS is long and, not surprisingly, dominated by testing, and on-line education companies.
Corporate Partners: AdvancED, American Institutes for Research (AIR), Data Recognition Corporation, ETS, Global Scholar, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, IQity, McGraw-Hill Education, Microsoft, Pearson Education, Evaluation Systems Group of Pearson, Promethean, ACT, Apple, Corwin Press, Evans Newton Incorporated-Partnering with Schools for Student Success, Intel Corporation, K12 Inc., Measured Progress, Measurement Incorporated, MetaMetrics, The Menta Group, Northwest Evaluation Association, School Improvement Network, TaskStream, Wilson Language Training, Cisco, The College Board, Discovery Education, International Business Machines Corporation, Pearson’s School Achievement Services, Questar Assessment, Inc., Renaissance Learning, Inc., SAS, Scholastic, Texas Instruments, Truenorthlogic, Wireless Generation (4)
This corporate intrusion into education literally removes assets from the classroom and puts it into the pockets of testing companies, consultants, publishers, and others. Politicians and scholars have been corrupted by the corrosive influence of corporate money and children have been harmed. How can Chicago’s incredible teen murder rate be seen as anything but dramatic proof of the dangers inherent in turning our schools over to non-professionals? It is beyond irony that the leader of the education reform movement in Chicago, which is a spectacular failure, is now the secretary of education. Politicians like Barack Obama, Antonio Villaraigosa and Rahm Emanuel turn their backs on professional educators and embrace extreme testing, value added measures (VAM) and the end of seniority rights for teachers. There is no validation for VAM or CCSS but these unproven theories are being implemented with great haste. Can anyone call that reasonable or prudent? Yet, Obama uses RttT to bribe states into adopting CCSS, VAM and charter schools immediately. What is the rush? Unfortunately, the politicians listed above look good when compared with their political opposition – people like Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal.
The abominations keep multiplying. In many poor communities the only functional institution is the public school and it is well known that children in stable environments do better. Why then do education czar-mayors like Bloomberg and Emanuel choose to close neighborhood schools where students are not good at multiple choice tests? Did they notice that these schools all happen to be in poor neighborhoods? Many of those closed schools were great, but standardized testing does not test for quality of teaching so excellent institutions were sacrificed at the altar of testing accountability. Children living in difficult circumstances have their life further disturbed by the people who should protect them. Suffering neighborhoods are made to suffer more. Some of the students leave the neighborhood to attend new charter schools. Some don’t! In either case the function of community schools to build neighborhoods and develop culture is ended and the propensity for violence is increased.
I recently read “The Inner Philosopher” which is a dialogue between Lou Marinoff, Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at The City College of New York, and Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the Soka Schools and President of the Buddhist lay organization, SGI. I conclude with a few quotes from their conversation:
“From a society without philosophy emerges education without philosophy, which in turn gives rise to human beings with no philosophy, a dark portent of the future of humanity.” (Ikeda, Page 2)
“The current Western epidemics – observable from Europe to North America – of obesity, bullying, hedonism and consumerism, along with the decay of social fabric, the deconstruction of education, the collapse of community, and the decline in birth rate appear to be symptoms of a grievous and possibly terminal illness of Western civilization itself.” (Marinoff, Page 74)
(In the US) “The education system has been purged of content, while the media pander incessantly to the demand for celebrity scandal and callow sensationalism. Overexposure to visual media coupled with inattention to written tradition have produced a generation of cognitively impaired children, millions of whom are daily drugged with stimulants.” (Marinoff, Page 75)
“Sadly, contemporary American culture is rooted in vice. Indeed vice is glorified, sensationalized, celebrated, and rewarded. The economic collapse of 2008, which plunged the United States into recession and destabilized the global economy, was caused primarily by unrestrained avarice – systemic vice on a colossal scale.
“Even the legendary homespun virtues of the American grass roots, whose praises were so eloquently sung by the likes of Tocqueville, Emerson, and Whitman, are being undermined and overwhelmed by rampant corruption in public and private sectors alike. The inevitable result is moral degeneracy and societal collapse.
“As Toynbee writes, the ‘breakdowns of civilizations are not brought about by the operation of cosmic forces outside human control’ but by ‘loss of mental and moral balance’ in the values and conduct of their leaders and constituents.” (Marinoff, Page 139)
“I aspire not merely to impart knowledge but also to awaken the powers of my students’ minds. This can only be accomplished via person-to-person interaction, personal example and dialogue. Even the greatest libraries of the world, or the vast storehouses of data on the World-Wide-Web, cannot rival the teacher-student relationship.” (Marinoff, Page 157)
“Many leaders, who ought to be working for the good of society and the people, are blighted by an arrogant elitism and motivated by a corrosive drive for personal gain and lust for power. Nichiren decries such people as ‘talented animals.’” (Ikeda, Page 160)
5. Ikeda, Daisaku, and Lou Marinoff. The Inner Philosopher: Conversations on Philosophy’s Transformative Power. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Dialogue Path Press. 2012.