Category: Robert Holland

Is Working Well within a Group the Essence of Education?


According to a new twist to an international test, American students are much better at group collaboration than they are doing academic work on their own. If true, is that an advancement or setback for education in America?

One thing is certain: This first-ever attempt at assessing collaborative problem-solving (CPS) — the holy grail for workplace-oriented education reform — did succeed in vaulting American teenagers to a much more respectable ranking among the world’s developed nations than their scores on individual tests of mathematics, science, and reading ever have.

On previous triennial testing of 15-year-olds by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a project of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.S. students’ performance has been mediocre, at best, and often closer to worst than first.

For instance, the latest batch of PISA scores from the 2015 round of testing, which were released in November, show American individual scores in mathematics ranking 40th out of 70 nations and other entities. (Average PISA score: 490. U.S. average: 470.) However, on the new assessment of the so-called “soft, 21st-century” social skill of CPS, the United States ranked 13th, rarefied air for Americans in these international comparisons.

PISA officials said they ventured into the collaborative realm because business leaders informed them the ability to work in groups is what they seek from their workers. That is no surprise, because business, government, and foundation elites have put preparation of children to solve problems in workforce groups high on their school-reform agendas, beginning with the Outcome-Based Education craze of the 1990s and continuing through the current drive for Common Core standardization.

On the Common Core State Standards website, a set of frequently asked questions provides this indication of the importance the standards assign to student collaboration: “The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real-world issues and challenges. Across the English language arts and mathematics standards, skills critical to each content area are emphasized. In particular, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and critical-thinking skills are interwoven into the standards.”

PISA had received related criticism for focusing too heavily on skills transmitted expertly via the structured educational systems of South Asian nations, which emphasize the sort of repetitive drills and memorization detested by American progressives. Thus, adding CPS to the testing mix could help apologists for U.S. government schools soft-pedal their failures to teach kids the basics of literacy and computation.

Indeed, a relatively good grade on CPS could help excuse results of a separate international literacy test recently showing U.S. 4th-grade literacy skills tanking since 2011, the very year Common Core began to infect the government education standards of most states.

Interestingly, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea were the highest scorers in the softer-skills CPS testing, despite lacking the U.S. elites’ obsession with compulsory teamwork. They also were top-10 scorers for individual achievement. 

A legitimate question arises as to the accuracy of the first-year assessment of collaboration. At this point, CPS-PISA is more comparable to an experiment than an established form of testing. For instance, computer simulations are used to assess a student test-taker’s ability to adjust to the human dynamics within the supposedly cooperative group. That method must have its limitations.

A much more important question is whether functioning as part of a workforce team should be such an all-consuming feature of education — or corporate management, for that matter. Legitimate criticisms of groupthink are out there, just don’t expect them to be the feature of any lavishly financed educators’ or workforce-preparation conferences.

In an Inc.com article, “Collaboration Creates Mediocrity, Not Excellence, According to Science,” Geoffrey James cited a study of collaborative work environments that found “cooperative contexts proved socially disadvantageous for high performers.” It turns out that instead of viewing top performers as inspiring models, “mediocre employers tend to see them as threats, either to their own position in the company or to their own feelings of self-worth.” What often results are internal efforts to sabotage the work of the stars, or to steal credit for it.

Open, unwalled working or instructional areas intended to foster togetherness and collaboration pose special problems for introverts, who need privacy to be productive. Susan Cain has devoted a book and a blog to fighting what she calls “The New Groupthink” and advocating for introverts. Cain reminds us that “solitude has long been associated with creativity and transcendence.” As Cain notes, Picasso said, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”

“A central narrative of many religions is the seeker — Moses, Jesus, Buddha — who goes off by himself and brings profound insights back to the community,” Cain added.

Obviously, teamwork can play a role in final decision-making. However, education should be about preparing well-informed, independent-thinking individuals who can bring fresh ideas to the table. That’s hard to do when children are trained to become nothing more than cogs in elites’ exceptionally large wheel.

Robert Holland (holland@heartland.org) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.

According to a new twist to an international test, American students are much better at group collaboration than they are doing academic work on their own. If true, is that an advancement or setback for education in America?

One thing is certain: This first-ever attempt at assessing collaborative problem-solving (CPS) — the holy grail for workplace-oriented education reform — did succeed in vaulting American teenagers to a much more respectable ranking among the world’s developed nations than their scores on individual tests of mathematics, science, and reading ever have.

On previous triennial testing of 15-year-olds by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a project of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.S. students’ performance has been mediocre, at best, and often closer to worst than first.

For instance, the latest batch of PISA scores from the 2015 round of testing, which were released in November, show American individual scores in mathematics ranking 40th out of 70 nations and other entities. (Average PISA score: 490. U.S. average: 470.) However, on the new assessment of the so-called “soft, 21st-century” social skill of CPS, the United States ranked 13th, rarefied air for Americans in these international comparisons.

PISA officials said they ventured into the collaborative realm because business leaders informed them the ability to work in groups is what they seek from their workers. That is no surprise, because business, government, and foundation elites have put preparation of children to solve problems in workforce groups high on their school-reform agendas, beginning with the Outcome-Based Education craze of the 1990s and continuing through the current drive for Common Core standardization.

On the Common Core State Standards website, a set of frequently asked questions provides this indication of the importance the standards assign to student collaboration: “The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real-world issues and challenges. Across the English language arts and mathematics standards, skills critical to each content area are emphasized. In particular, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and critical-thinking skills are interwoven into the standards.”

PISA had received related criticism for focusing too heavily on skills transmitted expertly via the structured educational systems of South Asian nations, which emphasize the sort of repetitive drills and memorization detested by American progressives. Thus, adding CPS to the testing mix could help apologists for U.S. government schools soft-pedal their failures to teach kids the basics of literacy and computation.

Indeed, a relatively good grade on CPS could help excuse results of a separate international literacy test recently showing U.S. 4th-grade literacy skills tanking since 2011, the very year Common Core began to infect the government education standards of most states.

Interestingly, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea were the highest scorers in the softer-skills CPS testing, despite lacking the U.S. elites’ obsession with compulsory teamwork. They also were top-10 scorers for individual achievement. 

A legitimate question arises as to the accuracy of the first-year assessment of collaboration. At this point, CPS-PISA is more comparable to an experiment than an established form of testing. For instance, computer simulations are used to assess a student test-taker’s ability to adjust to the human dynamics within the supposedly cooperative group. That method must have its limitations.

A much more important question is whether functioning as part of a workforce team should be such an all-consuming feature of education — or corporate management, for that matter. Legitimate criticisms of groupthink are out there, just don’t expect them to be the feature of any lavishly financed educators’ or workforce-preparation conferences.

In an Inc.com article, “Collaboration Creates Mediocrity, Not Excellence, According to Science,” Geoffrey James cited a study of collaborative work environments that found “cooperative contexts proved socially disadvantageous for high performers.” It turns out that instead of viewing top performers as inspiring models, “mediocre employers tend to see them as threats, either to their own position in the company or to their own feelings of self-worth.” What often results are internal efforts to sabotage the work of the stars, or to steal credit for it.

Open, unwalled working or instructional areas intended to foster togetherness and collaboration pose special problems for introverts, who need privacy to be productive. Susan Cain has devoted a book and a blog to fighting what she calls “The New Groupthink” and advocating for introverts. Cain reminds us that “solitude has long been associated with creativity and transcendence.” As Cain notes, Picasso said, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”

“A central narrative of many religions is the seeker — Moses, Jesus, Buddha — who goes off by himself and brings profound insights back to the community,” Cain added.

Obviously, teamwork can play a role in final decision-making. However, education should be about preparing well-informed, independent-thinking individuals who can bring fresh ideas to the table. That’s hard to do when children are trained to become nothing more than cogs in elites’ exceptionally large wheel.

Robert Holland (holland@heartland.org) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.



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Leftist Ideologues Use Big-Lie Technique to Slam School Choice


Led by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-wing think tank founded by John Podesta, who later served as chairman of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, the political left is attempting to smear the modern school-voucher movement as the offshoot of a racist scheme to keep black children in segregated Southern public schools in the 1960s.

That is such a gross distortion as to be a damnable lie.

CAP’s propagandists focus on the shameful attempt of one Virginia jurisdiction, rural Prince Edward County, to thwart court-ordered desegregation by closing its public schools in 1959. While the county’s whites could obtain public tuition grants to attend an all-white academy under a hideously misnamed “freedom of choice” plan, black civil rights leaders declined to participate in taking such handouts obviously designed to perpetuate a segregated system. Not until President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy joined Virginia leaders in marshaling support behind a stopgap Prince Edward Free School in 1963 did black children have access to formal schooling. In 1964, the Supreme Court finally ordered the Prince Edward public schools reopened.

A CAP-affiliated “news” blog called ThinkProgress opened the smear campaign on January 10, 2017, by praising U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for exposing the “racially charged history” of school choice vouchers. That blast came in the context of Warren harshly criticizing Betsy DeVos, who was then the education secretary nominee. Warren insinuated because DeVos is strongly pro-voucher, she would surely would be weak on civil rights enforcement.

On July 12, CAP followed up with a turgid 11-page white paper titled, “The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers,” which was mostly devoted to the sad Prince Edward saga (as was the ThinkProgress piece).

Hypocrisy alert! Warren herself co-authored a book in 2003 that advocated for a school voucher system, in part to save middle-class families from buying homes beyond their means in order to be zoned to desirable public schools. Moreover, the progressive Senator didn’t envision just a partial subsidy but rather private-choice vouchers paying “the entire cost of educating a child.”

In advocating for a voucher system, was Warren aligning herself with a long-rotting racist scheme? Or is her perception of history no more clear-minded than her unsubstantiated claim of Native American heritage?

As a young writer just out of journalism school, I lived with and through a significant portion of the education history in question, settling into Prince Edward residency as a news-bureau chief for the Richmond Times-Dispatch just as the Free School was coming to fruition and remaining there through the death throes of the unwise and unjust school-closing scheme. Therefore, I am confident I know more about what went down in Southside Virginia than Elizabeth Warren ever will.

In regular chats with town and county officials, police officers, everyday citizens, and leaders of the local black community (notably, the Rev. L. Francis Griffin), I came to understand that most whites saw the civic and social structure they and their forbears had always known crumbling around them. Fear, more than hatred, occupied their hearts. In adopting the wrong-headed course of closing the public schools, their leaders took their cue from the policy of “massive resistance” to racial integration espoused by Virginia Sen. Harry F. Byrd—the Democratic boss of a formidable political machine—in the wake of the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Never once did I hear one of Prince Edward’s inner circle mention the voucher concept, first broached by economist Milton Friedman in his 1955 paper “The Role of Government in Education,” as the inspiration for their resort to a phony free-choice plan based on state tuition grants. If they had, the hypocrisy would have been even thicker than Liz Warren’s. Friedman championed universally available private-choice vouchers with the goal of breaking down statist barriers and creating opportunities for all within an educational marketplace. The segregationists’ objective was to use government dishonestly to preserve white privilege.

Any doubt about that in a young reporter’s mind was erased upon awakening August 6, 1964, and finding that a substantial part of Prince Edward’s white adults had gone to local banks in the dead of night to collect $180,000 in tuition-grant payments. The county’s leaders put together this hush-hush payout for whites only because they feared the NAACP was on the verge of securing a court injunction on further payment of tuition grants to Prince Edward residents. Civil rights lawyer Samuel W. Tucker aptly described this sleazy operation as a “midnight raid on the public treasury.”

By complete contrast, the vouchers envisioned by Milton Friedman have advanced in the light of day and with major backing from minority families. Consider:

  • An African-American state legislator and Jesse Jackson supporter, Polly Williams, pioneered the advent of private-choice vouchers for disadvantaged Milwaukee schoolchildren in 1990. Choice has expanded greatly in the city and state since then.
  • Research studies have shown voucher recipients attending private schools are more likely to be in racially integrated classes than are their peers in public schools.
  • Polls have consistently shown that black and Hispanic parents overwhelmingly favor vouchers—and by larger margins than do parents from other racial/ethnic backgrounds.
  • When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 2002 case (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris) vouchers are constitutional, the case before it was from Cleveland, where the vast majority of children benefitting from choice came from low-income black or Hispanic homes.

In truth, vouchers (or “opportunity scholarships”) are impeded by a legacy of bigotry rather than being propelled by one. An honest history lesson CAP could teach—were it interested—would show how anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments inserted into many state constitutions in the late 19th century continue to block some families from freely choosing faith-based schools, Catholic or otherwise. Of course, CAP is blind to that injustice because its allegiance is to those with vested interests in government-monopolized education.

Robert Holland (holland@heartland.org) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.

Led by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-wing think tank founded by John Podesta, who later served as chairman of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, the political left is attempting to smear the modern school-voucher movement as the offshoot of a racist scheme to keep black children in segregated Southern public schools in the 1960s.

That is such a gross distortion as to be a damnable lie.

CAP’s propagandists focus on the shameful attempt of one Virginia jurisdiction, rural Prince Edward County, to thwart court-ordered desegregation by closing its public schools in 1959. While the county’s whites could obtain public tuition grants to attend an all-white academy under a hideously misnamed “freedom of choice” plan, black civil rights leaders declined to participate in taking such handouts obviously designed to perpetuate a segregated system. Not until President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy joined Virginia leaders in marshaling support behind a stopgap Prince Edward Free School in 1963 did black children have access to formal schooling. In 1964, the Supreme Court finally ordered the Prince Edward public schools reopened.

A CAP-affiliated “news” blog called ThinkProgress opened the smear campaign on January 10, 2017, by praising U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for exposing the “racially charged history” of school choice vouchers. That blast came in the context of Warren harshly criticizing Betsy DeVos, who was then the education secretary nominee. Warren insinuated because DeVos is strongly pro-voucher, she would surely would be weak on civil rights enforcement.

On July 12, CAP followed up with a turgid 11-page white paper titled, “The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers,” which was mostly devoted to the sad Prince Edward saga (as was the ThinkProgress piece).

Hypocrisy alert! Warren herself co-authored a book in 2003 that advocated for a school voucher system, in part to save middle-class families from buying homes beyond their means in order to be zoned to desirable public schools. Moreover, the progressive Senator didn’t envision just a partial subsidy but rather private-choice vouchers paying “the entire cost of educating a child.”

In advocating for a voucher system, was Warren aligning herself with a long-rotting racist scheme? Or is her perception of history no more clear-minded than her unsubstantiated claim of Native American heritage?

As a young writer just out of journalism school, I lived with and through a significant portion of the education history in question, settling into Prince Edward residency as a news-bureau chief for the Richmond Times-Dispatch just as the Free School was coming to fruition and remaining there through the death throes of the unwise and unjust school-closing scheme. Therefore, I am confident I know more about what went down in Southside Virginia than Elizabeth Warren ever will.

In regular chats with town and county officials, police officers, everyday citizens, and leaders of the local black community (notably, the Rev. L. Francis Griffin), I came to understand that most whites saw the civic and social structure they and their forbears had always known crumbling around them. Fear, more than hatred, occupied their hearts. In adopting the wrong-headed course of closing the public schools, their leaders took their cue from the policy of “massive resistance” to racial integration espoused by Virginia Sen. Harry F. Byrd—the Democratic boss of a formidable political machine—in the wake of the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Never once did I hear one of Prince Edward’s inner circle mention the voucher concept, first broached by economist Milton Friedman in his 1955 paper “The Role of Government in Education,” as the inspiration for their resort to a phony free-choice plan based on state tuition grants. If they had, the hypocrisy would have been even thicker than Liz Warren’s. Friedman championed universally available private-choice vouchers with the goal of breaking down statist barriers and creating opportunities for all within an educational marketplace. The segregationists’ objective was to use government dishonestly to preserve white privilege.

Any doubt about that in a young reporter’s mind was erased upon awakening August 6, 1964, and finding that a substantial part of Prince Edward’s white adults had gone to local banks in the dead of night to collect $180,000 in tuition-grant payments. The county’s leaders put together this hush-hush payout for whites only because they feared the NAACP was on the verge of securing a court injunction on further payment of tuition grants to Prince Edward residents. Civil rights lawyer Samuel W. Tucker aptly described this sleazy operation as a “midnight raid on the public treasury.”

By complete contrast, the vouchers envisioned by Milton Friedman have advanced in the light of day and with major backing from minority families. Consider:

  • An African-American state legislator and Jesse Jackson supporter, Polly Williams, pioneered the advent of private-choice vouchers for disadvantaged Milwaukee schoolchildren in 1990. Choice has expanded greatly in the city and state since then.
  • Research studies have shown voucher recipients attending private schools are more likely to be in racially integrated classes than are their peers in public schools.
  • Polls have consistently shown that black and Hispanic parents overwhelmingly favor vouchers—and by larger margins than do parents from other racial/ethnic backgrounds.
  • When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 2002 case (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris) vouchers are constitutional, the case before it was from Cleveland, where the vast majority of children benefitting from choice came from low-income black or Hispanic homes.

In truth, vouchers (or “opportunity scholarships”) are impeded by a legacy of bigotry rather than being propelled by one. An honest history lesson CAP could teach—were it interested—would show how anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments inserted into many state constitutions in the late 19th century continue to block some families from freely choosing faith-based schools, Catholic or otherwise. Of course, CAP is blind to that injustice because its allegiance is to those with vested interests in government-monopolized education.

Robert Holland (holland@heartland.org) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.



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Common Core or Freedom of Choice: Which Will Prevail?


If you have kids in school or you teach schoolchildren, you must remember those halcyon days of 2008, when the idea of a Common Core (CC) to direct and track all American children along educational pathways to careers or college began to take root.

You remember when testing consultant David Coleman and the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), Gene Wilhoit, visited Microsoft mogul Bill Gates in Seattle to persuade him to generously supplement future governmental funding of Common Core. And did Gates’ foundation ever deliver! It provided grants to write, implement, and finally propagandize CC totaling $384,605,464 as of June 2016.

You also likely remember when later in 2008, a Gates-aided triumvirate consisting of the National Governors Association, CCSSO, and a big-business-led outfit called Achieve started plugging for federal backing for Common Core, which the Obama administration subsequently was thrilled to pledge as part of a “federal-state partnership.”

And you must remember those exciting times in the summer of 2009, when the special interest group’s threesome assembled 60 people to serve on teams to write the Common Core English and math standards or to offer advice. (There were five lead writers, including Coleman for English and his partner in a test-consultancy business, Jason Zimba, for math. Coleman is now president of the College Board, where he has aligned the college-prep test, the SAT, with Common Core.)

Surely you recall those robust debates in state legislatures and local school boards culminating in the adoption of Common Core by 46 states and the District of Columbia — and all the thoughtful media coverage of the pros and cons of embracing one 640-page set of instructional standards for all schoolchildren.

This narrative — a fine one at that — is what many on the left would like you to believe, but it’s simply not true. You, like the vast majority of parents, were likely not aware of the handiwork of these high-rollers until years later, when your children started bringing home the fuzziest math ever as homework while reading a lot less imagination-tickling children’s literature — all of which is in keeping with the universal K–12 Game Plan your school board never approved. As a teacher, you didn’t know how your methods and lesson plans would radically change until your supervisors started handing you your script and marching orders for education converted to workforce prep, which were crafted according to government specs.

And this was no mistake. The triumvirate placed only one K–12 teacher on those CC developmental panels. The national standards passed through just four state legislatures. Appointed state boards of education rubberstamped most of the applications in desperate bids to get a slice of the $4.6 billion in Obama stimulus funds promised to those who agreed to adopt the standards. There was virtually no debate, state or local.

Everyday parents picked up few clues from reading newspapers, because not until 2013 did education writers awaken from their slumbers and start writing Common Core stories. And that tardy coverage mostly blamed the Tea Party for stirring dissent. Yes, wall-eyed, sleepy, or biased reporters disregarded all the serious criticism of CC coming from early childhood experts, English and math scholars, and well-known progressive educators.

Commenting on one aspect of this regimen imposed on education from the top down —  logic-defying “standards-based grading” — Joy Pullmann wrote, “The people most affected — school staff, parents, local leaders — are not being allowed to decide what works best for their students and their children, and that lack of choice inflames the political and academic disagreement over Common Core.

“The central planners making those decisions are so far away from classrooms they may forget they’re playing with human beings,” Pullmann wrote. “It’s a little like kids bulldozing and rebuilding houses in a video game, except it isn’t a game. It’s real.”

That observation is from Pullmann’s just-released book The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids, and it is the real deal. Meticulously footnoted, this book by the managing editor of The Federalist (and colleague of mine at the Heartland Institute) tells the story of Common Core’s genesis within the education-industrial complex and the occasional successes of grassroots opponents in denting the juggernaut. And it delves into the mounting evidence that this monolithic scheme is a miserable flop.

Is Common Core dead or moribund? Not really. Yes, it is encouraging that more than half the states are snubbing the CC-aligned assessments developed by two federally funded consortia. However, Education Week, the education establishment’s paper of record, reports 37 states are sticking to their CC adoptions, while nine others have announced “major” rewrites or replacements. Alas, though, all nine appear to be repackaged or rebranded versions of Common Core — Common Core lite or Common Core by another name, not genuine repeal.

Given all the foundation and tax money sunk into curricular materials, technology, and teacher retraining to support this de facto national curriculum, it is unlikely the establishment elites are going to give up on Common Core anytime soon. Nor is it likely political Washington, DC will come to the rescue, despite President Donald Trump’s repeated calls for ending CC.

Is it time to despair of “consent of the governed” ever being a guiding principle again? Is it time for parents and neighbors just to accept perpetual victimhood? Pullmann thinks definitely not. It is time to fight back harder than ever.

“We can pick up our pens and keyboards to demand political redress and promote cultural remedies,” Pullmann wrote. “We can refuse to let our kids take tests that perpetuate a failed system of education. We can show up at public meetings to voice our dissent for the record, and to support and inform our neighbors. We can even create better schools than those our government provides.”

Indeed, the one positive outcome of the Common Core power grab is that it has inspired many citizens to do just that: create or discover their own schools. Homeschooling is booming more than ever. Private school choice programs doubled between 2009 and 2016. Education savings accounts enabling parents to exercise a variety of options to customize their kids’ learning experiences are catching on as perhaps the big post-voucher innovation.

In the land of the free, surely choice eventually will triumph over the dreary imposed sameness of a Common Core.

Robert Holland (holland@heartland.org) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.

If you have kids in school or you teach schoolchildren, you must remember those halcyon days of 2008, when the idea of a Common Core (CC) to direct and track all American children along educational pathways to careers or college began to take root.

You remember when testing consultant David Coleman and the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), Gene Wilhoit, visited Microsoft mogul Bill Gates in Seattle to persuade him to generously supplement future governmental funding of Common Core. And did Gates’ foundation ever deliver! It provided grants to write, implement, and finally propagandize CC totaling $384,605,464 as of June 2016.

You also likely remember when later in 2008, a Gates-aided triumvirate consisting of the National Governors Association, CCSSO, and a big-business-led outfit called Achieve started plugging for federal backing for Common Core, which the Obama administration subsequently was thrilled to pledge as part of a “federal-state partnership.”

And you must remember those exciting times in the summer of 2009, when the special interest group’s threesome assembled 60 people to serve on teams to write the Common Core English and math standards or to offer advice. (There were five lead writers, including Coleman for English and his partner in a test-consultancy business, Jason Zimba, for math. Coleman is now president of the College Board, where he has aligned the college-prep test, the SAT, with Common Core.)

Surely you recall those robust debates in state legislatures and local school boards culminating in the adoption of Common Core by 46 states and the District of Columbia — and all the thoughtful media coverage of the pros and cons of embracing one 640-page set of instructional standards for all schoolchildren.

This narrative — a fine one at that — is what many on the left would like you to believe, but it’s simply not true. You, like the vast majority of parents, were likely not aware of the handiwork of these high-rollers until years later, when your children started bringing home the fuzziest math ever as homework while reading a lot less imagination-tickling children’s literature — all of which is in keeping with the universal K–12 Game Plan your school board never approved. As a teacher, you didn’t know how your methods and lesson plans would radically change until your supervisors started handing you your script and marching orders for education converted to workforce prep, which were crafted according to government specs.

And this was no mistake. The triumvirate placed only one K–12 teacher on those CC developmental panels. The national standards passed through just four state legislatures. Appointed state boards of education rubberstamped most of the applications in desperate bids to get a slice of the $4.6 billion in Obama stimulus funds promised to those who agreed to adopt the standards. There was virtually no debate, state or local.

Everyday parents picked up few clues from reading newspapers, because not until 2013 did education writers awaken from their slumbers and start writing Common Core stories. And that tardy coverage mostly blamed the Tea Party for stirring dissent. Yes, wall-eyed, sleepy, or biased reporters disregarded all the serious criticism of CC coming from early childhood experts, English and math scholars, and well-known progressive educators.

Commenting on one aspect of this regimen imposed on education from the top down —  logic-defying “standards-based grading” — Joy Pullmann wrote, “The people most affected — school staff, parents, local leaders — are not being allowed to decide what works best for their students and their children, and that lack of choice inflames the political and academic disagreement over Common Core.

“The central planners making those decisions are so far away from classrooms they may forget they’re playing with human beings,” Pullmann wrote. “It’s a little like kids bulldozing and rebuilding houses in a video game, except it isn’t a game. It’s real.”

That observation is from Pullmann’s just-released book The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids, and it is the real deal. Meticulously footnoted, this book by the managing editor of The Federalist (and colleague of mine at the Heartland Institute) tells the story of Common Core’s genesis within the education-industrial complex and the occasional successes of grassroots opponents in denting the juggernaut. And it delves into the mounting evidence that this monolithic scheme is a miserable flop.

Is Common Core dead or moribund? Not really. Yes, it is encouraging that more than half the states are snubbing the CC-aligned assessments developed by two federally funded consortia. However, Education Week, the education establishment’s paper of record, reports 37 states are sticking to their CC adoptions, while nine others have announced “major” rewrites or replacements. Alas, though, all nine appear to be repackaged or rebranded versions of Common Core — Common Core lite or Common Core by another name, not genuine repeal.

Given all the foundation and tax money sunk into curricular materials, technology, and teacher retraining to support this de facto national curriculum, it is unlikely the establishment elites are going to give up on Common Core anytime soon. Nor is it likely political Washington, DC will come to the rescue, despite President Donald Trump’s repeated calls for ending CC.

Is it time to despair of “consent of the governed” ever being a guiding principle again? Is it time for parents and neighbors just to accept perpetual victimhood? Pullmann thinks definitely not. It is time to fight back harder than ever.

“We can pick up our pens and keyboards to demand political redress and promote cultural remedies,” Pullmann wrote. “We can refuse to let our kids take tests that perpetuate a failed system of education. We can show up at public meetings to voice our dissent for the record, and to support and inform our neighbors. We can even create better schools than those our government provides.”

Indeed, the one positive outcome of the Common Core power grab is that it has inspired many citizens to do just that: create or discover their own schools. Homeschooling is booming more than ever. Private school choice programs doubled between 2009 and 2016. Education savings accounts enabling parents to exercise a variety of options to customize their kids’ learning experiences are catching on as perhaps the big post-voucher innovation.

In the land of the free, surely choice eventually will triumph over the dreary imposed sameness of a Common Core.

Robert Holland (holland@heartland.org) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.



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