by Laurie H. Rogers
Those who exert the first influence upon the mind, have the greatest power.
— Horace Mann, Thoughts
The writing is on the wall. In a June 7, 2013 statement, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said President Obama is planning to “redesign” America’s high schools. This redesigning will take place through “competitive grants” (also known as “bait”). Who will pay for this redesigning? (Taxpayers will, as we always do.) How much will it cost? (The secretary and president haven’t said, as they rarely do.) Does the president have the legal or constitutional authority to “redesign” America’s high schools? (No.)
According to 20 USC 3403, Obama and Duncan also lack the authority to direct standards, curriculum and teaching approaches. That isn’t stopping them. They say their interventions are for our own good.
He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be? (Animal Farm)
Please take note of the language in Duncan’s press release. The “redesigned” high schools will entail:
- “Student-centered” learning
- “Project- or-problem-based” learning
- “Real-world experiences” and “real-world challenges”
- “Evidence-based professional development”
- Engaging in “complex projects” and working with others to apply knowledge
- Moving “away from the traditional notion of seat time”
Math advocates will recognize that language. It typically alerts us to reform math – to fuzzy content, “discovery learning” (or constructivism), excessive group work, teachers who don’t directly teach, and lofty concepts presented before skills. That approach has not worked well for students for the last three decades.
It seems Duncan is a reformer, and why wouldn’t he be? Public education systems, colleges of education, curriculum developers and policy makers all have been bathed in reform philosophy and approaches since the 1980s. The president’s new mandate – excuse me, his new initiative – appears to mandate an instructional model that has completely failed children for 30 years.
Duncan and Obama also push the controversial Common Core initiatives, which are leading many districts to fuzzy math and weak English programs. The CC math standards contain a separate section, called the “Standards for Mathematical Practice.” Many states and districts are emphasizing the SMP, and the SMP supports a constructivist approach. Voila: more reform math.
It’s noteworthy that the publisher of Singapore Math – a series long praised by traditionalists – released a new “discovery” version based on the CC. Other publishers also have done so. They appear to believe the CC embraces constructivism, and they’re going along with it.
And now we have this high-school initiative, announced with the same language used by proponents of reform math. After three decades of grim failure, reform approaches to math are unlikely to suddenly work for students just because the feds throw another trillion taxpayer dollars at them.
In April, Obama also announced plans to “expand” early learning programs for 4-year-olds, rolling them into the K-12 system. Initially, children will be from low-income families, but other families and toddlers are to be rolled in, too. “Preschool for All” is estimated to cost taxpayers $75 billion over 10 years.
This de facto federal takeover of public education is cunning and devious. Many Americans have been persuaded that the Common Core and related initiatives are “state-led” and academically better; that nothing is federally mandated; that our right to privacy is intact; and that the Standards are the key.
Proponents say the CC initiatives are voluntary; internationally benchmarked; research-based; rigorous; proved to work; that they’ll save money; they’ll provide commonality and consistency; and that they aren’t “one-size-fits-all.”
The CC initiatives were never internationally benchmarked or academically sufficient. They aren’t grounded in scientifically conducted, replicable research. They’re unproved, with no student data behind them. They’re a national experiment on children. They won’t save taxpayers money. A base cost estimate just to get started is $140 billion nationwide (14,000 school districts x $10 million each).
The CC initiatives are voluntary only in a technical sense. States and districts have been threatened with the loss of federal funds, with the loss of money for impoverished students, and (ironically) with punishments under the No Child Left Behind Act if they don’t comply.
This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half. (Animal Farm)
The CC initiatives aren’t “state-led.” The feds are pushing them very hard. They were rammed through states before they were completed, with many proponents appearing to have had a financial reason to support them. The Department of Education has yet to fulfill my FOIA request from four years ago on its role in the development of the CC, but even if the initiatives really were “state-led,” why do the organizations in charge claim to not be subject to public-disclosure laws?
The nature of the CC also is expanding rapidly. Initially, this was K-12 standards in mathematics and English/language arts, but now it’s to be a complete nationalized educational program – with standards, tests, curricula and professional development; from cradle through workforce (P-20); in all subjects, all grades and all schools; in daycares, preschools, K-12 systems and colleges.
The CC initiatives also include an intrusive national database on children and their parents and guardians. Data and information are to be collected and shipped around public agencies, corporations and organizations without our knowledge or consent. Certain state and federal laws were altered or ignored in order to allow and facilitate this sharing of private information. Citizens were not informed.
At the foot of the end wall of the big barn, where the Seven Commandments were written, there lay a ladder broken in two pieces. … [N]ear at hand there lay a lantern, a paint-brush, and an overturned pot of white paint. (Animal Farm)
The CC initiatives appear to entail serious violations of the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Code. The overall deceit is so huge, few believe it. Fewer in leadership have questioned it. Legislators on all sides, media, state agencies, governors, districts, money advocates, unions, corporations and foundations have lined up at the Common Core trough, ready for a treat and a pat on the head.
The birds did not understand Snowball’s long words, but they accepted his explanation, and all the humbler animals set to work to learn the new maxim by heart. (Animal Farm)
How long will it be before the feds threaten the loss of taxpayer dollars if states don’t comply with the new high school “grant” initiative or the new early learning initiative? How long before states and districts shrug off questions from parents and taxpayers, saying they had no choice in these matters?
Considering the unproved and dictatorial nature of these federal initiatives, they can’t be about academics. I expect the feds will find it necessary to redesign middle schools to “align” with redesigned high schools. Elementary schools will have to “align” with redesigned middle schools. Preschools will have to “align” with redesigned elementary schools. Colleges are already aligning. It will be one brick at a time, each ripped from the fabric and foundation of the country. This is about control.
With this incredible taxpayer expense – and with academic programs that continue to be as weak as a White House explanation – the children and the country will sink into economic and academic dust. Education policy makers have learned nothing over three decades. Or, perhaps they’ve learned everything. Choose your poison. No doubt, Obama and Duncan will report great improvements.
Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer – except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs. Perhaps this was partly because there were so many pigs and so many dogs. (Animal Farm)
The Department of Education is now dictatorial and intrusive, assisted by non-government organizations and corporations working together behind our back. Did you think fascism was just for right-wingers? Read up on “fascism” (but do look beyond Google’s definition). This is educational tyranny. There are some things you can do, however:
- Help your child. Fill in academic gaps. Leave the public system if it isn’t working for your child.
- Support Alabama Representative Martha Roby’s effort to rein in the U.S. Department of Education. Ask your representatives to support H.R.5 (the Student Success Act 2013), introduced in Congress on June 6, 2013. This bill won’t undo everything, but it’s a step in the right direction.
- Say no to the intrusive data collection that comes with a district’s participation in the CC. Don’t tell them anything about your family that you don’t want Bill Gates, Pearson Education, the ED, the IRS, the Department of Justice, and other government agencies to know. Refuse questionnaires and surveys. Don’t tell them your voting status, political preference or religion.
“In a world of locked rooms, the man with the key is king…” (BBC series Sherlock). Don’t let them have the key.
Laurie H. Rogers has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and a master’s in interpersonal communication, emphasizing the evaluation of argumentation and logic. In 2001, she founded Safer Child, Inc., a nonprofit child advocacy information resource. In 2007, she narrowed her advocacy to public education, and in 2010, she founded Focus on the Square™, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving American K-12 education.
Laurie is the author of the blog “Betrayed,” located at http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/. Her book Betrayed: How the Education Establishment Has Betrayed America and What You Can Do about It (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011) is now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Besides serving on the executive committee for Where’s the Math?, Laurie has a background in finance, journalism and child advocacy. She has volunteered in schools – tutoring children in literacy and math, and teaching chess, argumentation and knitting. She lives in Spokane with her husband, daughter and two cats.
Contact Laurie Rogers at [email protected].