, Salem, MA


March 13, 2014

Column: The mystery behind Common Core

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

— Harvard President Derek Bok

You see that quote on bumper stickers. I’ve seen it used as an argument against property tax limitation, but Derek Bok may simply have been responding to complaints about the cost of a Harvard education.

Regardless, here’s a variation for 2014: If you think education as run by your city, town and state is deficient, try letting the federal government run it. Which brings us to Common Core, the latest trendy education thing out of Washington, D.C., following No Child Left Behind and somehow combined with Race to the Top, two of the more obviously silly slogan-government program titles.

Clearly, many children have been left behind since 2001, when No Child etc. was created by the Bush administration. And the Top we are supposed to be Racing to is already occupied by Asian children, who, the head of the Peabody Teachers Union said at a meeting Tuesday night, are being taught the way our students were taught 50 years ago.

This is what’s so interesting about Common Core: It seems to be bringing together, in common concern, a lot of people who don’t have much in common, most notably taxpayer activists and teacher unions. This may not be surprising when you consider what professor Sandra Stotky, guest speaker at the Tuesday meeting in Peabody, said about the Standards Development Work Group that wrote the new program: “High school English and mathematics teachers, English professors, scientists, engineers, parents, state legislators, early child educators, and state or local school board members” are among those groups not represented, or even asked their opinions.

Well, who wrote the standards then? Not to encourage cynicism, but don’t be too surprised to learn that they were written mostly by test and curriculum developers hired by three private Washington, D.C., organizations (the National Governors Association, Council for Chief State School Officers, and “Achieve Inc.”), funded for this purpose by a fourth private entity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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