BY: B. Keith Plunkett @Keithplunkett

The announcement by Senate Conservatives last week that they uncovered evidence of racial quotas and associated race-based rewards for schools in the Mississippi Department of Education’s implementation plans for Common Core seemed to catch education bureaucrats, senate leadership and the media flatfooted.

The immediate response from education officials in the press was vague at best. Mississippi’s press corps nibbled around the edges of the issue, not fully reporting the evidence brought out by the Senate Conservative Coalition. That evidence from MDE’s waiver application to the Federal Dept. of Education is black and white, literally and figuratively.

In response, senate leadership maintained a position of support for the Common Core Standards, but neither Lt. Governor Reeves spokesperson nor Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison’s comments implied an emphatic opinion nor clear understanding of the growing concern.

Governor Bryant’s office issued a comment that he supports good standards, but said little to define what that exactly means and how it relates to Common Core.

A Fast-Rising Concern

Within 24 hours of the MSCC release, news of similar concerns in other states began to make waves, putting the newly formed group in the forefront of discussion about the controversial program across the country.

Over half of the states in the group of states signing on to the Common Core standards have either backed out or are debating doing so.

California, the state with the largest student population and long seen as a must-have success story for Common Core, is going through an internal debate about the possible rejection of the math standards. Texas, Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska and Virginia have rejected the standards outright. Indiana paused Common Core implementation two months ago.

Alabama, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Utah, Idaho, South Dakota, Georgia and now, Mississippi, all have officials that are discussing halting implementation of the standards.

Virtually every state on board with the standards are seeing a massive increase in the costs of testing. The numbers of states jumping ship are growing everyday.

The Fordham Institute, a proponent of Common Core, admits that several states had standards superior to Common Core and that many other states already had standards at least as good.

The only mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee said that the math standards will place students about two years behind their counterparts in high-performing countries. An expert in English education said that English language arts standards consist of “empty skill sets (that) weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework.” She also suspects from her analysis of work done so far on the standards that the reading level deemed sufficient for high-school graduation will be at about the 7th-grade level.

Yes, you read that correctly: 7th-Grade level is graduation level education under Common Core!

Misinformation Station

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, always happy to oblige the education bureaucracy, editorialized their support of Common Core, as they do with anything that comes out of the state Dept. of Education. But, their opinion article didn’t address any of the concerns that were brought up regarding racial standards, higher than expected costs or the lowering of overall standards. The Daily Journal’s opinion was, as MDE’s comments have been so far, a reiteration without explanation:

“Common Core is good. Now move on. Nothing else to see here.”

Supporters of Common Core defend against national standardization being a ‘federal takeover’ of state education by saying that Common Core is a product of the National Governor’s Association in conjunction with the Council of Chief State School Officers, not the federal government. Nowhere in my memory of civics or government class is there a reference to the NGA or an organization of Superintendents as deliberative bodies elected by the people. So, establishing this as a defense only makes the issue of control more problematic.

“Its not the big bad feds behind Common Core. It’s an even more shadowy quasi-governmental group unaccountable to parents, students and voters.”

That doesn’t do much to clarify the position that Common Core is a good thing.

Common Core defenders also like to add, as does the Daily Journal in their opinion piece, that former Governor Haley Barbour supported Common Core Standards. The last time I checked Barbour had been put out to pasture to enjoy bourbon dreams, occasionally to be led back into the barn to perform tricks at GOP fundraisers. His support means nothing.

Yes. The feds are in on it.

The fact is the federal government HAS been promoting Common Core with grants to the states for implementation. They started with Race To The Top grants a few years ago which was only a moderation of No Child Left Behind. No one can tell you with a straight face that the feds won’t have a say in how Common Core standards are applied in the future. We can fully expect the carrot-and-stick grant system will continue to be used.

It is a continuation of a slide into federal control of K-12 education that began decades ago. Call it Common Core, call it No Child Left Behind, or go back and call it the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, where it all started. It makes no difference what you call it. Like most of the federal government’s “good ideas”, it has morphed into a corrupt cacophony of federally funded and unfunded mandates that rarely accomplish what they intend, while feeding the families of union officials, consultants and grant-writers on the taxpayers dime.

What happens with education reform?

What should be a major concern to the GOP leadership in both houses of the legislature and in the Governors Office is the success of the hard fought signature Republican education achievement in Mississippi, charter schools. Many education experts across the country believe the adoption of Common Core is the end of education reforms that promote competition such as charter schools, vouchers and school-choice.

The companies that publish the ACT and SAT have both said they too will become “core aligned”. That should trouble all educators. Private school students, home-schoolers, everyone gets dragged into this untested experiment. We don’t live in a static world. When we look back on “putting all our eggs in this basket” will we see it locked out other, better ways of learning? Many educators think so.

School choice is another area where race and ethnicity comes into play. Recent polling indicates the African American community is keenly interested in charter schools as a way to jumpstart education initiatives in poor minority communities in Mississippi. If the result of Common Core is to discourage this movement, then black students truly are trapped by government run education.

Did we really think that government school bureaucrats were going to turn loose of those minority students and the federal dollars that comes with them that easily?

A Solution in Search of A Problem

Supporters of national standards point to the United States losing its status as a highly educated populace ready to participate in a “global economy”. But, what they don’t tell you is that there is no global standard of testing to be sure we are comparing apples to apples. A large number of countries across the globe don’t test the mentally disabled, or any of the other subgroups that would reduce their countries overall scores. We do.

If you take out the testing of these groups and compare the U.S. to other countries in a level comparison, we’re still at the top of the heap. Even including these subgroups, we fall only as low as #14. Comparing the U.S. entire student scores, including those considered disadvantaged, with the best the other countries have to offer and we’re still in the top half of the global rankings.

Furthermore, Common Core’s ability to improve upon those rankings are in serious doubt. Evidence points to a further slide, not an improvement. No information has been presented to show how Common Core compares to standards of other high-achieving countries. Supporters stopped claiming Common Core Standards are “internationally benchmarked” – the website now states that they are “informed by” the standards of other countries. There is no definition of “informed by.”

It’s beginning to look more and more like that term could be defined as “dumbed down by”.

Empower Parents

The federal government can have a positive role in measuring outcomes of states education efforts, performing education research and promoting innovations by allowing new entrants into the education market with deregulation and reducing federal requirements of states. That type of involvement empowers parents, teachers, schools and communities.

But, when Washington tries to direct improvement or exercise control then we get products like the unworkable mandates of No Child Left Behind, infeasible promises of Race to the Top, and racial discrimination and lower expectations of Common Core.

That Mississippi would be put under a segregated assessment system with lower expectations for black students is surreal. It makes a mockery of all our state has accomplished over the past several decades in the area of race relations. Taken wholly on its own, the race-based rewarding of schools is so overtly discriminatory that it should be reason enough for elected officials to halt MDE’s implementation of the program. With the other questions brought to light, especially the potential loss of parental choice in education, and the other states questions still going unanswered then it becomes even more unsettling.

This is all just more proof that education should remain a product of local solutions that work for parents and students based on needs. People must be allowed to make that choice.

About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett

9 thoughts on “PLUNKETT: Common Core endangers innovation and choices in education.

  1. “Dumb down” education standards, take the mention of God out schools and society, stop teaching true American history and civics and you create generations of “worker class” citizens with no drive for individual success or entrepreneurial spirit. Mindless servants to a political academia class and thankful to get whatever the all mighty government bureaucracy decides to allow them to have. This has all been done before. Just not in the once great and free United States of America.

  2. AMEN and EXCELLENT article! The sad part is that most are so unaware of how everything works. A lot of teachers do not see anything beyond the Principal. Parents do not look much beyond the teachers often times. Even less people participate in or keep up with what is going on locally much less statewide or nationally. Viewing the system in such a simplistic way, clearly limits your ability to understand the complexity of the situation.
    The careers of the higher ups in DeSoto County are riding on the success of Common Core and the PARCC assessments. They are all in on this. Are they all in because it is best for the kids and their futures or are they all in on what could be profitable for them well beyond what the local district pays? I think we all know the answer to that. With MS last in education in the country, you have to ask yourself 2 questions. 1. Why would any educational institution want participation from or trust our educational “leaders” to contribute to anything expected to yield success beyond anything we have seen? If that was possible, would we really be in the mess we are in right now? 2. What could a person or group benefit from being industry leaders in what has been a failing industry and that is funded by none other than Bill Gates? Obviously, they have a whole lot to gain if successful. Imagine the opportunities for them…….IF they are successful.
    DeSoto County Administrators put the focus on accolades, fame, recognition and money. Look at all of the MDE past employees, elected officials and other business owners that have jumped on the gravy train of “professional development”, “testing and assessments” and “data analysis programs” that the school districts buy into regularly. The money is no longer in education. The money is in the sales of these programs, curriculums and implements. Why work hard for pennies on the dollar when you could make 10 times as much? Case and point, DCS paid Gary Bailey, in 2009, $355,000 for a year and a half of some “training”, “professional development” (and I use those terms VERY loosely) and technical support for SPED MAP testing. At the time, the company was a 2-3 person organization. What a great pay day! Add a couple of more schools to that and they achieved million dollar success. With testimonials from DCS, the possibilities are endless. And yet we are supposed to trust these individuals to make “good” decisions for the future of our children? I think not!
    If Shurley English or Saxon Phonics tried to sell a “set of standards” to schools across the country, all while in the infancy stages and as no more than thoughts on paper, would it be wise for schools to buy the unfinished product? Now add to that the expectation of a huge financial investment in their company, no proof of success, lack of support necessary, lots of unanswered questions AND your teachers have to write the curriculum for these expensive standards they are selling you. It all adds up to nothing more than a multi level marketing scheme aimed at padding the pockets of those that go all in from day1. After all, they will be the ones to fall last and profit first, but that’s just my opinion!

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