Common Core opponents see specter of globalism behind educational standards
Paul Flury, a Stokesdale resident who has a third grader in a Kernersville private school, had already determined that he is opposed to the Common Core Standards adopted by North Carolina, but he wanted to learn more.
Flury was one of about a hundred people, including Forsyth County Commissioner Mark Baker, Kernersville Mayor Dawn Morgan and Winston-Salem/ Forsyth County School Board members Jeannie Metalf and Jane Goins, who attended a program on Common Core in the auditorium of the Forsyth Tech West campus last week. Hosted by Forsyth County Republican Women, the program featured Fern Shubert, a former Republican state lawmaker, and Brittany Hemsath, an organizer with the tea party-aligned outfit FreedomWorks who spoke via Skype.
“We should have realized after No Child Left Behind was such a failure that accepting new money from the federal government is not the answer,” Hemsath said.
A consortium of educators in different states developed the Common Core Standards to provide clear expectations for what students are supposed to learn in the subjects of English language arts and math so that they can compete successfully in a global labor market.
A debate has arisen within the conservative movement about Common Core, with traditional values of accountability and standards crashing up against wariness of federal-government overreach.
In North Carolina, the highest profile voice of skepticism towards Common Core is Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, while opponents worry that supporters of the initiative have the ear of Gov. Pat McCrory.
“I have serious concerns about Common Core Standards and our state’s rush to implement them,” said Forest, who serves on the NC Board of Education by virtue of his position as lieutenant governor, in a YouTube video posted in June. “As a believer in local and parental control of education, I am unclear how education with a national one-size-fits-all standard will serve our students well and allow our parents the ability to be engaged in educational decisions.”
Shubert’s summary during her remarks at Forsyth Tech was more indelicate: “It’s not traditional. It’s New World Order. It is nonsense.”
The standards have been adopted by at least 45 states. The NC Board of Education voted to adopt the standards in 2010, and they were implemented during the 2012-2013 school year. The Republicancontrolled NC General Assembly passed legislation to ratify the standards in 2011 with overwhelming support from members of both parties.
“I think if someone has questions I would recommend that they read what the standards are,” said Theo Helm, a spokesman for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. “I think if you get down to the details and see it for yourself, it’s hard to argue the standards of what kids should know.”
Flury said that he was specifically concerned about a book recommended under the Common Core Standards for 11 th graders called Dreaming In Cuban by Cristina Garcia, which he said contains “sexually explicit material” that is objectionable.
School administrators in Sierra Vista, Ariz. reportedly removed the book from classes in mid-September following complaints from parents.
Helm said each school district has the authority to select books deemed appropriate from the list.
Glenn Beck, the nationally-syndicated conservative television personality has stoked much of the fear and loathing of Common Core.
“The battle is on, and it is raging,” Beck said in an April 8 broadcast. “And it is one you cannot lose because the dire consequences involved. It is the loss of parental sovereignty, of state sovereignty. And it is the loss of our children into a grotesque system.”
Specifically, Beck decried that the Common Core Standards supplant classics of literature with so-called “informational texts.”
“What are the informational texts?” he asked. “Those are handbooks from the EPA on how to make sure that your siding and your insulation is good in your house. Who in their right mind wants to read government handbooks?” The conservative media host charged that the recommended readings would bring “greater indoctrination” and “bias.”
The Common Core Standards recommended list of informational texts in science and technical subjects for grades 9-10 does include Recommended Levels of Insulation, published by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy. An example of a standard established for students grades 9-10 in critically reading states: “Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claim or a recommendation for solving a scientific or technical problem.”
Other texts used to test students’ critical thinking abilities fall in the category of English language arts, ranging from George Washington’s “Farewell Address” to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Informational texts in history and social studies reflect American history from diverse perspectives, including Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee:
An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown, Black, Blue and Gray: African Americans in the Civil War by Jim Haskins and Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Big Horn.
The reading list also retains classics that will be familiar to anyone who took honors English classes, including The Odyssey by Homer, Candide by Voltaire, “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Reading and math standards at various levels follow similar lines of attack. A standard for literacy in history and social studies for grades 6-8 calls on students to “distinguish among fact, opinion and reasoned judgment in a text” while a standard in math asks fifth graders to “convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m) and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems.”
Shubert laid down a wide-ranging indictment against Common Core that cast broadly over a number of subjects, including that former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt helped develop the standards; they supplant the judgment of parents with that of government experts; they will lead to federal monitoring of children; and they result in schools training children “to serve the global economy.”
“Some of the standards are so idiotic that you think they came from some psychologist for the Soviet Union,” Shubert concluded.
Opposition to Common Core hardly unites conservatives. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a likely Republican candidate for president in 2016, supports the initiative. And Kathleen Porter-Magee and Sol Stern, respectively fellows at the Fordham Institute and the Manhattan Institute — both conservative think tanks — wrote at National Review Online: “Here’s what the Common Core State Standards do: They simply delineate what children should know at each grade level and describe the skills they must acquire to stay on course toward college or career readiness. They are not a curriculum; it’s up to school districts to choose curricula that comply with the standards.”
Ramona Timm, a Stokes County resident, said she learned about Common Core from FreedomWorks and the John Locke Foundation in North Carolina.
“There was a lot of one-size-fits-all,” she said of her family’s decision to homeschool their special needs child. She added that Common Core is “just a continuation of No Child Left Behind. This kind of thinking has been in the making for a long time. It started with John Dewey, who admired the Soviet Union.”
Timm praised her state representative, Rep. Bryan Holloway.
“He knows what’s happening because he is a school teacher,” Timm said. Holloway sponsored a successful 2011 bill that allows local school boards to request that the NC Board of Education evaluate local schools to determine whether they meet “acceptable levels of quality” based, in part, on Common Core.
At the Forsyth Tech program, Lori Clark, president of the Forsyth County Republican Women, asked if there were any school board members present who wanted to address the controversy. The club president’s mother, Jane Goins, who chairs the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board, sat in the back of the auditorium and did not volunteer an answer. But another member, Jeannie Metcalf, said the school board should pass a resolution against Common Core.
Last December, Clark was passed over for special appointment to the school board over the issue of systems thinking, a teaching tool that emphasizes critical thinking and was strongly opposed by the candidate who was selected by the Republican-controlled county commission’s choice to fill the vacant seat. Clark ran for school board in 2010 and will likely make another bid next year. Clark said that she has become increasingly concerned about Common Core after researching the initiative. She holds reservations about some of the specific standards the cost of implementing the overall program.
“As the mother last year of a third grader, I saw fuzzy math,” she said. “I saw conflicting information that I think is not age-appropriate. Some of the standards have been made too rigorous.”