Leatherneck Blogger

Dissecting Mike Huckabee’s Statement on the Common Core

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By Shane Vander Hart

Mike Huckabee during the monologue on his weekend show on Fox News addressed the topic of the Common Core State Standards and his position on it.  I watched with interest and some hope as I heard from some of his supporters that he was coming around to our side.  I left disappointed.  Not to say everything he had to say was bad – there are some things within his statement with which those of fighting the Common Core can agree.  What I was most disappointed by was the way in which he framed the debate.  I think it further confuses the issue and does not help in advancing our attempt to root these standards out.

If I were to boil his statement down it would read: “I oppose what the Common Core has become, the Common Core as a brand is dead, but let’s keep the standards and the assessments.”

I wanted to provide an analysis of his statement below.

I don’t support what Common Core has become in many states or school districts.  I am dead set against the Federal government creating a uniform curriculum for any subject.  I oppose the collection of data on any student in order to identify them and then track them, and certainly any effort to give that information to the federal government.

The first red flag was that he doesn’t support “what Common Core has become” meaning he supported it in its original form.  This is an inadequate response because it doesn’t recognize problems inherent with the standards themselves regardless of what curriculum publishers and the Federal government has done.

I do appreciate the strong statement on data collection, but it is pretty easy to find consensus around that point.  Even so this statement ignores the fact that those involved working on the Common Core State Standards and its assessments planned it as a tool to collect student data.  This was during the development of the Common Core, not something that happened after the fact.  When the chief architect of the Common Core’s ELA standards lauded the use of student data it’s hard to say this wasn’t part of the Common Core.  Maybe that wasn’t what individual Governor’s had in mind, but it wasn’t Governors who wrote the standards to begin with.

I am steadfast in my belief that parents, parents should ultimately decide the best venue for their children’s education whether it is public schools, private schools, religious schools or homeschools.  I believe education is a local or state function, not a federal one.

Ok, agreed.  He needs to realize with the Common Core assessments that private schools and homeschools are being impacted.  Also some states have required non-public schools to adopt the Common Core if they had state accreditation, received vouchers, etc.  Homeschoolers are impacted in varying degrees based on the state they live.  They all will face an SAT and ACT college entrance exam that will eventually be aligned to the Common Core.  Also Huckabee didn’t seem to mind the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program.  He thought it was a “good idea.”  From his book, Simple Government, Huckabee wrote, “although I believe education should be left to the states, I fully endorse the new federal program Race to the Top, which has states compete for additional education funds, allowing them to decide what reforms to enact rather than having specific reforms imposed on them from above,” (pg. 100).

Race to the Top was a scheme by the Obama administration to further entrench the Federal government in education.  There was little, if any, public feedback given for this program.  No opportunity to debate it.  It was made possible by a $4.35 billion increase in discretionary money, an “executive earmark” so to speak, in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  You know the “stimulus” bill to create jobs.

So Race to the Top was designed as carrot and stick program, which Governor Huckabee thought was a good thing, “a clever way to prod states to embrace much needed reform,” to use his words.  So this program gave directives to states who were strapped for cash to adopt the Common Core Standards (I thought he was against federal standards?) and make other education policy changes just so they can be competitive for these grants.

To be clear here, under this grant scheme, even if a state’s application was perfect, it would be uncompetitive to receive funds without the adoption of the standards.  He bemoans federal involvement in the Common Core, but he lauded the very program that gave them a foothold.

Sadly the very label, Common Core, has come to be associated with things that I deter like agenda-driven curriculum that indoctrinates instead of educates.  I am convinced that the term Common Core needs to disappear from the lexicon of education policy.  It is a toxic term that has come to mean things that most of us can’t stomach – like top-down federal intervention into the schools where you live.

But Common Core as it was designed had nothing to do with the federal government.  It was conceived and controlled by elected governors and state school chiefs to keep federal hands from interfering with it.

And it only dealt with two subjects – math and English, in those two subjects only, established state-initiated standards in those subjects and intentionally didn’t build or suggest curriculum.

To be clear, the problem is not the label.  The agenda-driven curriculum is a byproduct of the Common Core, but it is not the primary problem.  There has always been agenda-driven curriculum.  What the Common Core has initiated however is a need for schools to purchase new curriculum that is “Common Core aligned.”  This was by design.

Bill Gates, the chief funder of the development of the Common Core State Standards said, “identifying common standards is not enough. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards… to create just these kinds of tests—next-generation assessments aligned to the common core. When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching.”

This was in 2009 folks.  This shouldn’t be unexpected.  In regards to Federal involvement, already covered that above.  It’s disingenuous to condemn federal involvement on one hand and give Race to the Tops props with the other.  The U.S. Department of Education has been involved in helping promote these standards since their inception so their involvement is nothing new either.

Also let’s be clear – governors and chief state school officers did not “conceive” the standards.  Trade associations and their staffs did.  Were governors involved?  Minimally.  I’m curious how many governors have actually read the standards.  Washington-based special interest groups developed the standards and corporate interests paid for it.

Regarding the subject matter that is mostly true, but the standards do have literacy standards for other subjects and there is suggested reading in the text exemplar for social studies and science.

It set voluntary goals, goals that were controllable by local school boards.  Unfortunately the locally controlled and simple creation of standards in math and English were created so students would be measured by comparable standards regardless of geography.

Local school boards control the standards?  That is patently untrue, at least in most states.  These standards have been mandated on local schools at the state level.  Measuring all students with comparable standards will do what exactly?  How will it improve student achievement exactly?

That has been hijacked by those who took the label Common Core and applied it to curriculum, subjects other than math and English and even unrelated things such as personal data collection.

Who hijacked these?  Curriculum alignment was by design.  Data collection was part of the over all package.

As a result Common Core as a brand is dead and hopefully the perversion of it will die as well.

This is larger than a branding issue, and again suggests standards as is are ok.  I agree the brand is dead, but we need more than a name change.

What I hope doesn’t die is setting higher standards for students.  Keeping score to see just how well they are doing, and having accountability for the results.

So essentially change nothing with the standards and assessments themselves.  Has Governor Huckabee seen what is going on in New York?  Sure this sounds great, but if you don’t want teachers teaching to the test then don’t link accountability, especially teacher evaluations, to assessments.

Education bureaucrats have long fought against assessments and sometimes have fought against accountability often being satisfied by underperforming students who are far behind their peers in other states and countries.

Education bureaucrats are the ones really pushing this – what is he talking about?  Regarding underperforming students who are behind their peers in other states, there are many reasons for this other than standards.  Regarding our place in the world there’s a lot of skepticism related to the use of PISA to determine this.

The Wall Street Journal reported just this week that schools in the U.S. were performing below those in Vietnam, Lithuania, Russia and Hungary.  Then our 15 year-olds haven’t seen improvement in over a decade compared to other nations.

Notice how individual states, like Massachusetts, who perform well compared to some of the top nations are never mentioned?  Christopher Tienken, assistant professor of education at Seton Hall University, pointed out that PISA (which is what Huckabee is referring to) is comparing apples and oranges.

“In Singapore you won’t find a lot of students with special needs or second language learners in school by age 15, let alone in the testing population,” Tienken notes.

“The testing populations are very, very selective in some of these countries,” he added. “Now in America, we educate everybody. It’s part of our American exceptionalism and our commitment to liberty and justice for all. And so our testing pool includes all different kinds of students.”

Tienken also pointed out how PISA doesn’t  assess creativity or innovation and can’t predict how a new generation will perform in the work force.

“We top the ranks in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship around the world,” he said. “So there’s a negative correlation between how you score on PISA and your creativity and innovation.”

For those who think I embrace Common Core I don’t embrace or even want to tolerate what it has become to mean in too many locations.  Yes its been hijacked and I don’t support the hijackers or the destination.  But I don’t blame the airplane for getting hijacked.

I just hope that we are not ready to accept mediocrity as a standard.  Let’s kill the name Common Core and all the nonsense that has been onto it, but let’s insist that if we continue to spend the most money in education that we demand that the end result is achievement.

Actually the plane was malfunctioning as well.  He uses Jeb Bush/Fordham talking point that if you are against Common Core you are in favor of mediocrity – nonsense.  I agree that we should expect more for our education dollars, but what defines achievement?  Scoring well on an assessment?

You see I think every Governor should take the wheel and then steer his or her state to adopt strict and rigorous standards.  I suggest what Governor Terry Branstad did in Iowa recraft it to a state-specific initiative.  Keep it simple, name it whatever you want to.  Don’t let anyone corrupt the goals by adding things that are not part of the goals.

Common Core is dead.  Common sense should not be.  That’s my view.

A couple of problems with this statement.  1. Does Governor Huckabee not believe in the separation of powers?  Regardless of federal involvement the Common Core represented executive overreach off the chain.  State legislatures should weigh in on standards, not just the executive branch of government.  We need checks and balances.  2. Governor Branstad’s executive order was window dressing that does very little.  Governor Branstad did not adopt new standards other than the Common Core Math and English, it’s simply been absorbed into the Iowa Core.  States can add up to 15% to the Common Core State Standards, but they can’t subtract or rewrite.  So if they remain in the Common Core State Standards Initiative then based on their agreement they do not have the ability to “recraft” the standards.

Yes Common Core is dead, but what Governor Huckabee lauds as common sense in this instance is anything but.

Shane Vander Hart is the Editor-in-Chief of Caffeinated Thoughts, a popular Christian conservative blog in Iowa. He is also the President of 4:15 Communications, a social media & communications consulting/management firm, along with serving as the communications director for American Principles Project’s Preserve Innocence Initiative.  Prior to this Shane spent 20 years in youth ministry serving in church, parachurch, and school settings.  He has taught Jr. High History along with being the Dean of Students for Christian school in Indiana.  Shane and his wife home school their three teenage children and have done so since the beginning.   He has recently been recognized by Campaigns & Elections Magazine as one of the top political influencers in Iowa. Shane and his family reside near Des Moines, IA.  You can connect with Shane on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Google +.

Written by Leatherneck Blogger

December 19, 2013 at 06:00

Posted in Other

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