Thursday, May 21, 2015

Serving Wall Street

If you want the kids' test scores up, bring back band and bring back shop and get kids actually learning stuff instead of teaching them how to take a test. ~Adam Savage (Mythbusters)

Over the past year or so, as the deeply flawed federal Common Core State Standards curriculum has been forced upon the children in our state, some public school teachers, mostly middle and high school teachers, have told me that they don't think the standards themselves are so bad, or at least that they are an improvement on what came before them. When I ask about the high stakes standardized testing, they are, of course, appalled, but suggest that if we could separate the standards from the tests, they could get behind Common Core.

Here's the problem: the standards and the testing cannot be separated. One of the most evil aspects of Common Core is that nothing about it can be changed. Even if teachers find intellectually incorrect or pedagogically unsound aspects, and the elementary school standards are rife with them (including the soul crushing expectation that all kindergarteners must learn to read), they can't be changed. The corporate-aligned creators did no field testing, failed to build in any sort of feedback process, consulted no elementary school teachers, and created no mechanism for altering any aspect of Common Core however horrible, including the mandate of high stakes standardized testing. Common Core is all or nothing.

I'm convinced that this wasn't a mistake or hubris, but rather a conscious decision. You see, the goal has never been as much about better educated children as much as it has been about, as Bill Gates has repeatedly said, "to unleash powerful market forces" upon our youngest citizens. Now, there may be individuals who genuinely believe that the Common Core curriculum is in the best interest of children, and Gates may be one of them, but let there be no doubt that Wall Street looks at this as a way to get their skeletal hands on the money we set aside for educating children. And that's exactly what Bill Gates is talking about when he lauds powerful market forces, which is a businessman's way to say "greed."

What Gates and the rest of his business cohort are after are schools that can be treated like standardized electrical outlets (Gates' own metaphor) so that they can develop products that plug right in. Field testing, feedback, flexibility, and change threaten the standardization of those electrical outlets, which, of course, threatens profits. Therefore, businesspeople need a nationwide curriculum that is written in stone, which is what they have.

Here is what Gates had to say back in 2009, before most of us had even heard of Common Core, and before he cleaned up his language in response to our pushback:

Notice how, among his BS about how Common Core is a "state lead" effort and more talk of the "unleashing" of greed, he refers to a "large, uniform base of customers" instead of, you know, children or students. This is the key to their entire approach and teachers, with their knowledge and objections and opinions, can only muck that up, so they cut us out altogether. Even if you think the standards themselves are okay, you can't have them without the regime of high stakes testing because the "curriculum and tests must be aligned to the standards."

And that brings me to my use of the word "curriculum" to describe Common Core. I've been pointedly calling it a curriculum for some time now and each time I do, there are those who insist that I misunderstand, that the Common Core are "just a set of standards," and that it's up to teachers and schools to develop a curriculum for meeting those standards. Really?

I call it a curriculum, despite what its supporters claim, because by any rational measure, that's what it is. The simplest definition of a curriculum is "the subjects that comprise the course of study at a school." That's exactly what Common Core does, albeit by a more passive aggressive manner than most. The Department of Education has a pool of money that it only gives to states that have adopted the Common Core. To keep the money flowing, the states are required to prove, via standardized tests, that they are meeting arbitrary and unrealistic math and literacy thresholds. Teachers are punished or rewarded based on a widely discredited calculation, schools are shuttered and replaced by privately run charters, and federal funding is restricted or withheld if schools or school districts attempt to deviate. Therefore, math and literacy test preparation has increasingly become the primary subject that comprises the course of study in many of our nation's schools. That is a curriculum.

And things like band, shop, art, physical education, and the humanities, subjects that can't be measured by standardized testing, are increasingly pushed to the fringes and even out of many schools entirely. We must "get kids actually learning stuff" again, because a curriculum of test prep serves no one but Wall Street.

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Papa Green Bean said...

Dear TT,

I'm wondering if you have tracked your graduates as they proceed into the school systems and beyond?

Teacher Tom said...

We've not formally tracked them. The oldest are now preparing for their senior years in high school. The ones with whom I've stayed in touch seem to be happily thriving, although because of our location we primarily serve a community of progressive, middle class families. That's a demographic that always tends to do well.

I will say that I've had kindergarten teachers tell me that they appreciate teaching children who attended WP because they "know how to take care of themselves and their friends." That's a pretty good endorsement!

Anonymous said...

I am wholeheartedly in agreement with you regarding the destructive potential of the Common Core. I am attracted to your referring to it as a curriculum, and have adopted the language myself. I also think your title is on point.

I take slight issue with characterizing market forces in general as nefarious. Market forces can serve a tremendous good. However, it is important to understand that, with respect to the Common Core, market forces are being distorted (if not totally eschewed) for something else.

When Gates talks about "unleashing powerful market forces" in this context, what he really means is, "commandeer the authority of government to eliminate the market forces of parents, children, teachers, and other educators by forcing them to participate in something many of them would not otherwise choose." That is paternalistic totalitarianism. What's perhaps even more offensive is that Gates and his ilk stand to reap tremendous profits by these forced "transactions".

This is not the first time that Gates (and those like him) have selected terms antithetical to the situation in order to manipulate their audiences (which often consist of politicians and policy makers all to eager to abuse their office to gain the favor of the rich and powerful). How many of us, if given the choice, would voluntarily set aside 10-50% of our incomes to hand over to the military industrial complex? I don't know of many personally. People who benefit from that siphoning of the fruits of our labor endlessly insist "because safety", even though the result is the exact opposite. The choice is made for us by men with guns and the companies that pay kickbacks to them. That is what is so infuriating. But those are not market forces.

Market forces are about individual choices, which is why Gates invokes them here (in an effort to mislead). But you know that the Common Core removes those choices, unleashing powerful forces, but they're oppressive forces, not market ones.