Education Primer – Part II

By Jane Weinkrantz

2/17/14

Part I of this series can be found by following this link.

 

7. Who writes the texts and tests associated with the Common Core?

Common Core texts and assessments are created by Pearson, the largest education company and publisher in the world. According to The Huffington Post, “ The company brags that senior America's Choice fellows Sally Hampton and Phil Daro, employees of a Pearson sub-division, ‘not only led the development of the Common Core Standards, but also helped design Pearson's CCSS services, helping us tailor our professional development, district level consultative services, job-embedded coaching, learning teams for building capacity, and even whole school CCSS implementation services in order to meet your specific needs and interests as you align curriculum content and practices to the standards.’”

However, putting our children’s educations in Pearson gigantic, multi-billion dollar hands has hardly been flawless.  The company mis-scored New York City’s Gifted and Talented tests last spring and erroneously denied 3,000 eligible students admission to the program.  Likewise, Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post wrote in June “This spring students, parents, and teachers in New York schools responded to administration of new Common Core tests developed by Pearson Inc. with a general outcry against their length, difficulty, and inappropriate content. Pearson included corporate logos and promotional material in reading passages.”

Pearson’s self- promotion hardly stops there. The company just paid $7.7 million to settle accusations of using their non-profit agency, The Pearson Foundation, to develop Common Core courses free of charge. This gesture was intended to win the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which it did. However, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman determined that Pearson created the courses with the intention of selling them through their for-profit agency for “tens of millions of dollars.”

Pearson has also provided key curriculum decision-makers with free trips to Rio de Janeiro, Australia and China. Miraculously, many of them awarded testing contracts to Pearson, even when they were not the lowest bidders. Lu Young, a Kentucky superintendent of schools, visited Australia on Pearson’s dime to “exchange ideas on creating schools in the 21st century.”  Young is captured on video saying, “Everybody’s highlight of Canberra was to get to see the kangaroos.”   Later in the year, Ms. Young and fellow committee members awarded Kentucky’s testing contract to Pearson. Likewise, the commissioner of education in Kentucky, Dr. Terry Halliday, awarded a $57 million contract to Pearson. Halliday went on to enjoy Pearson-subsidized trips to China and Brazil.  In Iowa, Commissioner Jason E. Glass traveled to Brazil with Pearson; the state has $3 million in contracts with the publishing corporation.  Again, Pearson is alleged to have its non-profit and for-profit divisions confused. The non-profit Pearson foundation is prohibited from lobbying to gain contracts for its for-profit arm. According to an article by Michael Winerip of The New York Times,The Pearson conferences fit the same fact pattern as the influence-buying junkets that the convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff arranged for members of Congress,” said Marcus S. Owens, a lawyer who was director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service for 10 years and is a former board member of the Better Business Bureau’s  Wise Giving Alliance “Those junkets were paid for by private charities.”

8. Isn’t it just Tea Party extremists who oppose the Common Core?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would like you to believe that Common Core opponents are limited to tin foil hat wearing Tea Party conspiracy theorists and spoiled, suburban moms who can’t believe their coddled darlings aren’t geniuses. However, Common Core is another example of how politics makes strange bedfellows.  In “Five Myths About the Common Core”, Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post writes, The reality is that resistance to the Common Core is coming from every political direction. On the right, the tea party has indeed been vocal. Though the Core has support from the likes of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, conservative Republicans have mounted a sustained attack. Glenn Beck warned his listeners: “You as a parent are going to be completely pushed out of the loop. The state is completely pushed out of the loop. They now have control of your children.” On the left, Diane Ravitch , the most vocal critic of school reforms that focus on standardization, has suggested that federal promotion of the Common Core “may well have been illegal.”

            Then, of course, there are just average people who don’t like to see their children frustrated with inscrutable instructional materials and tests

9.  Is Common Core going to continue in its present form?

While some politicians, administrators and teachers still view CCSS as a “done deal” and are trying to adapt to it, vocal parent and teacher groups, such as stopcommoncoreny.com, are letting New York’s politicians know how unsatisfied they are with the impact the CCSS is having in classrooms throughout the state.  NYSUT has withdrawn its support of the Common Core and taken a vote of no –confidence in Commissioner King.  King, who, during this fall’s public forums on testing and standards, demonstrated a tone-deafness to citizens’ dissatisfaction that rivaled Marie Antoinette’s, remains committed to Common Core. He and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch issued the following response, "Together with the Board of Regents, the governor, and legislature, we will make necessary adjustments and modifications to the implementation of the Common Core, but now is not the time to weaken standards for teaching and learning.”

 

Other leaders in Albany have been more responsive to New Yorker’s concerns; at the recent legislative breakfast sponsored by POB and Syosset PTAs and the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers, State Senators Flanagan and Marcellino, Assemblyman Chuck Lavine and Congressman Steve Israel seemed to hear what the audience had to say and to understand that Common Core will be a determining issue in the next elections. A recent report issued by Senate Education Chairman John Flanagan calls for modest actions to improve the implementation of CCSS. The most aggressive of these recommendations would require the Commissioner of Education to report on the success of Common Core tests and have them independently audited and reviewed. Senator Carl Marcellino has been outspoken in his negative opinion of Common Core and its implementation, writing to Commissioner King, “Do you intend to travel district by district to explain the Common Core and to hear first hand, the impact the new curriculum is having on children learning and educators teaching?  This issue will not go away, nor will I stand by and simply hope this problem rights itself.” Indeed, it won’t.

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