Common Core hysteria is testing the limits

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While a debate is proper, muddying the waters with lies doesn’t help

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
UTMikeColLogoTuesday night, there’s a big meeting planned at the Kennett Fire Company’s Red Clay Room, to talk about the issues with the proposed Common Core curriculum.

And while there are issues with Common Core, ranging from questions about the nature of the curriculum to who should pay for it, the attacks on Common Core from some groups have gone right through absurd to flat out lies. Based on the materials being sent out, you can expect to hear some mixture of both, Tuesday night.

Some folks, let’s be honest about it, oppose Common Core because President Barack Obama decided to support it. We can forget that it was largely created by the National Governors Association (dominated by Republicans) and business groups interested in having properly educated workers in the future. We can forget that it builds on the work of President George W. Bush and is publicly supported by noted left-wingers such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Oh and Gov. Tom Corbett, another noted flower child. And those hippies at the American Enterprise Institute.

For some folks — and I suspect no small amount of the people behind Tuesday night event — if Obama supports it, it must be some sort of socialist plot. By the way, I also understand Obama supports breathing oxygen, so those who seek to oppose him on all fronts should be advised accordingly.

Whatever the case, the hysteria way outweighs the reality — and some would-be politicians are cynically exploiting people’s fears for nothing more than political and even personal gain.

Maybe you saw an email that’s been circulating lately, which would be laughable except that some folks will swear by it as they peer out looking for the United Nations black helicopters coming to take away their guns and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” DVDs.

And I quote:

“It tracks teachers and students, to the point where if a 2nd grader says the word ‘race’, it will be filed and stay with a portfolio for their entire school/career/life. It never goes away.  Your child’s eating habits, personality traits, etc.  Are recorded by the teacher and filed with the federal government forever, and can never be changed or challenged.  Instead of preparing creative lessons at night, teachers will file reports on the kids (most are already doing it), and sending the reports to D.C.  This portfolio is not allowed to be seen by the parent.  Teachers, administrators, even vendors at the school (Microsoft, etc.) will have access.  Why?  Because it is a predetermined path the child will be put on to fill in the places in industry where they will be most fit to serve the good of the people. Your political history will follow the child, the time a parent is incarcerated, the social connections, the marriage status, etc.  It will control elections, at the very least.  It is federally mandated out of Washington and no district will have its own say by 2015.  It effects homeschoolers, private and charter schools as well.   Common Core is privately held, greatly funded by Bill and Melinda Gates, GE, etc.”

Yeah, every last word of that is wrong and intended to be — this isn’t an innocent confusion, but a calculated attempt to gin up outrage. It’s a big, fat lie.

And yet, there seems to be a cottage industry of folks making money going around stoking fear, misrepresenting the truth and pocketing money, usually your money, when it comes to this issue.

Don’t be fooled by these hucksters.

Virtually nothing in the above email is true. Are there some components of data tracking? Yes. Student performance is going to be used to evaluate teacher performance, although numerous administrators I’ve spoken with question exactly how over a three-year period one can weigh and assess the impact of student performance relative to one teacher. In theory, on a macro basis, it might be possible — but using, or even keeping, individual student data and applying it will be problematic.

The complete details on what it is — and isn’t — can be read in this document from the state Department of Education.

Don’t get me wrong, there are very legitimate concerns about Common Core — but this sort of deception prevents serious, sober discussions about how to improve it.

The concept behind Common Core was to ensure a fairly uniform educational experience and structure state to state — so that a student moving from say, Mississippi to Unionville wouldn’t find themselves quite literally years behind in school. School districts and communities will have some say on how to get to the goals, of course.

I keep hearing the argument that states should have the right to decide how to educate their kids — even if they use outdated or even ill-advised methods. But would we allow a state to use leeches for medical care, just because that’s how the locals think medicine should be practiced?

Instead of reasoned arguments about the value and pitfalls of common curriculum, we get claims that this is a deep, dark plot to enslave our children. And by the way, some of the same people screaming now — and speaking Tuesday — are the same folks who predicted societal disaster if the state adopted standards some two decades ago, which of course didn’t happen.

As a nation, in comparison to other wealthy, developed nations, we’re falling farther and farther behind. Even if the details aren’t perfect — and they aren’t — setting higher standards is something we need to do.

But, as I said, there are concerns — both in terms of how standards are being implemented and who is expected to pay for it. At a time that every single school district in the county is hurting for funds, thanks to the state legislature’s failure to deal with the pension mess it created, these districts are being asked to pay for the changes to make Common Core happen, which actually hurts education in some districts.

That’s led to opposition to Common Core from the left, including Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester County), the minority chair of the state Senate Education Committee.

“We’ve already heard from the West Chester Area School District and the Downingtown Area School District that they are each spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in terms of staffing needs, substitutes and program restructuring to implement Common Core standards,” Dinniman said earlier this year. “And keep in mind we are only talking about two of the county’s twelve school districts.”

Dinniman argues that without the state paying for the changes, the cost will be dumped on taxpayers.

“The problem with Common Core is that these regulations make no mention of the state dollars necessary to cover the costs of the very programs they call for,” Dinniman said. “These are costs that will undoubtedly be passed directly onto local taxpayers in the form of school property taxes.”

Well, except, thanks to Act 1 which limits how much school districts can raise taxes, it’s more likely to mean cuts in staff and educational programs, rather than higher taxes — as most school districts don’t have a lot of room left under state limits for additional tax hikes.

So, it seems like it might be smart for the Federal Government to fund this transition — except that the U.S. Congress can’t agree on funding anything right now. The state is broke — and can’t manage to educate kids or pave roads — thanks to decades of financial mismanagement by Democrats and Republicans.

And that puts it right back on local school districts — which is a problem and should be discussed.

But Tuesday night’s meeting won’t do anything to address that issue and it will make a lot of people needlessly angry and upset, rather than focused on improving education.

And that’s a shame.

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