|NUMBER 305||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||JUNE 2011|
|Common Core Sparks War|
The self-described "counter-manifesto" is a rebuttal of the "Call for Common Content," released in March by the Albert Shanker Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group named for the late president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union. The Shanker manifesto, signed by more than 200 union officials, businessmen and policy makers, calls for the development of standards and "shared curriculum" for nearly every subject, including English, math, history, geography, the sciences, arts, and health, but insists such "common curriculum guidance does not represent a straitjacket or a narrowing of learning possibilities."
The counter-manifesto, organized by Bill Evers of the Hoover Institution, University of Arkansas professors Jay Greene and Sandra Stotsky, Greg Forster of the Foundation for Educational Choice, and former U.S. Department of Education official Ze'ev Wurman, is also a protest against the federal government funding the development of national assessments and instructional materials ($330 million and $31.6 million respectively). The document argues that shared curriculum will lock in an unacceptable status quo, threaten state and local control of education, and impose a one-size-fits-all model on students with diverse needs. It also notes that federal law prohibits a national curriculum and tests.
Shanker signatories and other proponents of national standards, assessments, and curriculum maintain that the entire enterprise is voluntary. Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT and prominent signatory of the Shanker paper, asserts that the counter-manifesto's claim that the "Call for Common Content" is "about creation of a 'national curriculum' and 'national standards' is just plain wrong." She and other Shanker signatories insist they aren't advocating for one curriculum for all students, but for multiple "curricular guides" that teachers can use at their discretion.
Frederick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute declined to sign the "Call for Common Content" despite his support for common standards. The Shanker signatories "can't go on about a 'coherent, substantive, sequential' plan for the 'knowledge and skills' students need and still claim there is enormous room for people to come out with all kinds of instructional and curricular materials," he said. "What they're pushing is a national model of instruction."
Counter-manifesto co-author Jay Greene accused the Shanker group of resorting to stealth tactics instead of choosing to defend their nationalization agenda openly. "I think it's odd that they are denying that they are trying to establish national curriculum," he said. "Their denials sound like weasel words: 'Curriculum modules' are not 'curriculum.' It just sounds like someone trying to impose national curriculum who doesn't want to be called out for it."
The Obama administration has also stressed that state adoption of the Common Standards and related tests and curriculum is optional, but only the willfully credulous can ignore all the federal carrots and sticks being used to coerce states into "voluntary" compliance. At a time when the national fiscal climate is dismal and state revenues are in decline, states are increasingly dependent on federal funding for public schools. Even the possibility of receiving a one-time federal cash infusion prompted many states to change laws in order to qualify for the Race to the Top grant.
Moreover, President Obama has repeatedly said that he wants $15 billion in Title I funds to be contingent on states adopting Common Standards and assessments. Future Race to the Top grants proposed by the Education Department may also require adherence to the Common Core standards, tests and curriculum.
Despite all the financial inducements to cede state educational control to federal bureaucrats, counter-manifesto signatory Shelby Steele of Stanford University's Hoover Institution urged Americans to consider the long-term consequences. "Decentralization has been the engine of educational innovation. We shouldn't trade our federalist birthright for a national-curriculum mess of pottage," he said. (Education Week, 5-18-11 and 3-9-11; School Reform News, 5-20-11)