The One Thing We Know for Sure about Schools…

This week’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores prove it. When it comes to education, there is one reliable truth out there. It’s not news; any educational historian worth his or her mortarboard could tell you about it.

But first, the news: NAEP, the “Nation’s Report Card,” shows stagnant or declining scores in math and reading. A bummer, after fifteen years of emphasis on jacked-up standards and high-stakes testing in public schools.

Up, up, up, ... and down.

Up, up, up, … and down.

Understandably, teacher activists who have derided the latest test-heavy reform efforts have offered bitter I-told-you-sos. The test-hungry reformers have scrambled to explain the decline. Michael Petrilli at the Fordham Institute retreats to the obvious explanation: It’s complicated. It might be due to non-testing factors such as classroom confusion, Petrilli explains. It might be due to the declining economy. Most important, Petrilli says, we need to remember that this decline might be only a “blip,” not a “trend.”

But anyone who knows the first thing about educational history knows it’s simple. There is one reliable constant in American education.

We can see it in bombshell cases such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Reformers hoped that ending legal racial segregation in schools could go a long way toward healing racism in this country. Sixty-plus years later, those assumptions seem painfully naïve. Schools are still segregated by race; cities even more so.

We can see it all the way back in the roots of urban school systems. Two hundred years ago, school reformer Joseph Lancaster promised a new method of organizing schools that would solve America’s poverty problem. Hundreds of low-income students could be educated with a cheap and simple monitorial system.

How schools can save society, 1815.

How schools can save society, 1815.

Guess what? It didn’t work. As long as there have been public school systems in this country, there have been eager reformers who have offered one idea or another as a silver bullet. Each reform, we’ve heard, will be the ticket to healing America’s schools and society. We’ve been told for hundreds of years that America’s schools will FINALLY fulfill their promise to end poverty, fix the economy, and etc. etc.

It’s just not that simple. Today’s round of high-stakes testing made elaborate promises. No Child, we heard, would be Left Behind. Schools, we heard, could now finally fix social inequalities and heal society’s injustices.

Would that it were so.

What we have instead is another reminder of the one thing we can count on in schooling, the one reliable truth about education.

Ready for it?

Here it is: Schools can’t fix society. Schools ARE society.

Obama-Core?  More like Conserva-Core!

Who’s to blame?  In this year’s ferocious presidential debates, GOP candidates are falling all over themselves to point fingers about the Common Core State Standards.  Jeb Bush, who still supports the standards, has come under withering attack from folks such as Mike Huckabee, who used to.  A new report from the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution lays out the real history of the standards.  It’s true: If we have to assign praise or blame for these standards, we should be looking to the right.

Report author David Whitman does a nice job of detailing the story back to the 1980s. Still, I can’t help but be miffed when he says that this is a “surprising” story, one that “few are familiar with, and even fewer have written about.”  Of course, as SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, your humble editor has been trumpeting this history in these pages and in venues such as Time Magazine.

Conservative intellectuals, too, have done what they can to draw attention to this history.  In the pages of The Weekly Standard, for instance, free-market maven Michael Petrilli has told the story to anyone who will listen.

Such complaints aside, however, Whitman’s report is still worth reading.  He details the history of the Common Core standards themselves.  As he describes correctly, in the 1980s the drive for “high standards” was a leading conservative issue.  As Ronald Reagan’s second Secretary of Education, William J. Bennett pushed hard to make these standards a reality.

In the 1990s, Lamar Alexander continued the conservative push for more rigorous state standards.  Alexander never envisioned increasing federal control of local education.  Rather, he saw these standards as an appropriate way that the federal government could provide help to state governments as they hammered out their education policies.

Whitman also argues convincingly that conservative opposition to the standards is really about something else.  The standards themselves are fairly popular when they are not called “Common Core.”  Whitman blasts conservative politicians for using “the big lie technique” to smear the standards, to create misinformation among the public.  As Whitman cites, many Americans think the standards force children to learn about sex and evolution, when they really don’t.

Make no mistake about it: Whitman’s report is a partisan attack on conservative opposition to the Common Core.  And the SAGLRROILYBYGTH know that I generally don’t go for knee-jerk partisanship.  In this case, however, Whitman has his historical facts straight.

The Common Core was meant to be a conservative initiative.  It was meant to push schools toward more rigorous learning, away from touchy-feely progressive nostrums and toward ol-fashioned book learnin.

Whitman’s liberal glee at pointing out this irony is overdone at times, but his argument is still solid.  The Common Core represents an historic win for educational conservatives.  Why won’t they admit it?  Why do conservatives love to lose when it comes to education policy?

Are Teach-Bots “Conservative?”

When Arnold Schwartzenegger played a robot, it was the mean, human-killing kind (at first). But when he played a teacher, it was the cute, love-them-kids kind. But in the real world, we will soon have machines performing crucial teaching tasks. Will this be embraced by conservatives?

Hasta la Vista, Human Teachers...

Hasta la Vista, Human Teachers…

According to Politico, the company that is in charge of producing Common-Core-related standardized tests has promised to introduce computer grading. The company, Pearson, wants computers to grade student essays in order to cut down on the costs of test processing. In fact, those algorithm-guided grading programs were an essential part of Pearson’s original contract with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the folks behind the Common Core tests.

Caitlin Emma of Politico reports that those robo-graders have been delayed without explanation. Pearson’s original plan was to phase in computer grading. This year, all Common-Core tests would be graded by humans. Next year, two thirds would be done by computer. After that, computers would “read” and evaluate all student essays.

For us here at ILYBYGTH, this raises a tricky question: Is this plan “conservative?” As we’ve seen, conservatives have been bitterly divided over the plans to introduce Common Core curricula. Some conservatives have insisted that the CCSS are the best, most conservative way to reform education. Others have called the new standards a “progressive beer bong,” or a socialist plan fomented by “Obama administration left-wing bureaucrats.”

So what will conservatives say about robo-grading? I can imagine some free-market types will embrace the new technology. If computers can grade tests quickly, efficiently, and accurately . . . why not? This will represent, after all, the triumph of business principles in the hopelessly sclerotic world of public education, some might say.

On the other hand, conservatives might be aghast at the dehumanization of the process. It is one thing to use machines to grade multiple-choice answer sheets, but another thing entirely to have them grade essays. For one thing, conservatives might agree that computer grading is simply inaccurate. Conservative critics might side with progressive pundits who insist that computers can’t possibly evaluate the complex meanings of student writing.

My hunch is that this issue will divide the traditional “conservative” constituency. I’ve argued that the Common Core has forced a re-shuffling of what it has meant to be “conservative” on educational issues. This question of computer grading will only deepen that divide among conservatives.

Salon Article Wrong on the Right

Do conservatives hate the Common Core?  Like anything in cultural politics, it all depends on what we mean by “conservatives,” “hate,” and “the Common Core.”  In other words, I understand that this is a tricky subject. But it is still painful to read writers like Gabriel Arana get the Right so Wrong.

As we’ve discussed in these pages, conservatives are anything but united about the new common standards.  Some old-schoolers such as Phyllis Schlafly blast the new standards as “control by Obama administration left-wing bureaucrats.”  And Catholic conservatives have worried that the new standards will rob students of the “the virtues necessary to know, love, and serve the Lord.”  Libertarians have bashed the core as the death knell of educational independence.  More colorfully, one conservative politician described the standards as the ultimate progressive “beer bong for American education.”  We could go on and on.  Conservative pundits and politicians have offered a vast treasure-trove of reasons to oppose the newish standards.

On the other side, thinkers have also offered plenty of conservative arguments in support of the core.  Karen Swallow Prior of Liberty University, for example, has suggested that “no one more than evangelicals” should understand the reason for effective literacy instruction.  Kevin T. Brady and Stephen M. Klugewicz argue that the new standards will serve to weaken the power of the political Left.  The new standards, these conservatives assert, will force left-leaning teachers and educational bureaucracies to embrace the rich cultural tradition of Jesus, St. Paul, Martin Luther, and GK Chesterton.  Nuts-and-bolts free-market conservatives also like the standards.  Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli, for example, think that these standards are the least-bad way to insure that America “knows how all its kids and schools are doing . . . [with] a rigorous set of shared expectations for the three R’s.”

It’s complicated.  I get it.  But that complexity only makes me lament all the more the simplistic description offered by Arana’s recent Common-Core article in Salon.  A few days ago, Arana offered this glib and breezy drive-by of conservative attitudes:

Education policy wonks on the right oppose the standards because they view it as a step toward nationalizing education — as a general rule, they prefer to keep control local. Tea Party types, on the other hand, fear they will eventually be used to teach kids about dangerous stuff like evolution. But since George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law — the largest federal education initiative to date — Republicans have in principle been less opposed to federal involvement in education. A lot of the pushback from Republicans . . .  is about the Obama administration, which has enthusiastically supported Common Core.

Let’s take a look at the claims here:

First, “Education policy wonks” don’t like the standards?  It’s hard to think of any more wonk-y conservatives than Michael Petrilli.  And Petrilli, the author of Wonk-tastic articles such as “How School Districts Can Stretch the School Dollar” and “America’s Private Public Schools” is the Right’s most vocal advocate of the new standards.

Next, it is true that some conservatives worry that the Next Generation Science Standards will push more evolution into schools.  It’s also true that some conservatives have bundled their opposition to the Common Core with their opposition to evolution.  But what leads Arana to call this “Tea Party” opposition?  Some polls suggest that conservatives who identify as Tea Party members tend to deny evolution at higher rates than other members of the Republican Party.  But as Dan Kahan has pointed out, any statements about a shift in Republican attitudes about creationism overall must be tempered.  And behind it all, how often do “Tea Party” types talk about creationism, compared to their central interests in smaller government?

Last but not least, Arana is smart to point out that things might be changing.  But is he aware of the difficulties conservative politicians face when it comes to supporting the Common Core?  Jeb Bush, for example, supports the new standards but is always very careful to differentiate the standards from federal control.  In contrast to Arana’s claim, Republicans are not less opposed to “federal involvement in education.”  They MAY be less opposed to shared standards, but “federal control” still remains the third rail of conservative education policy.

So, again, I don’t bash Arana—or anyone—for not following every curve and wrinkle of conservative debates over the Common Core standards.  But if you open your mouth to deliver pearls of wisdom, it always makes sense to at least get the general outline right.

Heavy Hitters Take on the Common Core, Sort of…

What is a conservative to think? Are the Common Core Learning Standards a threat? A blessing? As we’ve discussed recently in these pages, some conservative intellectuals have argued that the standards are a triumph of conservative activism. But tonight, the Family Research Council hosts a star-studded slamfest to explain all the reasons why conservatives should fight the standards. Yet it seems to me that this group will conspicuously leave out some of the most obvious reasons for conservatives to oppose the new standards.

They Are Coming for Conservatives' Children...

They Are Coming for Conservatives’ Children…

What’s the FRC’s beef with the standards? The name of tonight’s event says it all: “Common Core: The Government’s Classroom.” As have other leading conservatives including Phyllis Schlafly, Glenn Beck, conservative Catholics, and libertarians such as JD Tuccille, the heavyweights at tonight’s event will likely condemn the standards as another example of leftist government overreach.

For tonight’s roundtable, the FRC has assembled folks such as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and University of Arkansas scholar Sandra Stotsky. Governor Jindal has taken the lead among conservative state leaders with his endless legal wrangling over the new standards. Professor Stotsky has become the academic leader of the antis. Her work with the standards’ development left her convinced that the Common Core was rotten. As Stotsky argued in a video jeremiad produced by the anti-Core Home School Legal Defense Association, the intellectual weakness of the standards presents as much of a threat as does the sneaky way they were introduced.

What is a conservative to think about the Common Core? Tonight’s video roundtable apparently hopes to convince more conservatives to fight it.

It will raise key questions about conservatism and educational politics. For example, from time to time, the anti-Core fight is tied to anti-evolution. As we noted a while back, Ohio’s now-defunct House Bill 597 pushed IN creationism as it pushed OUT the Common Core.

To this observer, it seems natural for conservatives to use the political muscle of creationism to fight against the Common Core. In some cases, conservatives have done just that, since the Next Generation Science Standards would likely push for more evolution and less creationism in America’s classrooms.

But this FRC event doesn’t mention evolution or creation. It doesn’t mention literature, history, or math, either, for that matter. Instead, the focus of tonight’s event seems to be on the federal-izing dangers inherent in the new standards.

But why not? Why wouldn’t the Family Research Council want to use every intellectual weapon at its disposal to discredit the standards in conservatives’ eyes? Maybe they will, of course.  The different panelists might emphasize different aspects of the standards.  One or some certainly might note the connection between evolution education and centralized power.  I’d love to watch and find out.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to. If anyone has the time tonight to spend with this all-star conservative panel, I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Will the REAL Conservative Fan of the Common Core Please Stand Up

Are the new(ish) Common Core Learning Standards “conservative?” Some say yes, some say no. But even among those who say yes, we see a split. Leading conservative educational thinker Sol Stern offers one “conservative” vision of the Common Core, while Michael Petrilli gives another. And their differences can tell us a lot about the complicated world of conservative educational thinking.

Among some conservatives—some of them literally from an earlier generation—the new standards seem obviously objectionable, simply because of their provenance. Phyllis Schlafly, for example, emerged from the 1970s to bash the Common Core as a power grab by “Obama administration left-wing bureaucrats.” Some pundits from a newer generation agree. Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin warn that the new standards are turning American kids into “guinea pigs.”

But among those conservatives who like the Common Core—or at least think the new standards are the least-bad option—we see different emphases. Both Stern and Petrilli agree that the new standards will offer a more rigorous academic experience. But Stern suggests that such rigor is the core of the conservative case for the Core, while Petrilli says that academic rigor is only one aspect of the conservative argument in favor of the new standards.

Writing in the pages of the New Criterion, Stern defends the Common Core as the best “chance of restoring traditional academic content to the classroom.” As Stern explains,

As a conservative, I remain convinced that, faults and all, the Common Core still presents a golden opportunity and a challenge for states and school districts to rethink what is taught in their classrooms. The Standards are more than just a list of learning objectives and skills that American students are expected to achieve by the end of each grade level. The most hopeful part of the new Standards is that they reject the instructional malpractice that prevents the public schools from fulfilling their historic mission of producing literate American citizens who know something about their country’s history and its republican heritage. Contrary to the conservatives’ complaints, the Common Core is, in fact, a document that the founders would approve.

Michael Petrilli does not disagree. He thinks the Common Core will indeed help re-introduce academic rigor to public schools. But as he argued a while back in the pages of the Weekly Standard along with co-author Chester Finn, the real score of the Core is elsewhere. As Petrilli tells the story, the road to the Common Core began back in the days of Bill Bennett, Reagan’s second secretary of education.

Petrilli argues that the new standards fulfill a generation-long conservative plan to make schools more measurable, more interchangeable. With such standards in place, free-market conservatives have thought, public schools could be freed from the dead hand of left-leaning teachers’ unions. Parents could be offered a market-friendly menu of charter schools and voucher-funded private schools.

In Petrilli’s words,

Standards do a good job of clarifying the public’s expectations for schools, and signaling to parents and taxpayers whether the campus down the street is educating its students poorly or well. But standards-based reform has never had a suitable answer for failing schools. It can identify them but has had little success turning them around.

Choice, on the other hand, is great at creating new school options, places that can replace the failures and give needy kids decent alternatives. Yet market-based reform needs reliable consumer information for it to lead to strong outcomes—information that standards and tests are excellent at providing.

We might describe this difference in conservative emphases as a difference between a “classroom” approach to conservative school reform and a “systemic” approach. Or maybe a “traditionalist” versus a “free-market” approach.  And, again, we don’t want to make these plans sound entirely exclusive.

But it seems as if Stern is arguing that the heart of “conservative” reform must be with an intellectual change in the way kids are taught. Stern excoriates pedagogical ideas such as “balanced literacy.” Instead, Stern celebrates the approach of anti-progressive E.D. Hirsch. Instead of looking at structural reforms, Hirsch and Stern wanted conservative reforms to begin in the classroom. Students needed to learn basic cultural information, to focus on “Core Knowledge.”

Petrilli, on the other hand, emphasizes a different approach. Academic rigor is important, Petrilli argues, but it is only one of the reasons for conservatives to support the Core. At least as important, Petrilli says, is the boost the standards will give to school choice. Without what Petrilli calls “true external standards,” it will always be impossible to introduce a true educational marketplace. After all, how can parents know what school is the best if there are not measures that compare schools in a fair way?

In any case, these conservative pleas in favor of the Common Core might be too little, too late. Recent polls have indicated plummeting popular support for the new standards. In spite of the smart arguments of intellectuals like Stern and Petrilli, parents might decide that these standards are just too iffy.

 

Creationism, Conservatism, and the Common Core

What does creationism have to do with the newish Common Core Learning Standards? Some conservative activists and politicians are rejecting both in a knee-jerk attack on educational reform. In one new educational bill in Ohio, conservatives simultaneously threw out the Common Core and opened the door to creationism. But this isn’t just a question of creationism. Rather, this is a symptom of a broader conservative attitude toward public schooling.

Not just science, but history and literature are also targeted in this conservative educational power grab.

We first became aware of this new bill in Ohio thanks to the watchdoggery of the folks at the National Center for Science Education. The NCSE, naturally, worried first about the apparent opening of Ohio’s public-school science classes to intelligent design and creationism. Ohio’s House Bill 597 would insist on new standards that specifically “prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.”  The sponsor of the bill, Andy Thompson of Marietta, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he included that language to allow school districts the freedom to include a variety of ideas about evolution, not to mandate that districts include intelligent design or creationism.

Representative Thompson wants the Common Core OUT and conservative curricula IN.

Representative Thompson wants the Common Core OUT and conservative curricula IN.

But the anti-Common Core bill also includes a broad-spectrum attack on the purportedly progressive nature of school curricula in other subjects as well. The original draft of the bill specified that 80% of the literature taught must be from American or British authors before 1970, though Thompson quickly backpedaled from that goal. But why was such a target included in the first place? As I detail in my new book, conservatives since the 1970s have looked skeptically at the trend toward “multicultural” literature. Conservative leaders from Max Rafferty to Bill Bennett have insisted that proper education—conservative education—must be based on the classics of our Western civilization. Anything else, they insisted, dooms children to a savage unawareness of their own cultural heritage.

In history, too, the Ohio bill insisted that history instruction include

the original texts and the original context of the declaration of independence, the northwest ordinance, the constitution of the United States and its amendments with emphasis on the bill of rights; incorporate the Ohio constitution; define the United States of America as a constitutional republic; be based on acquisition of real knowledge of major individuals and events; require the study of world and American geography; and prohibit a specific political or religious interpretation of the standards’ content.

Here also we hear echoes of long-time conservative worries. From Lynne Cheney to Dinesh D’Souza, it has become a commonplace of the conservative imagination that leftist history has taken over public education. As I argued recently in a commentary in History News Network, conservatives assume that students are taught that American history is the record of cruel white hate crimes against Native Americans, women, and African Americans. The Ohio bill hopes to rectify this America-bashing by mandating “real knowledge,” not just hate-filled Zinn-isms.

As we’ve seen time and again, conservatives are not united in their thinking about the Common Core. Some conservatives love them….or at least like them. Others blast the standards as yet another attempt at sneaky subversion from Washington.

In this new Ohio legislation, we see how some conservatives combine their loathing of the Common Core with a grab-bag of other conservative educational goals: Less evolution in science class, more America-loving in history class, and less multiculturalism in literature class. Taken together, conservatives such as Ohio’s Andy Thompson hope to broaden the anti-Common-Core juggernaut into a more ambitious conservative panacea.

 

Holocaust Denial, Evolution Denial, and “Teaching the Controversy”

Should students learn to think critically in schools?  Should they learn about both sides of controversial issues?  This morning at the National Center for Science Education blog, Glenn Branch compares creationists’ fondness for “teaching the controversy” to an explosively controversial history lesson from California.  For those of us interested in conservative ideas about schooling, this recent flap again demonstrates the ways “conservative” and “progressives” have swapped sides on this issue.

In the Rialto (California) Unified School District, eighth-grade students were asked to evaluate the arguments for and against the existence of the Holocaust.  “When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence,” the assignment reads, according to the San Bernardino County Sun.

For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual historical event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain. Based upon your research on this issue, write an argumentative essay, utilizing cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim. You are also required to use parenthetical (internal) citations and to provide a Works Cited page.

When the story came out about ten days ago, some conservative pundits tried to use this as proof of the moral monstrosity concealed in the Common Core State Standards.  The standards, some said, pushed school districts into adopting such terrible ideas as Holocaust denial.

Glenn Branch asks a different question.  How is this example of teaching “critical thinking” any different from creationist attempts to have students evaluate evolution and creationism side by side?  In both cases, students are encouraged to look at evidence.  Students are prompted to evaluate arguments and come to their own decisions.

But in the case of Holocaust denial, one side of the balance sheet has been thoroughly discredited.  It is not morally or educationally appropriate to ask students to decide whether or not the Holocaust happened, critics insist.  One of the sources students were given in this assignment stated the following:

With all this money at stake for Israel, it is easy to comprehend why this Holocaust hoax is so secretly guarded. In whatever way you can, please help shatter this profitable myth. It is time we stop sacrificing America’s welfare for the sake of Israel and spend our hard-earned dollars on Americans.

Offering students these sorts of false, hateful lies as “sources,” critics say, demeans the idea of pushing students to think critically.  If creationists thought that students should really explore every side of every issue, even sides with no intellectual or moral legitimacy, Branch argues,

then they should have been enthusiastically supporting the Rialto assignment. It’s to their moral credit that they weren’t, of course, but it proves—as if proof were needed by now—that “teach the controversy” and the like are merely rhetorical legerdemain intended to distract the spectator from the intellectual hollowness of the proposals they are supposed to support.

To suggest that schools ought to “teach the controversy” when there is in fact no controversy among mainstream scientists, Branch concludes, is just as bogus as having students evaluate the claims of Holocaust deniers.

The historian in me can’t help but notice the flip-flop we’ve seen over the course of the twentieth century.  In 1925, it was the pro-evolution side who pleaded with America to consider both sides in public schools.  Most famously, Scopes-trial attorney Dudley Field Malone begged the nation to allow the teaching of evolution.  “For God’s sake,” Malone implored, “let the children have their minds kept open.”  Ironically, as historian Ronald Numbers pointed out in Darwin Comes to America (pg. 91), later creationists adopted Malone’s plea as their own.

This is one of the themes I’m working with in my upcoming book.  Back in the 1920s, it was the conservative side of school battles who protested that these were false choices.  In 1929, for instance, the staunchly conservative leader of the Daughters of the American Revolution warned DAR members that progressives sneakily insisted on teaching both sides of every issue.  Such choices, she warned, were false ones.  Even to ask the questions tipped students away from truth and morality.  As she memorably argued,

Flagrant cases of un-American tendencies have been brought to light and exposed.  Exotic theories are promulgated in the name of science.  Disdain for law and order, and contempt for our accepted form of Government are subtly injected into the teachings of history.  Such practices are defended by the advancement of the decrepit theory that both sides of the question should be presented to permit the forming of unbiased opinions.  This may be the proper system for the seasoned adult who presumably can, if he will, revoke his errors when faced with the consequences of an unwise choice.  With the young, the chances are too great, for there a dangerous inequality exists.  One does not place before a delicate child a cup of strong black coffee and a glass of milk; or a big cigar and a stick of barley candy; or a narcotic and an orange, and in the name of progress and freedom insist that both must be tested in order that the child be given the right of choice.  Instead, one carefully supplies only what will make for the development of the young body and assure its normal growth.  Why then apply the very opposite theory when dealing with the delicate and impressionable fabric of the mind? (Emphasis added.)

With this historical lens, it seems doubly apparent that the argument for teaching both sides of any tricky issue has always been politically popular among Americans.  If there’s a controversy, many Americans have always agreed, let children hear both sides.

Back in the 1920s, progressives and evolution educators tried to make this case.  Let children hear about socialism and evolution, progressives pleaded.  At least allow schools to teach the controversy.  Back then, conservatives made the case that one side of those ideas was not equal.  To offer students both candy and cigars to choose from, as our DAR leader insisted, was a false choice, a false controversy.

Today, the sides have switched but the argument has not.  One side argues to let children hear both sides of a controversial issue and decide for themselves.  The other side insists that only one side has any truth, any intellectual legitimacy.

Me personally, I agree that Holocaust denial and evolution denial ought not be offered as equals to better history and better science.  But I know many readers might disagree.  How can creationists defend the legitimacy of “teaching the controversy” when most scientists agree that there is no controversy?  Is it like offering children a choice between heroin and citrus fruits?  Milk and coffee?  Candy or cigars?

 

Building the Machine: Conservatives Debate the Common Core

She’s in a hurry.

Balancing a crate of oranges in one hand, a purse and bag of groceries in the other, a stylish, affluent, and beautiful mom hustles to answer a call on her iPhone from a friend. “Calling to see if you’re going to the special PTA meeting,” the friend asks as creepy music deedles in the background, “the school is changing the tests next Spring . . . something about the Common Core Standards?”

That’s the opening of a new short film about the Common Core Standards produced by the Home School Legal Defense Association. The forty-minute film, Building the Machine, examines conservative arguments for and against the new standards. As we’ve noted in these pages [check out ILYBYGTH coverage here, here, or here, for instance], conservatives have wondered about the implications of these new standards. I’m told by watchful members of the ILYBYGTH community that the film has made a big splash among conservative homeschoolers. What are conservatives supposed to think about the new standards? What do they need to know about them?

The conservative HSLDA certainly wants to portray the CCSS in a negative light. As HSLDA leader Michael Farris makes clear in the documentary, he feels the standards make a fetish of centralization, systematization, and data collection. But the film gives ample time for pro-CCSS conservative intellectuals to make their cases.

Most prominently, Michael Petrilli of the conservative-leaning Fordham Institute tries to allay conservative worries. The standards, Petrilli argues, resulted from an open and public process. They were not imposed top-down by grasping central elites. Best of all, they will improve education. They will hold teachers, unions, administrators, and students to higher standards. Are they perfect? Not according to Petrilli. But they are the nation’s best shot at renewing academic rigor in public education.

Petrilli is joined by conservative standards-boosters such as Mike Huckabee and Chester Finn. But most of the screen time is devoted to CCSS dissidents Sandra Stotsky and Jim Milgram. Both were part of the original validation committee in charge of the standards, and both refused to sign off on the final product. Why? Both Stotsky and Milgram assert that the new standards are not offering the rigorous academic benchmark that they claim to be. And both insist that their dissent was swept under the rug.

The HSLDA documentary also features conservative critics from the Heartland Institute and Pioneer Institute. The new standards, conservative intellectuals complain, were crafted in a secretive manner, rammed through by the federal government, and do not make academic sense. By aiming at the broad middle, by promising to make all students “college and career ready,” these standards fail to prepare students for either college or careers. More troubling, the standards represent a dictatorial overreach by central government. Mega-rich donors such as Bill Gates greased the slide and snuck this project past the complacent American public.

Perhaps more than the messages delivered by the talking heads, the film’s fast-cut montages and sinister musical background send a clear message: Take your kids and run for the hills. We can’t all be as hip, rich, and beautiful as the mom in the opening montage. But the film makes it clear. All of us—beautiful moms and the rest of us alike—need to wake up and smell the Common Core.

 

Astorino Blasts the Common Core: “Our Children Are Not Guinea Pigs!”

Should conservatives embrace the Common Core? As we’ve seen [check out ILYBYGTH coverage here, here, or here, for instance], conservative intellectuals have disagreed about the new standards. New York gubernatorial hopeful and staunch conservative Rob Astorino offered a stinging attack on the new standards last week. His analysis of the good and the bad might give us some insight into the ways conservatives view these new standards. Indeed, Astorino’s comments might offer insight into conservative attitudes about education as a whole.

Astorino is leading the conservative charge against sitting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Astorino, a County executive from affluent Westchester County, just north of New York City, has pledged to take the Great State of New York in a more conservative direction. As part of that campaign, Astorino issued a blistering attack on the Common Core Standards.

Flanked not only by the US flag, the New York flag, and a copy of the US Constitution, but also by a few cheerful children’s drawings, Astorino blasted the CCSS as an “untested experiment” that would lead America in dangerous directions. Indeed, Astorino repeated the word “experiment” or “experimental” a total of four times in the four-minute announcement. He also repeated the phrase “Andrew Cuomo’s Common Core exam” four times. Clearly, Mr. Astorino hopes to label the CCSS as both experimental and part of Governor Cuomo’s program.

Most compelling, Astorino announced last week that his own children will be opting out of the exams. The Opt-Out movement has attracted support from all across the political and ideological spectrum.

For Astorino, opting out is the right choice for conservatives. Why? He offered a laundry list of problems with the standards and with the associated exams.

First, with common standards and exams, Astorino warned, local schools will become “centralized organs of the Federal government.”

Second, these exams and standards will raise property taxes “through the roof.”

Third, these exams are not tested, but are simply the misbegotten brainchildren of people such as Bill Gates. According to Astorino, the exams came from the same political greenhorns who cobbled together the disastrous “Obamacare.” Worst of all, Astorino asserts, these standards and exams represent just the latest effort by distant educational elites to exert their unwanted and poorly conceived influence over all the nation’s schools. As he put it, “We’re risking our children’s futures for a few scraps from Washington.”

As I argue in my upcoming book about conservatism and American education, the notion that a scheming group of educational usurpers has taken—or is taking—control of our nation’s schools has a long and potent history. Astorino appeals to this tradition by taking a firm stand on what he calls this “expensive, experimental, Federal curriculum.”

So what’s a conservative to do? According to presumptive GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, conservative parents should run for the hills.