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…

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.


Homeschooling and the Common Core

Education folk these days are a-flutter with talk about the Common Core State Standards.

Recently, William Estrada of the Home School Legal Defense Association has warned about the implications for homeschoolers of such national curricula.

Without an historical perspective, it would be easy for readers of recent headlines to assume that conservatives have always opposed greater educational centralism.  After all, Ronald Reagan came to office on a promise to eliminate the then-new Department of Education.  Recently, Republican Presidential hopefuls such as Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul promised to fulfill Reagan’s plan.

Back in the 1920s, however, leading conservatives often made the strongest case for a federal department of education.  As I explored in a recent article in the History of Education Quarterly, the 1920s Ku Klux Klan hoped greater educational centralization would help Americanize immigrants and standardize Americanism education.  The main institutional opponent of such centralization in the 1920s, as Douglas Slawson’s wonderful book The Department of Education Battle, 1918-1932 points out, was the Catholic Church.  In that turbulent decade, social traditionalists, conservative Protestants, and many leading progressives all agreed that the nation needed greater centralization and increased educational funding.

By the 1940s, however, educational centralization had become a leading bugbear of anti-communist conservatives.  From the fringes of conservative anti-communism, influential pamphleteer Allen Zoll denounced federal aid to local schools as the central strategic goal of subversive communism.

Allen Zoll, They Want Your Child! (New York: 1949)

Allen Zoll, They Want Your Child! (New York: 1949)

In “They Want Your Child!” (New York: National Council for American Education, 1949), Zoll warned, “We had better stop smiling.  There IS a conspiracy.  The conspiracy against the American way of life, against everything that we hold dear, is probably the most completely organized, ruthless design against other people ever set in motion in all human history. . . . THE INFILTRATION AND CONTROL OF AMERICAN EDUCATION BECAME COMMUNISM’S NUMBER ONE OBJECTIVE IN AMERICA.  THEY WANT THE CHILDREN OF AMERICA.  THEY WANT YOUR CHILD.”  To Zoll and many of his readers, centralization of education meant that subversives could collect all the threads of education policy in their grasping claws.

Once the US Supreme Court began ruling in favor of school desegregation in the 1950s and against school prayer in the 1960s, the notion of greater educational centralization became anathema to wider and wider circles of American conservatives.  Centralization became associated purely with the long-standing enemies of traditionalist and conservative education: evolution science, progressive pedagogy, left-wing anti-racism, anti-patriotic politics, and secularism.

In his December 2012 brief, Will Estrada of the HSLDA made some of the traditional conservative arguments against greater educational centralism.  First, Estrada pointed out, states were pushed into accepting these common standards out of financial desperation, not out of any educational benefit.  President Obama’s Race to the Top funding, as Estrada noted, was often tied to adoption of common core standards.  Second, centralized education would decrease quantifiable student achievement, Estrada argued.  Scores on English and math tests would likely decrease after these standards were in place, at the cost of billions of dollars.  Perhaps most in line with the complaints of many American conservatives, Estrada warned that common standards weakened parental control.  “Top-down, centralized education policy,” Estrada wrote, “does not encourage parents to be engaged.”

Specific to homeschoolers’ interests, Estrada worried that centralized curricula would encourage greater pressure on homeschoolers to follow along.  If every college and every college entrance exam measured student achievement by success on common-core-linked tests, homeschool students would feel pressured to master that common curriculum.

Supporters of today’s Common Core State Standards argue that the standards will bring greater efficiency and equality to education in the United States.  However, the idea of centralization has had a checkered career among American conservatives.  Will Estrada of the HSLDA raised one voice in opposition to today’s centralization effort.