Monday, January 26, 2015

Illinois' Wrong Turn on Common Core

Earlier this week, Rev. James Meeks announced on on WLS 890 AM that he had been chosen by Governor Bruce Rauner to be the new chairman of the State Board of Education. During the interview Tuesday morning, Rev. Meeks’ said, “We have to have a Common Core Curriculum in the state of Illinois.”

That statement set off alarm bells within me.

Although Meeks, a Democrat, headed the Senate Education Committee while in the state senate, and bucked his party by advocating for vouchers and charter schools — a  noble and outstanding thing to do — Meek’s unconditional support for Common Core is unacceptable.

Having been chosen by Governor Rauner to reform education, how can he say the Common Core Curriculum is really the pathway to education reform? Are Meeks and Rauner so out-of-touch that they are unaware Illinois started to adopt the Common Core standards in 2010 and fully implemented them last school year?

Starting this spring, the PARCC tests linked to Common Core standards will be used in school districts across the state. The tests will be given to students in grades three to eight, but only partially rolled out in high school because the state board of education had its budget request for assessments cut by $10 million. The ACT exam has been a state mandated assessment for high school juniors in recent years and doubles as a college entrance exam.

Being out-of-touch might be excused for the time being, but it is evident that both Governor Rauner and Rev. James Meeks need to be educated on what Common Core is all about, which will not be an easy task. Why is this so?  The Illinois Education (IEA), as a progressive organization, fully supports Common Core. It also has tremendous clout in getting what it want as a Democrat-aligned organization.

As shared by Joy Pullman, research fellow for the Heartland Institute, in her recent booklet, “Common Core:  A Bad Choice for America”:

Some advocates of Common Core insist it is not a curriculum and that it will promulgate an academic curriculum based on great works of Western civilization and the American republic.  But the standards are being used to write the tables of contents for all the textbooks, used in K-12 math and English classes.  This may not technically constitute a curriculum, but it certainly defines what children will be taught, especially when they and their teachers will be judged by performance on national tests aligned with these standards.

Initiatives related to Common Core include teacher evaluations, since many states tie teacher ratings to student performance on tests; school choice, because many school choice states require participating private schools to administer state tests; nearly all learning materials, because these must now correspond to Common Core; and college entrance exams including the SAT and ACT.

Following is shocking information about a teacher, Dr. David Pook, who helped write the controversial Common Core State Standards.

Dr. David Pook is a professor at Granite State College in Manchester, New Hampshire. He’s also the chair of the History Department and one of the authors of the Common Core standards.  Pook’s role is documented at the pro-Common Core website,, which confirms that he worked closely with Susan Pimentel and the Council of Chief State Officers in drafting the Core Standards for English Language Arts, and currently has several projects underway with Student Achievement Partners on work aligned with the CCSS.

As a guest at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Dr Pook opened up on his reasons for participating in the creation of the Common Core standards.  In the video posted by Campus Reform, the audience can be heard gasping and laughing, stunned and revolted by this comment by Dr. Pook’s:

The reason why I helped write the standards and the reason why I am here today is that as a white male in society I am given a lot of privilege that I didn’t earn.

Dr. Pook went on to say that all kids deserve an “equal opportunity to learn how to read,” the same advantages he had.  Ironically, as Campus Reform notes, the Derryfield School where Pook works does not use the Common Core State Standards and has a student body that is 91 percent white.

Below are some basic facts about Common Core for Governor Rauner and Rev. Meeks to consider, both having endorsed the disaster that is Common Core:

Common Core gives the federal government the power to collectextensive data from students including Social Security numbers, records of school attendance, supposed learning disabilities, religious affiliation, disciplinary records and parent’s income information.

 Regarding the claim that the Common Core standards were developed by top leaders in states, this is false.  The standards are owned and copyrighted by two private trade associations in Washington, D.C. and were drafted by essentially five people. The standards were then submitted to a “validation” process that was little more than a rubber stamp. The only two content experts on the Validation Committee, Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. James Milgram, were so disgusted by the charade and by the deficiencies of the resulting standards that they refused to sign off on Common Core.

The Common Core standards have never been tested or piloted anywhere, and indeed are acknowledged to be considerably less rigorous than many of the state standards they replaced. Kids are being used as human Guinea pigs on untested standards, all in the hope that Common Core is the magic bullet to solve our education problems.

In English language arts, Common Core replaces content knowledge with what Dr. Stotsky labels “empty skill sets” that will not prepare students for authentic college coursework. The standards also diminish the study of classic literature in favor of nonfiction “informational text” of the type students may find in their entry-level jobs (after all, Common Core consists more of workforce-development training than genuine education). This theory – that exposure to technical manuals rather than great stories will make students better readers, and ultimately better employees – is not only preposterous on its face, but refuted by all available research.

The Common Core math standards are even less likely to achieve the lofty results touted by the Chamber authors. One of the lead authors of the math standards admits that they are not designed to prepare students for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) studies in college. How could they, when they include no trigonometry or calculus and stop with an incomplete Algebra II course? And as Dr. Milgram of Stanford University points out, Common Core’s mandated “reform math” techniques stand in stark contrast to the traditional techniques employed by the highest-achieving countries.

The Gates Foundation gave over $7 million, much of which has gone to promote Gates’s pet education project – the Common Core national standard

The truth about Common Core is obvious to all who are willing to take the time to evaluate the untested educational program. 

Common Core is very racist and very political.  As stated by Dr. Pook early on this this article, his aim was to balance the scales because he, and many others, were benefiting from some mythical ‘white privilege‘ that was not earned.

As Jason Dewitt of Top Right News notes:

"Common Core is not only about irrational and bizarre math problems as some might think. Make no mistake, this program is about indoctrinating our children into a leftist way of thinking which includes destructive ideas such as the embracing of Islam and normalizing sexual promiscuity.

Is it any wonder that states are rejecting and suing the federal government over Common Core?  45 states signed on to Common Core education standards in 2010, sight unseen.  States, however, are starting to rebel and are taking action. As of September, 2014, Oklahoma and Indiana have dropped Common Core, with Oklahoma having its No Child Left Behind waiver revoked in retaliation.

South Carolina and Missouri have taken strong steps toward replacing Common Core, while North Carolina seems to have found a compromise in which they’d merely tweak the standards. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been doing everything in his power to drop the standards, though so far to no avail. He’s currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the US Department of Education. Check here for a roundup of other state action against Common Core.

Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck and many others have written extensively about the abject disaster that is Common Core, and as Americans have been exposed to examples of its instruction, and motivations of its backers, they have increasingly rejected it.

U.S. schools, and many in Illinois, do need to improve. Consider this 1912 eighth grade exam: Could you make it to high school in 1912?

Education has been dumbed down since 1912, but is Common Core the answer?  On the contrary, it seems like a bad choice for America – and for Illinois.


Universities are no place for the anti-terror thought police

The UK Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, currently making its way through parliament, will impose a duty upon universities to prevent people from being radicalised and drawn into extremism, religious fundamentalism or terrorism. The British government clearly thinks it is incumbent on academics to police the behaviour of students, monitor their whereabouts and report anything suspicious to the police.

The proposed legislation builds upon the Prevent strategy, which was introduced by the Labour government in the mid-2000s as an attempt to eradicate violent extremism. As a result of Prevent, universities have, over the past 10 years, introduced a plethora of rules to regulate student societies and invitations to external speakers. If passed, the new demands will go further in banning ‘radical’ speakers from campus. Universities and students’ unions will be expected to enforce far stricter procedures for checking the profiles of guest speakers. Anyone with strongly held religious or political views will be banned outright. For others, the time and energy needed to comply with such bureaucratic checking mechanisms will surely act as a deterrent. In addition, the latest proposals further compel universities to identify individual students they consider vulnerable to radicalisation and to report them to a local authority panel where they will then be monitored closely by the police and subjected to ‘deradicalisation’ counselling.

Such directives are proving controversial. Universities and students’ unions already ban speakers, and commentators have pointed out that the new legislation will further restrict academic freedom. The imperative to monitor and report individual students has received less attention but is also highly problematic. There is no consensus around what a student ‘vulnerable to radicalisation’ looks like and even less agreement as to how they can be spotted at the back of a lecture theatre. How lecturers are expected to distinguish between the intellectual experimentation many young people go through while at university and their becoming radicalised is anyone’s guess. Worse than just providing moral dilemmas, the expectation that academics should effectively spy on their students will inevitably erode the trust that is essential for teaching and learning to take place.

Previous examples show how such legislation will play out in practice. In May 2008, Hicham Yezza, an administrator at the University of Nottingham, and PhD student Rizwaan Sabir were arrested under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act on suspicion of the ‘instigation, preparation and commission of acts of terrorism’. The arrests were triggered by the presence on Yezza’s office computer of a document Sabir was using in his doctoral research and had sent to Yezza to print. The document, described by the police as an ‘al-Qaeda training manual’, was freely available on the internet and for sale on Amazon. Yezza was held in custody for six days before being released without charge, only to be immediately re-arrested on immigration charges, detained for a further 27 days under threat of deportation and finally sentenced to nine months in prison for not having a correct visa. Sabir received compensation from the police for false imprisonment. Not only did the entirely groundless charges devastate the lives of the individuals involved; the case also served to chill academic freedom and create a climate of mistrust within universities.

More generally, we can see the impact over the past couple of years of universities playing a greater role in enforcing immigration controls through monitoring the whereabouts of international students in the UK on study visas. Universities are expected to notify the UK Border Agency if such students do not turn up to start their course or are absent without permission. Universities must keep records of international students’ contact details and a copy of their biometric residence permit, and, perhaps most significantly, must formally monitor attendance. Institutions which do not fully comply have their right to sponsor international students withdrawn and lose a valuable source of revenue.

In singling out international students, such demands risk contravening institutional equality and diversity policies. The preferred solution is often to monitor the attendance of every student to avoid accusations of unequal treatment. This imposes additional, time-consuming procedures upon university staff and, worse, it undermines the long-held assumption that students are adults, in charge of their own learning and free to determine for themselves the extent of their participation.

There are of course cases of British university students, or recent graduates, being implicated in high-profile terrorism offences. But given that almost half of all school leavers now take up a place at university, this is hardly a surprising correlation. At issue is whether the damage to higher education and academic freedom that will undoubtedly result from the proposed legislation is likely to be justified by a drop in the number of students becoming radicalised.

Anyone who has followed spiked’s Down with Campus Censorship! campaign will know all too well that today’s universities are hardly bastions of free speech. Every week seems to throw up another instance of a speaker being no-platformed, or a song, newspaper or student society being banned. Such censorship has a long and ignoble history and, although panics about student radicalisation are often overblown, it is clear that restricting free speech on campus has done little to prevent the instances of radicalisation that do occur.

Current restrictions on free speech are largely driven by a desire to avoid offence and dissent. Today’s universities operate under a self-imposed consensus where all views are afforded equal respect, except for those considered too beyond-the-pale to be aired at all. This simultaneously removes dangerous ideas from public discussion and prevents them from being challenged, while at the very same time respecting backward religious practices such as gender segregation as just an alternative, equally valid, perspective. This practice of banning but not condemning allows Islamic extremism, where it exists, to go unchallenged. What universities really need is an end to all restrictions on debate and the creation of an intellectual climate that encourages rigorous criticism. They need to be places where the nihilism of terrorism is trumped by both a celebration of free speech and the passing of critical judgement.


Charlie Hebdo – not safe for Bristol students

The flagrant disregard Britain’s students’ unions show towards the principles of free speech and democracy is now wearyingly predictable – like the incessant death rattle of a terminally flatulent dog.

So it was hardly surprising that the University of Bristol Students’ Union (UBU) recently conceded that Charlie Hebdo, even before the attack carried out on its offices in Paris earlier this month, would have been banned from sale in UBU outlets. The reason? Charlie Hebdo would violate UBU’s Safe Space policies.

In case you’ve never heard of Safe Space policies, they are a declaration of our universal right to be free from judgement and offence. They are now enforced by sanctimonious students’ unions across Britain and are written vaguely enough to be applicable to pretty much anything that troubles the union high-command. This is handy in a culture where our definition of what constitutes acceptable speech falls prey to constant revision.

Now, the question as to whether UBU would tolerate the sale of Charlie Hebdo on campus is a hypothetical one. Charlie Hebdo has never been sold on Bristol’s campus, purely because there was no demand for it. But Bradbrook’s admission reflected the problem afflicting students’ unions today – that free expression has been usurped by the obsession with censoring anything that might damage the apparently delicate emotions of minority groups.

It’s wrong for the Safe Space policy pre-emptively to censor any magazine just because it has the potential to upset certain students. The right to judge, criticise and even mock other people’s beliefs is the foundation of an enlightened, liberal society. If students’ unions infringe on that right, even in the interests of empathy, it is not only sanctimonious – it’s also immoral.

Free speech must be absolute if it is to have any meaning. It can’t just apply to modes of speech you deem tolerable. No Platform and Safe Space policies are immensely patronising and stifle the kind of open, boisterous debate many of us went to university for in the first place. It’s time UBU looked past its braindead moralising and understood this.


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