School Choice: Fig Leaf of the Pro-Common Core Right

Sandra Stotsky

This article was originally published by the New Boston Post.

A recent report by the conservative Heritage Foundation suggests that the best way to fight the controversial Common Core educational standards is to oppose the “centralization of education.” The report tells dissident parents that the best way to fight Common Core and improve schools is to promote “school choice.”

But the truth is that mediocre standards, a poor curriculum based on them, and academically underqualified teachers are the biggest problems facing our schools – and they are likely to persist even with decentralization.

In part, that is because public charter schools (a major symbol of school choice) must also address Common Core-aligned tests and its standards.

But, even were they not required to “get with the program,” charter schools and vouchers are unavailable to most parents of public school children because these choices, when they exist, are mainly for urban communities whose children are trapped in failing schools. In fact, the kind of school choice studied by education researchers in most education journals has no meaning for the vast majority of American students. For the parents of these students, opting them out of federal and state mandated tests, or simply home schooling, is a far better weapon against the damaging centralization of education in this country than charter schools and vouchers.

Moreover, the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed by Congress in December 2015 and immediately signed into law by President Obama, now requires that every state adopt ‘college- and career-ready’ standards (like those contained in Common Core).

So, although the new law purports to somewhat decentralize educational decision-making, it in fact all but guarantees that Common Core’s standards — or a set of standards that lend themselves to a Common Core-based test — will likely remain in place in most states.

Even left to their own devices, many state and local education elites — a fair number of whom are heavily invested in the Common Core regime — would continue to push Common Core-type standards, even if under another name.

In fact, in some states, public officials and activists have deliberately deceived the public in outright defiance of the expressed will of the legislature to revise or eliminate Common Core’s standards. (This was the case in South Carolina, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Jersey, and seems to be happening in Texas.)

Although “rebranding” is the generic name of the strategy, the specific mechanisms used by state departments of education to ensure they maintain Common Core or Common Core-aligned standards vary and include: (1) changing the test’s name; (2) using a restricted online review methodology that limits reviewers of state standards to a standard-by-standard review; (3) stacking review committees and granting them limited purview; (4) skewing public discussions on the matter or not allowing the public to weigh in at all; and (5) relying on rigged external reports.

It’s time the media and our education researchers looked more closely at what’s happening on the ground in each state. And Massachusetts is a good place to start.

In Massachusetts, the Gates Foundation is funding an existing but weak and virtually unknown organization — the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) — to oppose parents who don’t like the state’s current Common Core – aligned standards (standards that do not apply to Bill Gates’s children at their expensive private school in Seattle).

MBAE is desperately fighting a grassroots effort by parents across the state to ditch Common Core and restore the state’s former standards – which were both more substantive and more rigorous. Despite opposition from the education elites, Massachusetts parents have collected enough signatures for an initiative petition that would put the abolition of Common Core on the November 2016 election ballot.

But the elites at MBAE are paying the pricey Boston law firm of Foley Hoag to sue the state Attorney General (a Democrat) claiming that the petition was unconstitutionally certified.

Massachusetts parents would like to let all its citizens — teachers, parents, taxpayers, and others — vote on whether to get rid of Common Core’s standards and to restore the superior standards they once had.

But even if the public rejects Common Core, dissident parents and educators will need to be vigilant if they are to ensure that Common Core is not re-imposed through the back door.

Only by consistently staying on top of curricular changes; advocating high quality, substantive standards; and electing school committee members who demand high standards for their teachers can we make schools better for all children.

Activists who believe that charters, choice, and decentralization can solve the problem are in for a rude awakening.

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