Common Core: New name for capitalist ed reform
Education is a human right, not a factory to produce workers
By Nazila Bijari
February 4, 2014
Protest against Common Core in Benton, La.
The latest highly touted reform in public education is termed the Common Core State Standards. Common Core sets new standards for what every student should learn in English and math from kindergarten through 12th grade. It claims to set “smarter” standards focused on developing “critical learning skills,” instead of mastering skills that it calls "fragmented bits of knowledge." By emphasizing “student-centered teaching” and “collaborative and reflective learning,” Common Core claims to move away from the rote learning of "drill and kill" teaching methods. Common Core will also implement the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, which are online exams to provide assessment information to teachers and others on the progress of all students. CCSS are being pushed into almost every classroom in the 45 states that have adopted them. By 2015, Common Core is supposed to be fully implemented.
Despite Common Core's use of progressive sounding buzzwords and its claims that this approach is likely to "level the playing field," in actuality it is more likely to result in widening the gap between students from poor and oppressed communities and those from affluent backgrounds. Inner city schools have far less access to computers, the internet and other technology. The “digital divide” will likely contribute to a wider gap in outcomes. Less emphasis on the acquisition of basic skills may not be a problem for students with more resources who are more likely to acquire those skills through other means. But for children from oppressed communities, particularly the African American and Latino communities, and children who live in poverty, not acquiring the basic skills will not promote critical learning, it will hinder it.
A careful examination of Common Core has to go beyond the merits of a debate between the importance of basic skills acquisition—referred to with derogatory terms like "rote learning" and "drill and kill"—and the deceptively attractive term "critical learning." A glance at the process by which Common Core was developed and is being rolled out sheds light on the real aims behind Common Core.
If the real goal of education reform were the actual improvement of public education, the development of new standards would have to be the outcome of a process of grassroots discussion on the best pedagogical practices among educators, parents and students from the different communities that public education serves. Common Core is the outcome of no such process. It is the latest in a long series of educational reforms initiated by the corporate elite and pushed by the federal government carrying out the corporate agenda.
Who is Behind Common Core?
Since federal law bans the federal government from creating national standards and tests, the Common Core project was designed with the appearance of a state effort. The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers for elementary and secondary schools adopted the Common Core in 2009 and 2010. Achieve, a private consulting firm, has also been a major player in its development.
Billionaire Bill Gates has been the biggest backer of Common Core. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided more than $160 million and committed to continuing the funding of the Common Core. Among other corporate funders are General Electric and Pearson Publishing Company.
Why did so many states quickly adopt Common Core?
Forty five states and the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core. Minnesota has only adopted the language arts standards. Nebraska, Alaska, Texas and Virginia are the only non-adopters.
The rapid adoption of Common Core in almost every state has little to do with the educational merits of the standards. Instead, the driving force behind it is states’ eligibility for federal grants. In July 2009, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top competitive grants, purportedly as a motivator for education reform. To be eligible, states had to adopt "internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the work place." States have the option to adopt other standards and still be eligible. However, the fact that Common Core automatically meets this Race to the Top requirement means that every state can just sign up for Common Core and be eligible for the federal grants.
Education and class
For the working class, education provides one of the few opportunities to acquire the skills needed better paying jobs leading to improve living standards. A system of public education that can close the achievement gap and ensure that all children have access to quality education is beneficial to the working class.
The betterment of the conditions of the working class is obviously not the objective of the capitalist class, the owners of banks and corporations. What does the capitalist class want from the education system? It wants it to produce an output that matches the needs of the capitalist class. To meet the need of companies to fill high skilled jobs, this would mean an output of a highly educated workforce with minimal need for on the job training: workers ready to perform the tasks right out of college. That would help the corporations’ bottom line.
According to Robert Corcoran, President and Chair of GE Foundation, “Our economy is facing an undeniable challenge—good paying jobs are going unfilled because U.S. workers don’t have the skills to fill the positions.” Corcoran says, “We must cultivate a highly educated workforce and we see the Standards as a key component to answering this challenge.”
But the majority of the jobs created by the capitalist economy are not high-skilled positions but low-skilled ones primarily in the service sector. So, what the job market needs is a relatively small number of highly trained workers to fill managerial, engineering and research type positions. For the majority of the jobs the economy creates, workers with minimal skills will do.
What serves the interests of the capitalist class is not the closing of the achievement gap in education, but a widening of that gap—a few highly trained, highly paid workers at one end of the spectrum and many low-skilled future workers at the other. Obviously, this goal cannot be stated openly. Nor are all the people involved in pushing these various education reforms necessarily conscious of this goal.
No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and now Common Core are not genuine efforts to improve the education system for the majority of students. They are, in fact, conscious efforts to engineer the output of the education system in the interests of capital and weaken public education in favor of charter and other non-public schools. As such, they cannot be properly called failed policies. Success and failure can only be defined in relation to the goals pursued by the reforms. They serve to promote the goal of a more stratified education system, one whose output will neatly match the needs of the capitalist class.
Public education was won through a people’s struggle. The increasing attempt of the capitalist class to narrowly define public education as job training is chipping away at its true objectives. What we need are fundamental reforms to strengthen and enhance public education, not in the interests of the banks and corporations, but in the interests of the working class, the vast majority of the population. Progressive reforms can only come as a result of a grassroots struggle. http://www.pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/common-core-new-name-for.html