June 18, 2013

On Campus: Seeking common ground

Tea party group considers anti-common core arguments, sees conspiracy at work. Others see standards as return to common sense teaching. What happens when

Common core, a set of new standards coming to classrooms across California, aims to get students ready for college and career, and able to compete in a global marketplace.

Sounds reasonable. But now, read that again from a tea party perspective:

-- “Standards” means all children across the nation will learn the same, computerized lessons, a scheme by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who stands to make billions selling computers to schools.

-- “Career ready” signifies the influence of corporate America, seeking a work force of cheap, robotic employees.

-- “Global marketplace” reveals the federal government takeover of education and collusion with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

-- Add in that every child will be tracked, preschool through college, by DNA, blood type, iris scans, religion, family income, discipline, health records, mental health records and more in a massive database.

Now, read that first paragraph again with dramatic pauses and a sinister tone, surrounded by a shocked group of neighborly people working for a better America, and feel the pulse of last week’s meeting of the Turlock Patriots, a tea party group.

The speaker was Lodi grandmother Linda Gooden, who regularly attends Lodi Unified school board meetings and was concerned about a large expense for common core training and materials. She researched common core, and what she found frightened her.

“Labor markets will have access to these kids. Cheap labor, that’s what they’re all looking for,” Gooden said.

The move to reading more nonfiction, based on what statistics show adults read now, to Gooden is a travesty. “They cut out the classics, good stories about how we should behave,” she said. Nonfiction reading will be manuals and court decisions — boring, she said. “They’re not going to read that, and so their reading skills are going to go down.”

Her school board is woefully uninformed, she said. “They don’t even know what they’re doing. They think (common core) is wonderful,” Gooden said.

She kicks herself now for taking her children out of public school for a private Christian education. “I believe that’s when they were laying the groundwork for all of this. My kids were little. I wasn’t listening,” she said with despair. “Fighters like us should have stayed in there.”

Gooden provided a list of websites she researched, none of which were official sources or proponents. The first one listed is, the site of Californians United Against Common Core.

While the presentation sounded surreal to someone who spends a lot of time visiting classrooms and digging through government documents and research, each of her points had a kernel of fact.

Computer makers will make billions selling computers to schools, although the software-app makers and education consultants- trainers stand to make far more. Corporate America does want a different (better educated, not less) work force to draw from. Global competition pushes change, no question.

A California database of students identified by a tracking number exists, used to document school test scores and graduation rates. It barely survived budget cuts in 2010, so paying for DNA testing and iris scans seems pretty far-fetched, but schools do collect a lot of information. For example, families must give their income to qualify for free lunches. That is linked by student number to test scores to show progress of low-income students.

Common core standards overall should bring hands-on lessons and practical problem solving, great for antsy low achievers and bored overachievers alike. But the change from a culture of worksheets and daily drills will be huge, disruptive and costly.

For a decade, teachers have been trained to break down every lesson into little bites to memorize, teaching to the test. Veteran teachers who predate the No Child Left Behind testing era, however, say common core is just a twist on the proven practices they used to use.

So, common core: Common sense? Or a common conspiracy?

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