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Common Core Sparks War Over Words Among Literature Teachers



As the Indiana legislature prepares for January hearings on the new Common Core State Standards, now being implemented in 45 states, it will have the opportunity to consider what happens when elite education reformers create and impose new education schemes outside the framework established by our Constitution and statutes. What do we get when parents, teachers, and local officials are excluded from the “reform” process? We end up with a scheme based on ideas that, as Orwell would say, “are so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

One such idea is embedded in the Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) standards. The standards require English teachers to focus less on creative literature and more (perhaps more than 50 percent of their time) on nonfiction “informational texts.” Though there’s nothing wrong with having students read quality nonfiction, such as David McCullough’s 1776, ELA standards contemplate more pedestrian fare – perhaps “The Evolution of the Grocery Bag,” or “Invasive Plant Inventory.” The creators of the ELA standards, led by academics David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, have decided that students will become more skillful readers of complex texts – and therefore better “workers” in the global economy – if they read EPA’s “Recommended Levels of Insulation” rather thanHuckleberry Finn. Orwell is vindicated.

Now that Common Core’s troubling ELA standards are being implemented in U.S. schools, the American people (even the commentariat) are becoming alarmed at this new direction steered by unaccountable elites. Experts with common sense are weighing in on the utter lack of evidence supporting the elevation of informational texts above classic literature (see the recent Pioneer Institute study by Drs. Sandra Stotsky and Mark Bauerlein, showing that students become good readers by reading good literature – by learning to love reading – rather than by focusing on dry nonfiction). Even liberal reformer Diane Ravitch now implores Coleman to “revise the standards.”

But wait. How, in America, did we arrive at a place where we have to appeal to one education potentate to stop undermining the education of our children? Especially when that one person was not elected by any parent or taxpayer, and is not accountable to any parent or taxpayer?

We arrived here by elitism, both governmental and private, run amuck. Aided and abetted by the Obama Administration, these individuals and organizations decided to gut our federal system as it relates to education and replace it with top-down control centered in Washington.

Emmett McGroarty (right) is executive director of the American Principles Project. Jane Robbins is a senior fellow.

The Common Core ELA and math standards were created by progressive education reformers in Washington and released under the auspices of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (both private DC-based trade associations). For the most part, parents, teachers, and local officials were unaware of this closed-door activity and were effectively deprived of any influence over creation of the standards. Funding for all this – to the tune of well over $100 million -- came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Obama Department of Education recognized a golden opportunity to do what it loves most – centralize power and control in its own corridors – and thus “persuaded” 46 states to adopt the standards by tying them to the chance to win Race to the Top grants. Recession-racked states signed on. They now find themselves saddled with curriculum standards that they cannot change – even when the standards require the dismantling of effective English education.

It is difficult to envision a scenario further removed from the federal system the Founders envisioned for education. The Constitution leaves education to the states, and for good reason – the Founders recognized citizens’ God-given right to control their children’s upbringing and education, and that control can be effectively exercised only at the local, or state, level. Even after the federal government began to encroach on local education, Congress decreed in three separate statutes that there can be no federal supervision, direction, or control of school curriculum. But with the Common Core standards, the aligned (and federally funded) assessments, and the inevitable national curriculum, all these protections of federalism are out the window. We are reduced to appealing to David Coleman to please, please change what we may teach our children.

In the 2011 case Bond v. U.S., the Supreme Court reiterated that “[f]ederalism secures the freedom of the individual,” not just the rights of states. That is, individual parents and children have rights protected by the federal structure, and these rights may not be infringed just because powerful private or governmental entities decide that a different system would be more efficient or more effective. As we’re now seeing from Common Core, leaving it to the “experts” not only strips citizens of their individual rights, but results in bizarre experiments in the classroom. How many children will suffer stunted education before states and citizens reassert themselves and reclaim their constitutional autonomy?


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