The below represents the second in a series of interviews with everyday Americans who are fighting back against Common Core, released in connection with Glenn Beck’s new book, "Conform: Exposing the Truth About Common Core and Public Education."
We spoke with Brad McQueen, a 5th grade teacher from Arizona who after working on the development/review of rubrics and questions on the PARCC/Common Core test grew disgusted with what he was seeing and decided to speak out about it, ultimately self-publishing a book titled "The Cult of Common Core."
Our interview was conducted via email, with slight alterations for grammar and brevity.
1. Speak to your background and why you took an interest in Common Core specifically and public education more broadly?
McQueen: I’ve been a 5th grade teacher in public schools for the last ten years. I’ve always worked in schools that give teachers a great deal of autonomy in the classroom to use whatever teaching methods they feel are useful to teach their students over and above the minimum state standards. I have also experienced schools where they prescribe how and what teachers teach in the classroom and it was pure agony to witness.
I first heard of the Common Core standards, when they were adopted here in AZ back in 2010, when I was at our State Department of Education working our state’s standardized test, the AIMS test. I’ve worked on every facet of the AIMS test for the last 5 years. The attitude amongst my fellow teachers and the state employees that summer was that they were the same-old-thing-with-another-name programs that we would have to implement at some point…we were still too busy teaching the old state standards, and creating tests based on them, that we just put off dealing with them until we had to. The scuttlebutt (I’ve always wanted to use that word and now I have) at the AZ Dept of Ed was that the standards were an Obama administration program, and with the elections coming up in 2012 there was a chance that the Common Core standards would go away should Obama lose the election.
A year ago (3/2013), the AZ Dept of Ed asked me to go to Chicago for a week to work on evaluating the writing/reading rubrics for the Common Core/PARCC test. I didn’t have an opinion on Common Core either way. I was curious and I wanted to see what the standards would look like in test form and how that might inform my classroom teaching, so I went. Most teachers were waiting for the Common Core test to come out for the same reason.
Teachers in AZ have a great deal of input into the state test. Teachers create the test and we had the ability to change or tweak test questions if we detected a bias or if we thought the questions or reading passages weren’t truly assessing our students' learning.
Working on the CCore test was a very different experience and had 50 more shades of bureaucracy. My Common Core handlers weren't interested in my questions about where the standards came from, who wrote them, who wrote the test questions, etc. If they did attempt an answer they usually parroted the phrase "Teachers were involved." Something didn’t feel right.
My turning point came when in answer to questions I had about a student writing sample, my Common Core handler blurted out, "We don’t ever care what the kids' opinions are. If they write what they think or put forth their opinion then they will fail the test."
[sharequote align="center"]"We don’t ever care what the kids' opinions are. If they write what they think...they will fail..."[/sharequote]
I have always taught my students to think for themselves. They are to study multiple views on a given topic, then take their own position and support it with evidence. "That is the old way of writing," my Common Core handler sighed. "We want students to repeat the opinions of the 'experts' that we expose them to on the test. This is the 'new' way of writing with the Common Core."
I discovered later that this was not just some irritated, rogue Common Core handler, rather this was a philosophy I heard repeated again and again. I pointed out that this was not the way that teachers teach in the classroom. She retorted that, "We expect that when the test comes out the teachers in the classroom will imitate the skills emphasized on the test (teach to the test) and employ this new way of writing and thinking." This was a complete kick in the stomach moment for me.
After that I started to do research on the Common Core and read everything I could get my hands on for the year or so. The more I read the more disgusted I became about the Common Core and the governors who brought it into our lives.
I went back to Chicago again in November 2013 to review reading/writing questions for the Common Core/PARCC test. Again, I wanted to see the test questions and I also wanted to experience the Common Core with all the new knowledge I'd gained. After a week of work I was convinced of the correctness of my feelings and my research about the Common Core. During this visit I worked with Pearson and ETS on the questions they created for the test. Again we were just window dressing so that they could check the box that "teachers were involved."
[sharequote align="center"]We were just window dressing so that they could check the box that "teachers were involved."[/sharequote]
I didn’t know it at the time, but I shook the hand of Common Core royalty on this visit. I met Doug Sovde, one of the original writers of the Common Core standards, when I was having problems with an expense report.
I also began seeing moms on the news going up against boards of education and governors with the same concerns that I had about the Common Core. They were dismissed as "ill-informed" and maligned as "white suburban housewives" who discovered their kids aren't as brilliant as they thought they were, by US Sec of Ed Arne Duncan.
Oddly enough at the same time I was reading "Miracles and Massacres" by Glenn Beck. One powerful message I got from that book was that everyone has a time where they must stand up for what is right and leave the consequences to God. I wrote an op-ed in the paper the next day. Then I spent 3 weeks writing my book. I’ve been leaving the consequences up to God ever since.
2. What is the one thing that all Americans need to know about Common Core? What is the one aspect of Common Core that Americans should most fear?
McQueen: The Common Core is much bigger than just a set of standards, a test, or a data gathering machine. Like a virus, the Common Core tricks its victims into lowering their guard by pretending to be something it is not. But the Common Core isn’t just a mindless infection of our society; rather it is an intentional takeover of our education delivery system and therefore a takeover of our children’s minds. It is a one-size-fits-all, homogenized, centrally controlled education delivery system steeped in Progressive ideology. It is antithetical to everything that makes our country exceptional. This cult is relentlessly pulling our children under its control, with a seemingly endless supply of money, and uses intimidation to silence its opponents.
By taking over how our kids think the Common Core will be used to shape future generations of citizens and their relationship with their own true history and their government. Sovereignty over education was always too decentralized into the states to do this in the past.
Many people are focusing on the incompetent implementation of the Common Core tests or the need to rework the standards. The reality is that the entire Common Core beast, including the never-before-tested-standards that were created in secret, the tests which were based on those standards, and the data suctioning systems which were put in place to track our children's personal information and monitor teacher compliance with Common Core Central, should be slayed and buried in total. States' Governors and Superintendents of Education were elected to protect the interests of our children, yet they let this Common Core beast through the gates. There should be a call for them to resign and/or not seek re-election in light of their educational malpractice.
Having said all this, the one concrete thing that Americans should fear most is the NSA-like data suctioning systems set in place by the Common Core groups to gather all manner of data about our children and their families starting in preschool and going up through college and career. (More on that in the later question on SLDS).
[sharequote align="center"]The one concrete thing that Americans should fear most is the NSA-like data suctioning systems[/sharequote]
3. Tell us about your book and why our audience should take a look at it.
McQueen: My book is from the perspective of a former Common Core insider and a current public school teacher still working in the classroom and it is written in concise, mostly acronym free, and easy-to-read language. I don’t go into all the K-12 policy making nor do I attempt to name and describe all the numerous acronymed groups that make up the Common Core. My eyes gloss over every time I read articles about the Common Core, and I know most of the acronyms. Instead, I describe the big picture and all the pieces of the Common Core naming only the essential groups.
I just refer to all these multitude of groups as the Cult of Common Core , the Common Core machine, or the Common Core beast, whichever feels bests at the time. It is an easy read and is good for veterans of the Common Core fight to use as a reference or for newbies to get grounded in the Common Core. I have an extensive list of sources with links to original sources so that readers can not only check my facts, but do further research themselves.
I also include humor in my book and many people have remarked how they find themselves sitting by themselves laughing out loud. Humor not only lightens a very heavy subject, but it’s also very freeing to make fun of all the Common Core’s acolytes and the ridiculous things they say and do. One example, "I used to think Bill Gates was that tech genius that brought personal computers into all of our homes. Now I see him as that dirty old man on the playground with his hands in his pockets asking kids if they want some Common Core candy." Another… "Every time a Common Core group needed money to implement their schemes, Bill Gates was there to reach into his Louis Vuitton man purse to help out."
I wrote the book to convey all the information I currently know about the Common Core and where I think it is going. I visualized all that I would say to a friend or one of my students’ parents if I could sit with them for an hour and talk to them about the Common Core. Many readers have commented on how it feels like they are having a conversation with me.
I self-published the book, so I have no big publisher or press agent. I have used social media and the articles I have written online to connect the book’s message to its readers. After only two weeks release, The Cult of Common Core reached #1 on Amazon’s Education History category. The message is definitely resonating with parents across the country and I keep in touch with many of them. The paperback version can also double as a coaster.
4. Give readers some background on SLDS. Disavow the notion among skeptics that concerns around the system are merely based in paranoia.
McQueen: See my article titled “Common Core’s Dirty Little Data Secret and the Field Tests.”
5. Speak a little bit to the degradation of educational standards under Common Core, and your view as to the alternative methods being taught for solving problems.
McQueen: Arguing about the nuances of each standard is a favored technique of the Common Core crowd when confronted by the opposition. Two people can have different interpretations of any learning standard. In fact when I was working on the Common Core/PARCC test the Common Core handlers would change the entire intent of a standard by putting an emphasis on one word in the standard. The standard that I thought I understood with a first reading was now changed.
As long as the discussion is focused on the minutia of each standard, the Common Core group does not have to talk about how the standards have never been tested anywhere in the world before and proven to improve student learning. This immediately should disqualify an argument from the Common Core people about how their new standards stack up against the old state standards.
They cannot talk about testing the standards because the common core standards were just recently written, and the tests designed to asses them have not been finalized yet. They are asking for us to just trust them when they claim that their standards are more rigorous than, and an improvement upon the states' previous standards. At least the previous standards had a track record of performance.
[sharequote align="center"]The Common Core standards are not more rigorous, they are just different[/sharequote]
The Common Core standards are not more rigorous, they are just different. They supposedly only prescribe what is to be learned in K-12 math, reading, and writing. The Thomas Fordham Institute conducted a study in 2010 that compared the Common Core Standards with each of our country’s state standards. They found that 13 states' standards were at par or better than the new Common Core standards. They also found that Indiana, California, and the District of Columbia had learning standards that were superior in comparison. Yet these same states' governors dumped their superior standards for Common Core’s multi-billion dollar dowry.
Dr. James Milgram, an internationally renowned mathematician who was on the standards validation committee, refused to validate the Common Core standards. He says that under these new standards, our 8th graders will be two years behind the rest of world in math, since taking Algebra1 is no longer a requirement at this grade level, and it only gets worse as they move into the upper grades.
Algebra in eighth grade prepares students to take more advanced classes in high school, which in turn better prepares them for college and possibly a career in science, technology, engineering or math. At the end of high school our kids, under the Common Core, will not be prepared to pursue math, science, or technology careers, or be prepared to apply to highly selective colleges which require a background in high level math such as Calculus.
But let's listen to Common Core architect, Jason Zimba himself, echoing this criticism that, "If you’re a young person who wants to become an engineer, or who wants admission to an elite university, you would be advised to take mathematics beyond the (Common Core requirement) level…you will need to take more mathematics than is in the Common Core."
Since Common Core doesn’t require an Algebra1 course until high school, unlike most advanced countries and many state standards before Common Core, our kids are at a disadvantage. Common Core just isn’t rigorous enough for college and career readiness. There, not only did I get in the weeds regarding standards, I used the cult of Common Core’s jargon to do it. How’s your math anxiety? Mine is high right now, but hold on, only a bit more to go.
The cult of Common Core once salivated (they do this a lot) over getting Dr. Milgram’s endorsement, but now that he opposes the standards they take every opportunity to impugn his reputation. Cults do not like when former insiders betray them and will use any means necessary to smear and intimidate them into silence. I know this from experience, but more on that later.
The Common Core group confuses "more rigorous" with "more complicated." In math they boast about how their standards teach less math concepts at each grade level than before, but they teach them deeper. A kid can’t just know that 12-9=3, they have to demonstrate their knowledge of this concept by showing it 5 different ways visually. Many of these ridiculous math problems are posted daily online for the world to see by bewildered parents of equally bewildered children.
[sharequote align="center"]A kid can’t just know that 12-9=3, they have to demonstrate their knowledge...by showing it 5...ways[/sharequote]
A learning standard is not rigorous on its own. A learning standard merely states what a student must know at a minimum at each grade level, as in "the student must be able to recall the product of two single digit factors from memory (for example, 3X4=12)." The teacher can then make the learning more rigorous by having the student extend their understanding by applying the knowledge to the real world. The Common Core group erroneously credits every example of good teaching as an example of the Common Core's more rigorous standards.
The math standards are obviously not written by classroom teachers, as they require a Common Core translation manual and all too many professional development classes to still not come close to understanding them.
Here is what a fifth grade Common Core math standard says a ten-year-old should be able to do in Geometry, provided that the adult teacher knows what the standard means:
The student shall be able to…"Recognize volume as additive. Find volumes of solid figures composed of two non-overlapping right rectangular prisms by adding the volumes of the non-overlapping parts, applying this technique to solve real world problem."
Quick, begin teaching it right now….and go! The only thing more rigorous in Common Core math is the use of a thesaurus by some pompous, Common Core standard writer. Any wonder teachers have no idea what to teach in their classrooms? Any wonder that districts are paying big bucks to buy Common Core "aligned" textbooks and software programs to try and go for the quick fix? There’s no wonder why textbook and online learning companies are shilling for Common Core. They are filling this confusion void with their products and filling their bank accounts in the process.
The Common Core says it is only concerned with the learning standards that deal with reading, writing, and math. They say that they have no ambition to also write standards and control what kids learn in the politically charged areas of social studies and science. But these are the exact areas that they really want to control.
Common Core requires an increasing focus on informational reading and writing, so that it comprises 50% of all reading and writing in the elementary grades and increases up to 70% by the twelfth grade. Therefore, the Common Core group demands that, starting in sixth grade, students' writing be infused with social studies and science content. This is a backdoor way of controlling what the kids will learn in these two fields. I can imagine a centrally controlled Common Core machine "infusing" kids' readings with political content that is in line with the President’s position on green energy, immigration, or healthcare.
I do like the "drip, drip" effect against the Common Core that is happening as parents release all the ridiculous math questions online. It just goes to show how incompetent centrally controlled government education is.
6. Why is the political and educational Establishment so wrong when they say that Common Core is "state-led?"
FILE - This Jan. 14, 2014 file photo shows former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talking about education reform during a forum in Nashville, Tenn. More than five years after governors from both major parties began a mostly quiet effort to set new standards in American schools, the so-called Common Core initiative has morphed into a political tempest that fuels division among Republicans. Bush hails Common Core as a way to improve student performance and, over the long term, competitiveness of American workers. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File) AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File
McQueen: The Common Core was not a "state-led" effort any more than a child cleaning his room in exchange for an allowance and a roof over his head is a "child-led" effort. During the Great Recession, cash strapped states were coerced by the federal government into changing their education policies in exchange for the chance to even apply for $4.3 billion in Stimulus Act money in 2009.
Forty-six governors agreed to sell their states’ sovereignty over education for 30 pieces of silver. They agreed to adopt the yet-to-written Common Core standards, to become part of a Common Core testing group that would write the test for the yet-to-be-written standards, and they agreed to set up data suctioning systems, State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS), to suction all manner of personal student data into the Common Core central command. Standing strong against federal coercion, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas as well as the Republican governors of Nebraska, and Virginia refused.
But don’t take my word on this, U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, said as much in a 2010 speech to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
"On K-12 education, our theory of action starts with the four assurances incorporated in last year's economic stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009). The four assurances got their name from the requirement that each governor in the 50 states had to provide an "assurance" they would pursue reforms in four areas-in exchange for their share of funds from a Recovery Act program designed to largely stem job loss among teachers and principals."
To this global body he admitted that the federal government coerced states to change their educational policies in exchange for stimulus money.
He also admitted that these "assurances" had nothing to do with stemming educator job losses, they were coercion. Among the four "assurances" that the feds demanded from the states, he listed the requirements to adopt the national standards, to create a national assessment, and to implement data suctioning systems. Arne Duncan always claims that the states were never coerced into changing their education systems in exchange for federal monies. Of course now we know he lied.
President Obama and Arne Duncan are just dusting off the old playbook they used in Chicago with Bill Ayers when they tried to "reform" education there under the Annenberg Challenge grant in the 1990's. They are using non-profits as front groups to launder federal dollars into funding the creation of and therefore the control of national standards, tests, data collection, and by default, curriculum in the classroom. Their schemes had no visible impact on student learning in Chicago, yet they are implementing a version of it nationwide. But then again, the Common Core’s endgame has nothing to do with student learning.
7. As a teacher you are sticking your neck out. Have you become a pariah among colleagues? Are you finding that other teachers are becoming more emboldened to challenge the system?
McQueen: Just the opposite is true. As other teachers read the book and the articles I have written they come to a better understanding of what the Common Core truly is and remark how I reflect their views. Teachers are really busy and many still don’t know what the Common Core is, just that it is making their lives hell in the classroom with all the vague expectations and mandates being handed down by administrators and State Superintendents of Instruction who are just as confused.
Adding to the confusion is when teachers see "Teachers of the Year" advocating on behalf of the Common Core on television ads, in the paper, or in front of state legislatures. They never disclose that the Teacher of the Year Program is a run by the Common Core group (CCSSO) that owns the copyright to the Common Core standards and helped write the standards. That would completely negate their advocacy.
After my first op-ed appeared in a local paper, I did get an intimidating call from the AZ Department of Education in my classroom. They wanted to know what my "issues" were with the Common Core and if I was implementing them in the classroom. This was another reason I decided to "go big" and write a book about the Common Core and raise my voice as loud as I could. It’s easier for the powers-that-be to intimidate someone in silence, it’s much more difficult when that person is shouting, I reasoned. Besides, I have information that the anti-Common Core forces can use to slay this Common Core beast. I used to feel like I was contributing towards the success of the cult of Common Core when I was working on their tests, now I feel like I am at long last on the right side.