The Education Invasion - Encounter Books

The Education Invasion

How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids

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Publication Details

New Hardcover/ 280 pages
ISBN: 9781594038815
AVAILABLE: 03/14/2017


The Education Invasion
How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids

In 2009, a conglomerate of unelected, self-appointed officials met behind closed doors to create a set of rules that would outline what children must learn in every grade in core K-12 classes. In 2010, the Obama administration required states to use these rules for curriculum and tests to have a chance at extra federal money during the Great Recession. Three years later, most Americans told pollsters they had no idea what common Core was.

Their children were beginning to find out, however. Pullmann tugs on a thread that leads to a big tangle of history, politics, and intrigue that together help explain why small children must sit and cry over math homework while their parents look on helplessly. Early test results suggest Common Core means American kids will learn less. Why, then, did we do it? Who made out like bandits while kids and self-governance suffered? And how can Americans ensure their children won’t be served the same rewarmed brain hash they have rejected time and time again?


About the Author

Joy Pullmann is managing editor of The Federalist and an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute. She received a Robert Novak journalism fellowship in 2013-14 to fund in-depth research and reporting on Common Core.

Pullmann has taught high school and middle school history, literature, and debate, and has written public speaking curriculum. A graduate of the Hillsdale College honors and journalism programs, Pullmann and her husband live in the Midwest and have four children ages five and younger.

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Excerpt

Jamie Highfill entered the classroom in 2002 as an eighth-grade English teacher in Fayetteville, Arkansas. A Gulf War veteran, she had no idea that she was stepping onto another battle field.

Highfill quickly proved to be an excellent teacher. Her specialty was preparing students for Advanced Placement classes in high school, which can earn students college credit. In 2005, she was selected as codirector of the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project at the University of Arkansas, a local affiliate of an international writing program that attracts some of the world’s best teachers. In 2011, the Arkansas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts named her Middle School English Teacher of the Year. In the 2011–12 school year, 77 percent of her students scored “advanced” on state tests. That’s an amazing success rate. Typically, no more than one-quarter of students score “advanced” on state English tests, even the less rigorous ones.

Highfill’s eighth graders learned about comedy and political satire from James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” They read Arthurian legends, poems by Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. They learned about internal dialogue, quest literature, parody, and symbolism. Highfill’s guide for choosing assignments was Henry David Thoreau’s maxim, “Read the best books first, or you might not have a chance to read them at all.”

When Arkansas signed on to the Common Core curriculum man- dates in 2010 — to be followed later by national tests to enforce them — Highfill joined the committee her school convened to decide how to put the mandates into place. Schools across the country created similar committees.

In the era of “education accountability,” curriculum mandates spell out the learning requirements that annual tests assess. The national Common Core tests measure only reading and math to fulfill the federal mandates, but Common Core actually asserts authority over the entire curriculum, since its English mandates also apply to “literacy in history/ social studies, science, and technical subjects. A series of grant competitions and executive rewrites of federal education law during the first year of the Obama presidency ensured that Common Core would determine far more than what teachers hand to children in the classroom. The administration required schools to use Common Core test results in evaluating, ranking, hiring, firing, and even redistributing teachers, and required states to use the results to judge and rank schools and even to take them over from local authorities.

Unlike most teachers, Highfill had paid attention to how Common Core became her boss. When she got a look at the mandates, she was dismayed at what they would do to the extraordinarily rich lessons she had been providing her students.

In language arts, Common Core explicitly requires schools to give “much greater attention to a specific category of informational text — literary nonfiction — than has been traditional.” A graph included in the standards document shows an increasing nonfiction intake through the school years: 50 percent in fourth grade, 55 percent in eighth grade, 70 percent in twelfth grade. This requirement alarmed Highfill, who had achieved great success with her students by feeding them a diet replete with poetry and short stories and classic novels.

“Where is the research that proves more nonfiction is better for students?” she asked. “What about inferencing skills that you only get with fiction and poetry? That was my whole issue: please, tell me where the research says this is better for kids.” Indeed, research indicates that students’ experience with high-quality fiction is a major predictor of their college success, while it finds nothing of the kind for nonfiction.

Highfill expressed her concerns to some colleagues. When administrators asked teachers what they thought about Common Core, Highfill and others began pointing out its flaws, but the principal said, “You guys are being too negative.” The administration, said Highfill, “wanted us to accept the document lock, stock, and barrel.”

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