Disturbing testimony at hearing reveals what is at the core of Common Core support

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Per­haps the most dis­turb­ing tes­ti­mo­ny pre­sent­ed to Wisconsin’s Assem­bly dur­ing a recent hear­ing on Com­mon Core was not about Com­mon Core at all. Super­in­ten­dent Nick Madi­son, of the Bril­lion School Dis­trict, offered the most reveal­ing look at the thought process behind the cur­rent pop­u­lar “reforms.” Madison’s dis­trict is sit­u­at­ed in a farm­ing com­mu­ni­ty of about 3,000 peo­ple and is home of Ariens, a man­u­fac­tur­er of bright orange removal equip­ment, includ­ing snow blow­ers and lawn mow­ers. Bril­lion is a peace­ful pas­toral set­ting with low unem­ploy­ment, lit­tle crime, hard work­ing inno­v­a­tive peo­ple grow­ing the nation’s food and man­u­fac­tur­ing tools typ­i­cal­ly used by America’s mid­dle-class fam­i­lies. Some would say Bril­lion is the per­fect sym­bol of Amer­i­can Excep­tion­al­ism.

That is why Madison’s tes­ti­mo­ny came as such a sur­prise to so many. After Madi­son pre­sent­ed the busi­ness community’s script­ed defense of Com­mon Core, and a reminder to the leg­is­la­tors that one of the rea­sons Com­mon Core was cre­at­ed was to meet the needs of indus­try, Madi­son argued that “the pol­i­cy is right because the pol­i­cy is what is reflect­ed in the demands of busi­ness.”

Through­out his tes­ti­mo­ny, it was dif­fi­cult to ascer­tain whether Madi­son rep­re­sent­ed edu­ca­tors and the chil­dren they serve or the cham­bers of com­merce and the busi­ness­es they serve. Those two inter­ests, while not oppos­ing, are not one and of the same. How­ev­er, after pre­sent­ing a case for indus­try, remark­ably Madi­son con­clud­ed his pre­pared state­ment claim­ing that “it is time that we focus on kids and what’s in their best inter­ests and not on pol­i­tics.”

It could have been the per­fect end­ing for an edu­ca­tor; one with which all edu­ca­tors could agree.

How­ev­er, it was when Madi­son lashed out at Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Schraa that he revealed what is at the core of Com­mon Core. Schraa began his ques­tion­ing by not­ing, “Amer­i­can Excep­tion­al­ism was present before Com­mon Core, and you are kind of insin­u­at­ing that we need Com­mon Core stan­dards….” Madi­son aggres­sive­ly inter­rupt­ed, “You bet. That excep­tion­al­ism has come and gone with all due respect, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive.” Madi­son con­tin­ued, “We have to be will­ing to inno­vate faster than the Chi­nese can copy us or our indus­try is going to go away. You talk about what coun­try stan­dards did you look at, here’s what coun­try I look at when I go down to Home Depot and see snow blow­ers made in Chi­na. That’s a real prob­lem for Bril­lion, that’s our stan­dard. That is who we are com­pet­ing with.”

In one flash of anger, Madi­son summed up what dri­ves too many sup­port­ers of Com­mon Core: the belief that the unex­cep­tion­al chil­dren of the Unit­ed States are noth­ing more than ser­vants of indus­try to be edu­cat­ed only to the extent that indus­try requires.

For years, as the teach­ing of basic skills has been reject­ed by edu­ca­tors who are bored with the mate­r­i­al or have a polit­i­cal agen­da, the per­for­mance of our stu­dents has been lack­ing. Rather than look at their fail­ures, edu­ca­tors are seek­ing any rem­e­dy that will low­er stan­dards even more while offer­ing a prod­uct for which some­one is will­ing to pay. Madi­son seemed to acknowl­edge that it was America’s inge­nu­ity that must have sure­ly sprung from America’s edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem, which led to the Ariens’ prod­ucts being supe­ri­or in design and func­tion when com­pared to Chi­nese ripoffs. Yet, he per­sist­ed in fight­ing for a set of stan­dards which do noth­ing to raise aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance and every­thing to keep the cost of labor low.

The tes­ti­mo­ny of Kirsten Lom­bard and Jody Lueck brought into sharp focus the rea­sons for the busi­ness community’s invest­ment in Com­mon Core.

It turns out, the invest­ment the cham­bers of com­merce make will be small when com­pared. As Lom­bard put it to the leg­is­la­tors, “I’m very con­cerned to hear that there are peo­ple who think that the pur­pose of edu­ca­tion is to pre­pare peo­ple for work. Who real­ly is the cus­tomer for edu­ca­tion?” Lom­bard asked. “Is the cus­tomer for edu­ca­tion busi­ness or indus­try? Or is it the par­ent and the child? I would sug­gest to you that it’s not busi­ness and indus­try nor is it gov­ern­ment,” said Lom­bard.

It is the child and the par­ent,” said Lom­bard. “Those are peo­ple to whom we have an oblig­a­tion. Yet over and over again, I’ve heard about need­ing to pre­pare peo­ple for work. I heard a busi­ness­man from Bril­lion talk about how the world of busi­ness doesn’t have time for all we were talk­ing about here.”

Lom­bard advised the Leg­is­la­ture that Com­mon Core is noth­ing more than a pub­lic pri­vate part­ner­ship. “It is a very dan­ger­ous thing. It’s very fash­ion­able as some say it leads to very effi­cient gov­ern­ment, but the rea­son it’s more effi­cient is because we cut the pub­lic out of the mix.”

Lom­bard argued that in the Com­mon Core pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship, gov­ern­ment brings the force and busi­ness brings the mon­ey. Then, the investors and the spe­cial-inter­est groups are brought in to make it appear that it has the sup­port of peo­ple. “That is exact­ly what Com­mon Core is: a pub­lic pri­vate part­ner­ship which is designed to noth­ing more than shift pri­vate risk to pub­lic shoul­ders.”

Lom­bard con­clud­ed, “I have seen the way this is being con­struct­ed. I’ve done my home­work, and this is very dan­ger­ous for the state and for the peo­ple who live here. Par­tic­u­lar­ly for its chil­dren, I urge you to think about who the real cus­tomer for edu­ca­tion should be.”

The tes­ti­mo­ny, which seemed to make the leg­is­la­tors most uncom­fort­able was offered by Apple­ton busi­ness­woman and CPA, Jody Lueck, who relat­ed her expe­ri­ence with the pro­mot­ers of Com­mon Core. Lueck described a meet­ing of the Apple­ton Cham­ber of Com­merce in which a Com­mon Core pro­mo­tion­al pre­sen­ta­tion was made this year.

The Wis­con­sin Region­al Train­ing Partnership’s pro­mo­tion­al pro­gram began with an expla­na­tion that Com­mon Core was the cen­ter­piece of their effort to “match up the Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem with the Euro­pean edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem of work-ready.”

Lueck advised the leg­is­la­tors that when the group referred to career and col­lege ready, they did not mean col­lege “the way we think about it. They’re dis­cussing tech­ni­cal col­leges.” Lueck said that while she val­ued tech­ni­cal col­leges, she became con­cerned when the group was told, “We need to change to meet the job mar­ket demands in Wis­con­sin and dis­cour­age our chil­dren from seek­ing a col­lege degree.” She told leg­is­la­tors that the intent of the pro­po­nents is to change the mod­el from one in which we pro­mote think­ing to one in which chil­dren are trained sole­ly for careers to meet the needs of indus­try. The cham­ber mem­bers were told that “only 27% of jobs in Wis­con­sin required a col­lege edu­ca­tion, and we are doing our kids a dis­ser­vice, they said, we need­ed to change to meet the job mar­ket demands in Wis­con­sin and dis­cour­age our chil­dren from seek­ing a col­lege degree.”

Atten­dees were told this would be a shift in mind­set.

When the atten­dees asked about the role of par­ents, they were told, “We did not include them because we did not know how this would work.” When the atten­dees per­sist­ed and asked again what the par­ents’ role would be, the pre­sen­ters said, ‘We are not telling the par­ents; their chil­dren will bring them along.’

Lueck described a sys­tem in which kinder­gart­ners will be giv­en infor­ma­tion about careers, and by the 8th grade, chil­dren will be fun­neled into 16 career tracks.

Lueck said, “There’s no parental involve­ment at all. The child will be test­ed, and the edu­ca­tors will offer them three tracks from which a child can choose based upon the needs of busi­ness in Wis­con­sin.” Stu­dents will then be placed in a track that best suits the student’s skill and will feed the indus­try in need.

We are going to restruc­ture the edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem so that all schools will work in tan­dem, and because you can’t have 16 career acad­e­mies in one school. Dif­fer­ent high schools will be assigned dif­fer­ent acad­e­mies,” Lueck tes­ti­fied. Under the new sys­tem a child might like­ly attend one high school one day, and spend oth­er days at anoth­er school.

Lueck told the leg­is­la­tors that schools will essen­tial­ly take over the role of HR depart­ments. Teach­ers will deter­mine which stu­dent is qual­i­fied to inter­view for which appren­tice­ship. “This is not far-off,” she warned the leg­is­la­tors.

They didn’t know peo­ple were sit­ting in that audi­ence who would not nec­es­sar­i­ly agree with what they were doing,” said Lueck. She did not to see “them hijack what edu­ca­tion is sup­posed to be about. We want think­ing chil­dren who can real­ly crit­i­cal­ly think and look at things. How did I become a CPA before if our edu­ca­tion sys­tem was so bad before Com­mon Core?”

Lueck con­clud­ed, “If you thought our edu­ca­tion sys­tem was so bad, why on earth did we wait for a group of east coast foun­da­tions to tell us what we should we doing here in Wis­con­sin?”

The “edu­ca­tors” of Tucson’s Mex­i­can Amer­i­can Stud­ies class­es said that they did not want “chil­dren to be cogs for the cap­i­tal­ist machine.” Con­ser­v­a­tives have made it clear that they do not want chil­dren to become mind­less cogs as well, so it leaves one to won­der if the pro­gres­sives’ silence in the Com­mon Core debate is due to the fact that they object to chil­dren becom­ing mind­less cogs only for the cap­i­tal­ist machine.

We can only hope that both con­ser­v­a­tives and pro­gres­sives will come togeth­er on this sim­ple prin­ci­ple: chil­dren should be equal­ly grant­ed access to the finest edu­ca­tion avail­able so that some­day, they alone will deter­mine the path they take, and the mark they make on their world.
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