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Will the Common Core be the Rosetta Stone for Corporate Reform?

By Anthony Cody — December 08, 2013 5 min read
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In the year 1799, a French soldier discovered an ancient stone in Egypt that had been inscribed with a royal proclamation in the year 196 BC, in three languages; Ancient Greek, Demotic, and

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. The same text in all three languages allowed scholars to crack the code of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, and since then, the term “Rosetta Stone” has come to signify a means by which hidden codes are uncovered. The Common Core has become a Rosetta Stone for understanding how corporate education reform is reshaping public education.

Millions of parents across the country are starting to become concerned, as they see test scores in states on the leading edge of Common Core implementation plummet. Officials have greeted this failure with strange satisfaction, clearly having known that this would be the result of the new system they put in place. Parents start out puzzled by this behavior, but when they investigate, here is what they are discovering:


  1. There is a powerful engine of “reform” at work in the “venture philanthropy” of the Gates Foundation, which has sponsored the development, adoption and implementation of the Common Core, spending close to $200 million so far on the project. While every Common Core web site claims that the standards were “authored by states,” those who inquire learn that the standards were written by a small group of individuals affiliated with a handful of non-profits funded by the Gates Foundation.
  2. The US Department of Education is operating in close cooperation with the Gates Foundation to manipulate states into adopting Common Core. When Race to the Top grants were made available to states, the Gates Foundation made its staff available to help prepare the grant applications for states willing to adopt Common Core. The Department of Education, prevented by law from promoting national standards, worked in concert with the Gates Foundation (and private organizations funded by Gates) to get around the law.
  3. Many non-profits and professional organizations, and even our unions, have accepted millions of dollars in funding from the Gates Foundation in exchange for active support for Common Core. These organizations have not behaved as if they have any real influence, but rather have accepted the Common Core system as inevitable. They risk losing legitimacy in they eyes of their members as the Common Core project begins to collapse.
  4. The Common Core is propelled by a vision of education as serving the needs of commerce and corporations. Many of the arguments for Common Core portray our children as products on an assembly line. As a high level Gates Foundation official wrote recently, “I am pleased to see the excitement in the business community for the common core. Businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural alliance.”
  5. The Common Core doubles down on NCLB’s insistence that schools be “held accountable” for constantly rising test scores, acting as if these scores are an adequate reflection of student learning. Common Core is all about measurable outputs, and making sure student performance can be quantified in ever greater detail.
  6. Common Core designers intended test scores to crash. From the start, we have heard veiled allusions to the effect that “we have been lying to our children” in not telling them how inadequate they are. Arne Duncan’s recent remark about “suburban white mothers” upset that “their child isn’t as bright as they thought, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought,” shows this intent clearly. The collapsed scores, coupled with policies that force the closure or “transformation” of schools, the promotion of charter schools, and the use of test scores for purposes of teacher and principal evaluation, create an unsustainable environment in our schools. And this is all by design.
  7. Common Core is being used to justify an unprecedented expansion of “educational technology,” to be used for computer-based testing and delivery of instruction. This investment in machinery has been termed “personalization.” So instead of investing in small class sizes that allow truly personalized instruction, we have districts like Los Angeles spending a billion dollars on iPads so students can access Common Core curriculum and tests.
  8. Common Core expands our education system’s reliance on data. Once we have decided we can measure and quantify learning, the way to improve is to have ever MORE measurement, and ever MORE data. And we discover that the systems to store such data must be expanded, and that detailed data on our own children is being compiled and stored in “cloud-based” systems, and may be made available to third party corporations.

Most of these concerns cut across the political spectrum. These concerns are rooted in the way our children experience school. Do they have a chance to feel successful? Do their teachers have the freedom to design and deliver lessons that are appropriate for them? Or has this freedom been lost to a central corporate/government power structure that seems uninterested in any sort of democratic process, and determined to prove that our schools, teachers and students are inadequate?

Each of the revelations above suggests an alternative solution. The control of our schools should lie neither with corporate philanthropies nor the federal government, but within our communities. Our unions, professional organizations, and groups like the PTA should function as strong independent advocates for their members, not handmaidens to corporate philanthropies.

Education should be structured not to serve the needs of corporations and commerce, but the aspirations of our students. They should be prepared to think for themselves. Test scores are wholly inadequate as indicators of what students have learned. When our entire system revolves around them, we sacrifice great qualities of learning that are far more important - curiosity, creativity, and open-ended inquiry. In the long run, our society and economic well-being will be far better served by this, than a blinkered focus on job skills.

Educational technology is a poor vehicle for “personalization.” A computer is a tool, just like any other, and funneling all learning through it narrows our thinking instead of expanding it. Data is not without value, but we cannot use it as our only lens for comprehending the world, or we reduce ourselves to machines. Instead of relying on measurement as the vehicle for improvement, we should rely on the imaginations and creativity of our nation’s students and teachers - they have always risen to this challenge in the past.

Scholars frustrated with cryptic hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt were excited to unlock their secrets using the Rosetta Stone. Teachers, parents and students frustrated with the way the Common Core is reshaping instruction may begin to see a way to take control of their schools back once they understand its origins and design.

What do you think? Is the Common Core helping people understand the nature of corporate education reform?

Continue the dialogue with Anthony on Twitter.

Rosetta Stone photo by Benjamin Busche, used under Creative Commons license.

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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