What the Core is Really For

In his article, “Are Common Core Standards actually Data Tags” Peter Green hit the nail on the head. Data tags are precisely what the standards are, and in a moment I’ll show you how this works in real classrooms here in Maine.

First let me recap a bit.

In previous blog posts, I’ve tried to show that the Common Core Standards are part of an even bigger picture of reform that includes a massive expansion of digital and online learning, all of which is meant to operate around a system of “advancement” that goes by various names depending on which state you’re in, including “competency-based”, “proficiency-based,” mastery, personalized, or customized learning.

If you aren’t yet familiar with this piece of the reform agenda, it is probably because you do not live, as I do here in Maine, in an Innovation Lab Network state, run by the Council for Chief State School Officers and funded handsomely ($90+ million) by the Gates Foundation and where our children are being used as guinea pigs in a grand proficiency-based experiment.

Consider yourself lucky, but not out of the woods.

Before I go on, let me be clear that this model of learning is not new. For decades, those of the “total quality management” (corporate) mindset have been trying to rework our education system into something that can be more easily manipulated, measured, and managed. See this article from 1977 on one failed attempt at implementing a competency-based model, or just read the quote that I’ve pulled out below:

Guines said the new curriculum is based on the work in behavorial psychology of Harvard University’s B. F. Skinner, who developed teaching machines and even trained pigeons during World War II to carry bombs and detonate them.

The basic idea, Guines said, is to break down complicated learning into a sequence of clear simple skills that virtually everyone can master, although at different rates of speed.

“If you can train a pigeon to fly up there and press a button and set off a bomb,” Guines remarked, “why can’t you teach human beings to behave in an effective and rational way? We know we can modify human behavior. We’re not scared of that. This is the biggest thing that’s happening in education today.

 Take a moment to compare the quote above with Green’s observation:

 We know from our friends at  Knewton what the Grand Design is — a system in which student progress is mapped down to the atomic level. Atomic level (a term that Knewton lervs deeply) means test by test, assignment by assignment, sentence by sentence, item by item. We want to enter every single thing a student does into the Big Data Bank….We’ve been saying that CCSS are limited because the standards were written around what can be tested. That’s not exactly correct. The standards have been written around what can be tracked.

 The standards aren’t just about defining what should be taught. They’re about cataloging what students have done.

Yep.  Things haven’t changed – they’ve just tweaked the language a bit so we don’t freak out about the pigeon analogies.

This time around, the TQM (total quality management) folks have big – astronomical, in fact – amounts of money and political influence pushing this reform.

One key proponent of competency-based learning is Michael Horn of the Innosight Institute, who wrote in this article from 2012 called “Could Competency Based Education Save Common Core?” that he is a proponent of the corein part because of the innovation their adoption could seed through the creation of a common market. Having common standards across the country could begin to reward content providers that target the long tail of learners because they would help to aggregate demand across the country.

Another is Tom Vander Ark, former executive at the Gates Foundation and partner of Learn Capital, who recently gave a presentation in Silicon Valley titled “New Education: How to Unbundle the Potential of Multi-Billion Dollar Market.”

It’s pretty clear how, isn’t it?

First, coerce us into adopting standards that can “seed a common market” that will “reward content providers.” Quietly sign states up to be part of a giant “lab” that will hopefully “generate proof points” for your reform ideas. Then, get the American Legislative Exchange Council to help rework our state policies to accommodate and/or force a new proficiency-based system. Work with big foundations to get legislation included in the ESEA rewrites  that will encourage states to purchase the products you want to sell them.

Meanwhile, tap into the riches from tax-exempt foundations to fund “will-building” campaigns to convince the common-folk that this is really all for our own good. Set up non-profits in individual states that can do things like take over your state teacher of the year program and send letters of support to your local newspapers, to confuse people into thinking that this is a teacher and community-led reform. Explain that this is simply a common sense reform to make high school degrees “more meaningful,” and accuse anyone of questioning your logic as “lowering standards.”  Change the word “computer” to “student” so that you can claim that your model is “student-centered” and no one will know what you really mean.

Now sit back and watch as local school districts are destroyed and remade in your corporate image.

Here are some screenshots of the training program that all teachers here in my hometown of Auburn, Maine, which has partnered with the Gates and Nellie Mae Funded “Reinventing Schools Coalition,” recently went through.

i am aware

See the question “I am aware of the significant research validating SBG Standards-Based Grading Approach to Assessment,” where you must answer “true” in order to move on and get your “mastery star.”  I’d be willing to answer “true” if we could stick a carrot just before “research” and add the word “bogus.”

Or the question above, “I can distinguish between a “Factory Model” of education” and a “Student-Centered model,” where again, you have to answer “true” to move on and the rationale refers to a make-believe version of the history of education in our country.

Kinda makes you wonder if this is the kind of thing our kids will be expected to do as well – you know, answer “true” to things that aren’t true at all so that they can get their gold star and move on?

Then there’s this, where teachers get rated on how proficiently they can regurgitate the propaganda they’ve been force-fed:

pic 1

And this, where they get a demonstration of how they will be tracking their students growth according to those data tags – I mean standards – we’ve been forced to adopt:

kid mastery

And this, where they learn how to “manage virtual environments”:

pic 2

Who needs teachers when you have all this student-centered personalization?  Imagine the costs to be cut!

Meet your child’s new teacher.  It’s the abcmouse.com lady:


Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

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