A few days ago, I published Professor Stephen Krashen’s letter to the New York Times, in which he explained his opposition to the Common Core standards. Professor Krashen is coming from the progressive side of the spectrum.

Then Ireceived an email from Jamie Gass of the conservative Pioneer Institute in Massachusetts, which strongly opposes the Common Core standards from the opposite end of the political spectrum. Gass is especially angry that the CC standards replaced the proven and excellent Massachusetts standards. His letter is below.

As I mentioned earlier, I am neither a supporter nor an opponent of the standards. I am withholding my judgment until we learn how they work in real classrooms and what affect they have on students, teachers, and schools.

In the meanwhile, if advocates for the standards contact me and want to express support for them, I will be glad to post the other side. I am not printing Jamie Gass to express my view, but to express that of a conservative concerned about quality. Those who disagree should feel free to chime in.

Some of the references may seem like inside baseball, but this reflects the fact that so much surrounding the development of the standards occurred within the Beltway or a small corridor of the Northeast (not including the role of the Gates Foundation). Perhaps I should include a glossary to identify the players. Feel free to ask if you don’t know who the players are. The letter was originally written as a response to journalist Sol Stern, who chided the Pioneer Institute for not doing more to promote the E.D. Hirsch Core Knowledge curriculum:

Thanks for your confidence that little Pioneer Institute could have outdone over $100 million from the Gates Foundation and persuade the bluest state in the Union (and Deval Patrick in an election year) not to follow the lead of Arne Duncan on $250 million in RTTT money. In truth, an easier task would have been to change the directional flow of the Charles River. That said, we did have two-thirds of the authors of the 1993 law (Gov. Weld and Sen. Birmingham), as well as the president of the AFT-MA, two 2010 MA gubernatorial candidates, Sen. Scott Brown, and nearly every editorial board in the state, on our side against MA adopting CCSSI.

 Sadly, our good friends at Achieve and Fordham were working hand-in-glove with Gates, US ED, a pro-Deval think tank in MA (MBAE [Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education]), and MA state officials to make sure MA adopted the academically inferior CCSSI standards. If MA adopted, the CCSSIers would argue, what state could resist, right? In point of fact, MBAE’s, Fordham’s, and Achieve’s Gates-funded evals of the Gates-funded CCSSI standards (a nice lesson in independence and objectivity there) was the basis for the MA decision to adopt. MA state DOE officials made this MBAE/Achieve/Fordham eval link clear in memo after memo on CCSSI. In the blog below, Sandy Stotsky made the still unanswered charge that Fordham’s evaluation of MA vs. CCSSI was little more than a thinly veiled effort to undermine our attempts to retain the higher quality and proven MA standards: http://jaypgreene.com/2010/07/29/stotsky-on-the-common-core-vote-in-ma/

 Despite a year of empty reassurances from Mike Petrilli [Thomas B. Fordham Institute] that “not all states should adopt” and “we don’t think MA should adopt” it’s now clear that Fordham’s impulse towards bureaucratic compliance and illegal nationalization trumped their commitment to academic excellence. For example, they always laud not CCSSI’s academic quality, but the high number of states that adopted, or complied. A day before MA adopted CCSSI, Checker Finn [Thomas B. Fordham Institute] told the NYT something like, “no state should worry about adopting these standards” and their eval of CCSSI vs. MA was supposedly “too close to call.” In addition to being compromised by accepting $1 million in Gates money, via CCSSI Fordham has placed political expediency and bureaucratic adoption over excellence and proven results. Consequently, Fordham’s role in CCSSI has illustrated why after 20 years in Ohio (and even longer working with Lamar Alexander in TN) they have no results to show anyone, anywhere in terms of improved student achievement or NAEP scores. So, yes, as I said, the DC-based CCSSIers indeed “helped” Deval Patrick ruin the MA standards and reforms.

 Regarding CCSSI’s legality, or I should say illegality, perhaps you’re correct – this should end up as a lawsuit. Doesn’t this tell us something tragic about the desperate state of public education’s decline in America? That is, something has gone terribly wrong when former US ED officials like – the ones at Fordham and Achieve – are working with Arne Duncan’s people, unelected/unaccountable private DC-trade groups, and the Gates Foundation to help state and federal officials circumvent, or violate federal laws? At the end of the day, in terms of democratic and civic education does it really matter if kids are reading the Founding Documents or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address when the adults governing public education are openly violating federal laws?

 Finally, as you know, the Framers established a mixed and complex republic that constitutionally designated certain powers to the national government and others – mostly on domestic matters – to the states and localities.  Far from improving public education over the last 40 years, the more consolidated K-12 education has become, the lousier and more bureaucratic it has become. As Diane and Jacques Barzun have carefully mapped out in their various books, we are in a era of obvious educational decline wherein academic content and the liberal arts are repeatedly subordinated to regulation, compliance, bureaucracy, and education focusing on workforce development training and content-empty skills. This is an old story and CCSSI’s major proponents like Duncan, Gates, NGA, CCSSO, Tucker, and Achieve all advance this agenda.

 Driven by ex-DC bureaucrats, CCSSI started with low expectations and never got to MA, IN, TX, MN, or CA’s level of academic quality. With David Coleman now at the College Board, aligning AP and SAT to CCSSI, those tests too will be dumbed down in a manner that will negatively impact all modes of K-12 schooling and higher education in America. In fact, CCSSI/2014 establishes a Year Zero for lower expectations in American education. Frankly, given the mediocre records of its major advocates, I see nothing in CCSSI that will reverse this trend towards decline, or any evidence that CCSSI’s one-stop-shopping-for-lower-standards won’t, in fact, dramatically accelerate a race to the middle.