thanks to a reader who sent this link to an excellent article by Thomas Newkirk about the defects of the Common Core standards. Newkirk is a professor at the University of New Hampshire. His critique of the Common Core is a classic of reasoned criticism.

He understands that the standards were rolled out with a massive and subtle PR campaign. From the outset, the public was told that the standards were written by governors and experts. The public was told that the CC was a done deal. From day one, it was too late to object. The train had left the station, even though few people were aware that there was a train or that it was in the station. “Resistance is futile,” said the well-paid corps of CC cheerleaders. 

Newkirk writes: 

The Common Core initiative is a triumph of branding. The standards are portrayed as so consensual, so universally endorsed, so thoroughly researched and vetted, so self-evidently necessary to economic progress, so broadly representative of beliefs in the educational community—that they cease to be even debatable. They are held in common; they penetrate to the core of our educational aspirations, uniting even those who might usually disagree. We can be freed from noisy disagreement, and should get on with the work of reform.
This deft rollout may account for the absence of vigorous debate about the Common Core State Standards. If they represent a common core—a center—critics are by definition on the fringe or margins, whiners
and complainers obstructing progress. And given the fact that states have already adopted them—before they were completely formulated—what is the point in opposition? We should get on with the task of implementation, and, of course, alignment.”

Newkirk proceeds to diagnose the flaws of the CC, starting with the conflict of interest of the testing companies whose representatives helped to write the standards. He criticizes the developmental inappropriateness of the standards. 

He writes: 

“The CCSS has taken what I see as exceptional work, that of perhaps the top 5 percent of students, and made it the new norm.” The work once expected of fourth graders has shifted to the second grade.”

The standards give extraordinary power to standardized tests. Not surprising since test publishers played such a prominent role in writing them.  

The central question is this: Are standardized tests compatible with the more complex goals of twenty- first-century literacy? Or are they a regressive and reductive technology (ironically, many of the countries we are chasing in international comparisons do not share our belief in these tests)?”

Newkirk says: 

In a democracy it is never too late to speak back, to question, to criticize. As Martin Luther King Jr. argued in his“Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”it is never“untimely.” We simply cannot give up our democratic birthright and settle into compliance, not on something this important. We need to pierce the aura of inevitability that promoters have woven around the Common Core. We have to“follow the money”and ask who benefits financially from this initiative (especially important considering the financial scandals that occurred with Reading First several years ago). We need to ask about the role of unaccountable think tanks, testing agencies, and foundations in driving this initiative—have we  outsourced reform? We have to determine what value to place on local control and teacher decision making. We have to ask about the usefulness of the“data”that tests provide and whether these data may be crowding out the richer, contextual observations of teachers. And we have to look at the limitations of tests them- selves, what they can illuminate and what they must ignore. Can they test the complex, integrated, and creative skills that students will truly need—not only to be better workers but more fully realized human beings?

All in all, this is a very satisfying essay that raises important questions.