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A new face for education, courtesy of ‘Uncle Sam'

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In mid-July of 2009, a nationwide facelift of education began. 

Like many surgical facelifts, the procedures were many but elicited little notice by the general public.

With about 45 states having undergone the long and complicated surgical process, the new face of education is beginning to grace the public. That new face for 45 states features uniform aesthetics, with a like-minded mouth speaking of one-size-fits-all Common Core "standards" as the solution to existing educational problems and deficiencies. But is the newly sculpted face better than the old one? 

How it began

On July 24, 2009, President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan introduced the $4.35 billion program "Race to the Top," a federal fund that awarded states points for satisfying certain educational policies. By complying, states received federal dollars. 

The basic components of Race to the Top included adopting common core standards, joining an assessment consortium and linking each statewide longitudinal data system with other states. The new standards aim to turn around low performing schools and improve effectiveness for teachers and other school leaders.

On February 22, 2010, President Obama spoke to the National Governor's Association or NGA, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Obama acknowledged then-Gov. Joe Manchin, who was in attendance, as its vice-chairman. 

During his speech to the NGA, Obama stated that "as a condition of receiving access to Title 1 Funds, we will ask all states to put in place a plan to adopt and certify standards that are college- and career-ready in reading and math."

Approximately 45 states and Washington, D.C., took the money and adopted common core standards with numerous strings attached.

What some saw as the problem was how most states adopted common core standards before the final version of the standards had made their debut. 

The math and English standards were released June 2, 2010. The West Virginia State Board of Education signed onto Common Core May 13, 2010, approximately three weeks before the standards were released. The history and science standards have yet to be released.

Where ‘standards' originated

The "standards" were developed by special interest groups and private organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NGA, Council of Chief State School Officers, or CCSSO, David Coleman and Achieve. The standards themselves are copyrighted and owned by NGA and CCSSO and are not amendable. 

The Common Core official website states, "this website and all content on this website, including in particular the Common Core State Standards, are the property of NGA Center and CCSSO, and NGA Center and CCSSO retain all right, title and interest in and to the same."

Persons who were not involved in the creation of the Common Core standards include parents, teachers, educators, legislators and Harrison County Board of Education President Michael Queen.

Questions arise in WV

On Dec. 19, Queen and about a dozen Harrison County school board members called a meeting to discuss Common Core and answer the numerous questions raised by parents and community members.

Present during the meeting were State Superintendent James Phares, state board members and Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, who is a member of the Senate Education Committee. 

Queen said most of the questions asked were good ones that sought to clarify the complicated and comprehensive topic at hand. Phares could not be reached for comment.

"It's hard to discuss in sound bites," Queen said. "The discussion has to occur subject by subject."

When it comes to the issue of actual implementation, Queen said the State Board of Education may have gotten more than it bargained for.

"They bit off way more than they can chew by shoving (Common Core standards) down county school board throats and parents' throats too quickly," he said. "We were told to do it. Not asked."

Where was the vote?

Another component Queen pointed out regarding the implementation of Common Core standards is the absence of the "vote of any elected body anywhere" and that the "standards "were developed by private corporations."

Boley echoed the sentiment of not only the absence of the vote of an elected body but also of being completely left out of the entire Common Core creation and implementation process. 

Those sentiments shoot down the argument from Common Core proponents that Common Core is driven by state governments.

"We were not part of any of it," she said. "Legislators have no idea. We never really had our people come in to explain it or have it explained."

Another issue Boley pointed out was a lack of transparency. She said at a June 13 board meeting, the answer of "who" in regards to the entity, or entities, responsible for the creation of the "standards" was never answered.

Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne and chairman of the Senate Education Committee could not be reached for comment.

Lack of pilot projects, data

The lack of pilot projects and empirical data is another of Boley's concerns. 

Terrence Moore, former schoolmaster and currently professor of history at Hillsdale College in Michigan, shares Boley's concerns regarding a lack of empirical data and the fact that Common Core standards are not internationally benchmarked.

In his testimony to the Indiana Senate Chamber Aug. 5, 2013, Moore posed the question, "Where is the Common Core school that we can go into right now and actually sit in the classes and know that this sort of thing is going on so that we know that it works?" He answered his own question by stating, "I don't know what the address is because I believe there's not one."

What does it all mean?

From the Federal Register and referenced in the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium Memorandum of Understanding, signed by West Virginia June 8, 2010, "a state may supplement the common set of college-and-career-ready standards with additional content standards, provided that the additional standards do not comprise more than 15 percent of the state's total standards for that content area."

The Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium is one of two "consortia" charged with developing standardized tests to go along with Common Core. What does that mean for local states and community school boards?

Simply by reading the statement, one could infer that federal government, rather than the individual state, is the deciding force of education. If one takes the document as it is, states have little say in  regard to actual content.

In the bigger picture looms the real potential for loss of local control, loss of state autonomy and the centralization and nationalizaion of education.

And that possibility comes shortly after West Virginia lawmakers enacted education reform with a focus on allowing more local control throughout the state.