Michigan Fights Common Core
Michigan is one of several states rethinking Common Core. With few exceptions, the monumental revision of education standards that is Common Core took effect in states without the knowledge of citizens and legislators; they are now left questioning the efficacy of the standards and wondering how to fund implementation and testing. Federal money won by some states under Race to the Top competitions, the federal “carrot” for implementing Common Core, was a one-time financial boost and does not provide continuous funding. It never covered testing, which is proving to be expensive and complicated, requiring a computer for every student.
The Michigan state school board adopted Common Core in 2010 without legislative approval and without public knowledge. When parents and legislators found out about Common Core, they were concerned. A budget decision made earlier this year by Michigan legislators halts financial support for the Common Core implementation and testing after October 1.
Legislative subcommittees are holding meetings in Michigan to explore the implications of Common Core. Public comment has been allowed and experts have answered legislators’ questions.
Follow the Money
On August 30 the Michigan House panel that is reviewing Common Core (CC) heard fifteen hours of testimony. Testifying in support of Common Core, Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, was questioned about money his organization received from influential CC proponents.
Rep. Tom McMillin brought up $6.7 million dollars that the Fordham Institute has received from the Gates Foundation. McMillin questioned whether Fordham could be objective about Common Core after receiving so much money from the Gates Foundation. Gates is a primary proponent and promoter of CC. Fordham claims only $2 million directly funded Common Core research, and an additional $1.5 million went into general operating expenses, stating that the rest of the Gates money was used on an Ohio charter school project. Even if some of the Gates money was used for purposes other than for Common Core, this freed up other resources to be used as Fordham chose. Results can become tainted when an entity’s research supports claims made by the major funder of the research, as is the case with Fordham and Gates.
How About Cursive Writing?
Another issue addressed in Michigan is the percentage of non-Common Core subject matter that is allowed by Common Core standards. Common Core allows 15% of curriculum to be outside that which conforms to CC standards. Teaching cursive handwriting is one concern of some parents and teachers. Common Core standards require keyboarding but no time is allotted for teaching students to write. It has been noted that 15% of all classroom time is barely enough to allow for teaching cursive writing, let alone other curriculum supplements individual states may wish to add.
Chester Finn of the Fordham Institute testified at the Aug. 30 hearing, “To my knowledge, there’s no Common Core police checking to see whether you add 15% or 27%, or 3% to what’s in the Common Core.” While that may be true, if a school is to successfully implement the massive and complex CC standards, there is no way they can diverge from the 15% rule. Some question whether even the 15% of alternative curriculum will make it into lesson plans, since it will not be tested.
Sandra Stotsky, a retired education professor at the University of Arkansas; Williamson Evers, a research fellow from Stanford University’s Hoover Institution; and Diane Ravitch all testified against Common Core in Michigan.
Some Michigan school districts are moving forward with Common Core as school starts this fall. But the superintendent of Saginaw schools feels cautious and is not allocating funds to Common Core curricula or teacher training, since it may be wasted money.
The superintendent of the Plymouth-Canton school system believes Common Core will eventually be fully funded. The district has so far spent $500,000 on a new English and language arts curriculum that is “explicitly aligned to the Common Core” for the 17,000 district students. Plymouth-Canton School Superintendent Meissen says of Common Core, “The train’s on the tracks and it’s left town.” (Education Week, 8-28-13)
But a math teacher from Mr. Meissen’s own district criticized Common Core math standards in testimony at an Aug. 14 legislative review meeting. Teacher Stephanie Keiles doesn’t approve of Common Core’s new method of teaching geometry. She said, “We’ve taught mathematics the same way from 500 B.C. up until the Common Core.” (MichiganLive.com, 8-14-13)
Massive amounts of money were spent to promote, enact, and fund Common Core long before parents were even aware of what was happening at schools their children attend. No one asked parents if they were in favor of Common Core.