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Exposing Common Core – part 4 in a series

September 22, 2013

The slogan for Tennessee Against Common Core is:

if you aren't outraged


Outrage is not a fashion-forward emotion in the 21st century. So why did Back in River City risk outraging some of our favorite teaching heroes who support Common Core in our last post on the subject?

Because this is an issue that matters. It matters greatly. And both teachers and the public are being deceived. If your only source of news about Common Core is the mainstream media (including, regrettably, the Commercial Appeal ) and the movement’s cheerleaders, you might want to check the rising temperature in the pot you’re soaking in.

We at Back in River City do not believe that everything in the Common Core standards is bad. We absolutely support school reform that ensures every child will reach his or her highest academic potential, and be welcomed into the workforce or higher education upon graduation. We also agree with Common Core’s passionate fan base that for most students –  primarily urban, poor, and of color – the public education system has failed and must be fixed. What we have learned through  months of  unbiased research about Common Core, however, has put us squarely among its foes.


Back in River City’s three previous articles have barely scratched the surface of what every citizen should know about Common Core. As bloggers, we struggle over how much information our followers need, want, and have the capacity to ingest. To explain every point in minute detail is a sure bet on information overload. So, we’re going to begin taking some short cuts, providing links to summary documents prepared by others. For example,  What Tennesseans Aren’t Being Told About Common Core is an informative booklet from Tennessee Against Common Core, reprinted with permission from blogger Oak Norton and Utahns Against Common Core. It covers a broad range of concerns associated with the Common Core initiative.

If you want more  details or evidence behind any of the claims or opinions we’ve published on Back in River City, just ask. We’ll be happy to oblige, because we do not make statements we can’t support. Our goal is to become well-informed advocates for sound public policy that will improve life for all Greater Memphians, and help our friends and followers do the same.

Here’s what I know to be true about Common Core.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative represents a sea change in American education and public policy. It ushers in a “progressive” reform agenda that seeks to change everything – what teachers teach, how teachers teach, how teachers are evaluated, what values students are groomed to embrace, what a high school diploma represents, and when compulsory education ends.

If we allow it, the one-world vision of Arne DuncanBill Gates and other powerful elites that we at Back in River City call Gateschool will eliminate state sovereignty and local oversight over public education. It will end personal privacy as we know it. Parents’ rights to home school or to place their children into private schools could be threatened.  Worst of all, the children Gateschool will hurt most are those it professes to help.

Economically disadvantaged children have been abused by public education policy cc is not the answer for the past 50 years. In Gateschool, only a select few will have the opportunity to attend elite, four-year universities and pursue dreams of becoming the next Dr. Ben Carson,  President Barack Obama, or Bill Gates. The vast majority  will be warehoused into non-competitive,  post-secondary, two-year institutions that train more so than educate. Jobs might indeed be more plentiful for high school and two-year program graduates, but career ladders will be short. The gap between the top and bottom rungs of society will increase, and the middle class will shrink.

Inconvenient Truths and Unconvincing Lies

At hearings before the Senate Education Committee at the State Capitol last week, Back in River City listened to 14 qualified stakeholders and Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman provide 7 ½ hours of testimony about Common Core. The seven supporting and seven opposing testifiers  performed capably. Useful facts and insights were offered by nearly all. Regrettably, some misinformation was relayed by otherwise well-prepared and well-meaning stakeholders. In the case of one presenter,  misstatements were clearly intentional.

if you repeat a lie . . .politics

The biggest falsehood perpetuated by the Common Core education-political-industrial-special interest complex is that these standards will raise the bar for our students, saving them from languishing under inferior standards previously approved by the State of Tennessee.

While the Common Core standards do emphasize different skill sets which may challenge students and teachers alike, they are not more academically rigorous than the Tennessee standards they replace. Most  states (including Tennessee) rewrote their mathematics and English/Language Arts (ELA) standards following the 2001 enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB required that all students be proficient in math, English, and science by 2014, and that schools demonstrate sufficient annual progress toward that goal or lose federal funding. Tennessee created, approved, and implemented improved math and ELA standards during 2008-2009.

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute testified at last week’s hearings about the relative merits of the Common Core standards versus the Tennessee-approved standards they replaced.  He attempted to present a strong case to  the Senate Education Committee that withdrawing from the Common Core consortium would “make [Tennessee] go backwards.”

The Fordham Institute, it is important to note, has been lavishly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation  to influence the adoption of Common Core. A comprehensive analysis by Louisiana teacher and education blogger Mercedes Schneider reveals that Fordham has pocketed  over $6 million in Gates Foundation grants over the past decade, including $1 million in April 2012 for general operating support and $2 million for Common Core-related tasks.  Roughly half of the $2 million was given “to review the Common Core standards and develop supportive materials.”

Notwithstanding its mandate to promote Common Core, Fordham graded Tennessee’s ELA (English/Language Arts) standards an impressive A-, higher than the Common Core standards that replaced them (graded by Fordham as B+).  Fordham complimented our Tennessee standards as:

. . .generally more straightforward, clear, and specific than the Common Core. They treat both literary and non-literary texts in systematic detail throughout the document, addressing the specific genres, sub-genres, and characteristics of both text types. Tennessee also provides more detailed guidance and clearer expectations regarding the general characteristics of good writing expected throughout the grades, and its standards for logic are more thorough and rigorous.

Fordham graded Tennessee’s mathematics standards a mediocre C compared to an A- for Common Core’s. But there’s a catch – a big one. First, some history:

Tennessee was conferred the ignoble “Cream Puff Award” by the magazine Education Next in 2006 for having the nation’s lowest K-12 education standards. The following year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce awarded Tennessee an F in Truth in Advertising. While Tennessee state tests were showing our students at near 90% proficiency in reading and math, the benchmark National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) results reported student proficiency at less than one third.

gradesFollowing that national embarrassment,  then-Governor Phil Bredesen got busy. Tennessee joined the American Diploma Project Network (ADP), a Common Core pre-cursor created in 1996 by the National Governors Association (NGA). The ensuing Tennessee Diploma Project was led by the Tennessee Alignment Committee, a panel of state and local government officials, business leaders, and K-12 through postsecondary representatives who sought to create more rigorous K-12 standards that were also more attuned to college readiness and employers’ needs.  A new set of standards was created in 2008.

So, were Tennessee’s new 2008 math standards so poorly written that they deserved only a C in Fordham’s comparison to the Common Core standards that replaced them?

No, it turns out that Fordham fudged the results. The so-called “objective reviewers”  test takingused Tennessee’s pre-2008 math standards for the comparison, even though the tougher standards were in place at the time of the review. This fiction is being perpetuated still, most notably by  Mr. Petrilli when testifying before our state senators last Friday. He falsely stated that returning to Tennessee’s previous standards “Would make you go backwards.” And besides, he continued, “the horse is out of the barn,” implying  that withdrawal from Common Core was not a practical possibility.

Mr. Petrilli, his boss Chester Finn should note,  has a rather Joe Biden-like, loose-lipped, loose-with-the-truth oratorical style.  His 20 minute-testimony was a mishmash of  excuses, defenses, warnings, and  outlandish promises.

He repeatedly  identified himself to the Republican-dominated committee as “a conservative” (to the wry amusement of the members), asserting that adopting Common Core would be “a conservative victory” that would “eliminate college remediation classes.” He warned that “a do-over will cost more.” Attempting to lock in his conservative credentials, he criticized President Obama for “politicizing” the adoption of Common Core. “The federal government should have nothing to do with it,” he huffed, “and Congress will ensure that it does not.” (President Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, of course, artfully designed the nationwide adoption and implementation of Common Core to circumvent Congressional involvement, as Mr. Petrilli is acutely aware.  The horse is indeed out of the barn.


If  U.S. students could just perform as well on math and science as Canadian students, Mr. Petrilli went on to promise, all of our country’s economic problems would simply “go away.”

Mr. Petrilli assured the senators that “The academic experts that we trust say the standards are not perfect, but sound.” Apparently, Fordham’s trusted experts no longer include Dr. Jim Milgrim. Dr. Milgrim, the only mathematics curriculum expert serving on the Common Core evaluation committee,  famously refused to affix his signature to the final standards, which he deemed unacceptable. (See Part 2 in this series for details.) Mr. Petrilli attempted to discredit Dr. Milgrim by accusing the professor of spreading “misinformation” that Common Core math standards are “two years behind,” then contradicting himself by “[admitting]  that the Common Core [math] standards were higher than [in] most states.”

Evidence abounds that Mr. Petrilli’s allegations against Dr. Milgrim are simply untrue. Dr. Milgrim called the final standards “in large measure a political document that, in spite of a number of real strengths, is written at a very low level. . . The standards illustrate many serious flaws . . .standards are one, two, or even more years behind the corresponding standards for many if not all of the high achieving countries.” Dr. Milgrim’s clear and unambiguous critiques of the standards  have been corroborated by other noteworthy mathematics educators.

Mr. Petrilli affably assured the senators that he and the other experts testifying that day were “all friends,” having crossed swords at previous hearings and debates across the country. He then accused his opponents of misinterpreting standards and taking Common Core experts’ comments out of context to make their points.  I won’t elaborate in this post, but my own extensive research found Mr. Petrilli’s specific accusations to be false. (Contact me if you want the details.)

Speaking of awkward public comments, Mr. Petrilli was quoted in the Puget Sound Business Journal in 2009 as acknowledging,

It is not unfair to say that the Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education.

In July, 2013, Mr. Petrilli appeared in a live-streamed webinar co-sponsored by Fordham and Democrats for Education Reform. Within the first two minutes of his remarks, Mr. Petrilli makes the stunning admission that the Common Core scheme is not based on empirical evidence, but is  – wait for it – a hypothesis. He states:

…using the Common Core as the standards and then the Common Core assessments as the measures of whether or not schools are getting kids where they need to be, that that works and it makes a lot of sense. It’s based on a hypothesis, the hypothesis being that if students do well against those standards and do well on the Common Core tests, …that the hypothesis is that then the students will be able to go on and do well in college or go on and get a good paying job. And I think that hypothesis makes sense. We can’t prove it right now. But I think it all makes sense.

Okay, let’s think about this.

We are turning our educational systems upside down and inside out, forfeiting our constitutional rights to local control of education, committing ourselves to an annual tab of unknown billions, putting undo pressure on our teachers to get stellar results from untested methods, using our children as guinea pigs, risking their privacy and their futures, all because a handful of educational reform consultants and industrial tycoons (most of them unburdened by teaching and curriculum development experience) came up with a hypothesis that sounded good to them?

Are you outraged yet?

those who can teach

Next time: So who are these guys and how did they get to decide?

Want to know more about a source, topic, or outrageous claim in our Common Core series? Tell us in the comment section or email Be polite, and we guarantee a thoughtful, substantive response.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2013 11:01 am

    Eve and Eddie, your unflagging pursuit of this issue is commendable. I am still, however, a fan of the CCSS, This from a boots-on-the-ground experience of using them in the classroom. Here is a site that shows what teachers are experiencing in their classrooms, and I share their point of view. These are messages that parents need to hear–how the CCSS affect student learning

    And I still have not heard from anyone about what to do instead of CCSS. Most people against the CCSS are not solutions oriented in their attack. I can attest that proper facilitation of these new standards result in higher order thinking for my students.

    Just curious, too, about how many teachers were present at the forum you attended in Nashville.

    • October 20, 2013 11:48 pm

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to get your comment up, Darrell. We are happy for the dialogue – that’s what the blog is for, after all.

      As I mentioned in most of our posts, we don’t have a beef with every single standard in Common Core. The whole gamut of K-12 math and ELA standards certainly includes some that teachers like very much, and we applaud whatever is working to improve student success. At the same time, many teachers are speaking out against the standards. It appears that teachers’ views on Common Core depend on the grade level and subject they teach, their opinion of the state standards that Common Core replaced, and the cognitive levels of the students they teach. One Memphis teacher, who appeared as an expert spokesman for Common Core at the Senate Education Committee hearings, was deeply passionate in advocating for their use. She teaches at an alternative high school to a population of students who are multiple grades behind their peers, who have been allowed to drift through the system for years without being held accountable to firm grade-level standards. I would like to hear the same level of enthusiasm about Common Core standards from an honors class teacher whose students are taking AP courses. That would make me very happy! Common Core is one-size-fits-all pedagogy. I haven’t read or heard any reports that say that Common Core is good for high performing students. Why should we dismantle an entire system when what we need is to do a better job of ensuring that our low performing students are receiving the education they deserve? Writers of the standards and people who served in the workgroups have acknowledged that at the high school level, in particular, the standards were intentionally set at a low bar. We know that much has been deleted from Tennessee’s previous high standards in both ELA and math (we’ll write more about this in future posts).

      Eddie’s and my greatest concern is that Common Core is merely the camel’s nose under the tent of a sweeping agenda. This radically transformative agenda was not created by teachers and curriculum scholars, not vetted by educators and legislators, and not debated by parents. It was orchestrated by paid education reform consultants with their own motives, funded by self-serving corporate interests, and sneaked into law with the help of political scheming (thank you, Arne Duncan and President Obama). The propaganda put out by the Common Core PR machine is deeply offensive, once you know what the facts are. K-12 reform is needed, but should be decided after open debate by the stakeholders. The reformers responsible for Common Core desire to implement a federally determined and controlled lifelong education system, something other countries have used to the detriment of personal liberty. Education reform must be debated and approved ultimately by the American people.

      As we continue the Back in River City series, we will continue to examine the agenda that Common Core ushers in. As for what we can use instead, there are indeed other options to Common Core. The best of the best – Massachusetts’ standards – are available free to any state.

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