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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/1/16

The Political Godfather of the Common Core: A Brief History of Politics and Ideology 1983 -- 2105

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Message Michael Galli

Would any serious thinker in the field of foreign affairs dismiss the

7th grade backpacks deposited in front of the doors leading into the testing chamber
7th grade backpacks deposited in front of the doors leading into the testing chamber
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ideology of ISIS in an analysis of its impact on world events? Of course not. Why then do so many serious thinkers in the field of education dismiss the ideology of mandated testing in an analysis of its impact on public schools? Public educators across the nation are celebrating the eighth reauthorization of President Johnson's 1965 "war on poverty" legislation titled the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015. Obama renamed (or more accurately re-politicized) his ESEA reauthorization the Every Student Succeeds Act, an attempt, no doubt, to sound as tough as his predecessor's No Child Left Behind which it replaces .1 Though inconvenient for a piece of legislation designed to combat inequality, it's worth noting that today twenty-two percent of America's children are living in poverty, the same percentage as when Johnson passed his landmark bill fifty years ago. 2

Two days before Obama's pen christened the Every Student Succeeds Act, the bill's principal author, Lamar Alexander, urged his colleagues on the floor of the Senate to support the new legislation stating, "It will end the federal Common Core mandate. It explicitly prohibits Washington from mandating or even incentivizing Common Core or any other specific academic standards." 3 This is a curious statement considering that Alexander is the "political godfather" of the Common Core and its regimen of mandated testing.4

In the summer of 1983 Alexander, then the governor of Tennessee, was invited to vice president George H.W. Bush's Kennebunkport compound to be personally briefed by President Reagan's Secretary of Education Terrel Bell on A Nation at Risk, a report on the state of America's public education system that Bell had commissioned. Alexander would learn:

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world ... the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war... We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.

The Governor would also learn from the report that:

Standardized tests of achievement (not to be confused with aptitude tests) should be administered at major transition points from one level of schooling to another... Salary, promotion, tenure, and retention decisions should be tied to an effective evaluation system that includes peer review so that superior teachers can be rewarded, average ones encouraged, and poor ones either improved or terminated ... The Federal Government has the primary responsibility to identify the national interest in education. It should also help fund and support efforts to protect and promote that interest. 5, 6, 7

Alexander came to believe that A Nation at Risk was "the most significant action of the United States Department of Education." 8

Within a year of the report's release, Tennessee became the first state in the nation to institute a merit pay plan for teachers, and Alexander enrolled Tennessee in a pilot program on "state-by-state comparison of student achievement" that Education Week warned "could lead to the first nationwide testing program." 9

In 1986 he chaired a study group for Reagan Education Secretary William Bennett that produced a report titled, The Nation's Report Card: Improving the Assessment of Student Achievement. It advocated an expansion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a government program begun in 1964 "to test a sample of students in reading, writing, mathematics, and other subjects on a regular basis." 10 In order to better "to keep track of what our children know and can do," the report recommended that NAEP expand to test students in science, technology, history, geography, and civics so that individual states can compare their scores nation-wide. The report called for the federal government to fund the expansion. 11

Also in 1986, Alexander, then Chair of the National Governors Association, released a report that was prompted by the worry over international economic competition and the consequences of low academic performance of American students. Titled Time for Results: The Governors' 1991 Report on Education, the publication called for merit pay, establishing a link between teachers and student performance, the "collect[ion] of statewide information on the process and outcomes of schooling," school choice, and state takeover of schools "that fail to meet performance standards." 12 * Education scholar Chester Finn thought so highly of Alexander's report that he labeled it "second only to A Nation at Risk as the most important education document of the 80s." 13

In 1988 Alexander, along with corporate titan Louis Gerstner (the corporate godfather of the Common Core), attended an Education Summit of business leaders hosted by FORTUNE magazine that "called for a complete restructuring of the school system" which included school choice. In her article on the summit for Fortune magazine, Nancy Perry wrote:

IT'S LIKE Pearl Harbor. The Japanese have invaded, and the U.S. has been caught short. Not on guns and tanks and battleships -- those are yesterday's weapons -- but on mental might. In a high-tech age where nations increasingly compete on brainpower, American schools are producing an army of illiterates. Companies that cannot hire enough skilled workers now realize they must do something to save the public schools. Not to be charitable, not to promote good public relations, but to survive. 14

After the summit Bush appointed Alexander to his newly established Education Policy Advisory Committee to guide the president on "reforming the education system" through "innovation" and "accountability." 15

That same year Alexander was tapped to serve on the board of Louis Gerstner's New Century Schools project, a "$30-million program aimed at encouraging schools to 'take risks' to develop 'fundamentally new learning environments,'" which include school "choice" and "accountability." 16 Gerstner's New Century Schools project was in line with the school reform agenda adopted by the nation's Business Roundtable (Gerstner was a member of this Roundtable), a major participant at the President's 1989 Education Summit that called for "robust assessments" and "rewards and penalties for performance." 17, 18

In 1991, President Bush made Alexander his Education Secretary. Mark Pitsch writes in Education Week that the day after his confirmation as Secretary, Alexander "strode into the White House to present President Bush with a strategy " [Alexander] later called "the American education agenda for the rest of this century." 19 This "strategy" was Alexander's America 2000 and it called for a set of national standards in Math, English, Science, History and Geography that "represent what young Americans need to know" as well as a "nationwide examination system tied" to those standards. It demanded that annual report cards "be issued on how schools, school districts and states are doing." It also called for school choice and merit pay.20

In an effort to create 535 new schools to be funded by corporations to serve as models for "reach[ing]the national education goals, including World Class Standards (in all five core subjects) for all students, as monitored by the American Achievement Tests and similar measures," Alexander's America 2000 created the New American School's Corporation. Louis Gerstner was appointed as one of the board of directors.21, 22

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Michael Galli is the Dean of Students at Rivendell Academy, a small 7-12 interstate public school on the New Hampshire / Vermont border, where he teaches classes on media and U.S. foreign policy.

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