By Mary Grabar | February 19, 2014
Hillary Clinton’s Think-Tank
“Conceived as the Democratic answer to the Heritage Foundation,” the George Soros-founded and funded Center for American Progress (CAP) was considered Hillary Clinton’s think-tank at its inception in 2003. President and CEO John Podesta, once Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, was seen as its nominal head.
CAP was viewed as “a kind of Clinton White-House-in-exile – or a White House staff in readiness for President Hillary Clinton,” according to Nation reporter Bob Dreyfuss in his illuminating 2004 article entitled, “An Idea Factory for the Democrats.” Many of those mentioned have since populated the Obama administration, while CAP has become the president’s favorite think-tank.
Dreyfuss, who quotes Hillary Clinton, writes, “We’ve had the challenge of filling a void on our side of the ledger for a long time, while the other side created an infrastructure that has come to dominate political discourse. The center [CAP] is a welcome effort to fill that void.”
Podesta who has fulfilled the need for a “progressive counterpart” to the conservative Heritage Foundation is now back at the White House as presidential advisor. Neera Tanden the former aide to Senator Clinton is now CAP’s president. Before Podesta’s recent departure, the policy initiative known as Common Core became a major public education project for CAP.
Explaining the Plummet in Test Scores under Common Core
But students’ test scores are plummeting under Common Core, especially in New York State. What is the solution proposed by the Center for American Progress? A longer school day, of course. Never considering that the standards themselves might be flawed, they make the unsubstantiated assertion that drops in test scores show that the standards are more “rigorous” and therefore require more time. That’s their argument in their recently released report called “Redesigning and Expanding School Time to Support Common Core Implementation.”
One thing is for sure: the standards have never been tested, and even proponents like Dr. Dana Rickman, director of policy and research at the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, have admitted that “It is believed they will lead to improvement.”
Are we to trust the beliefs of those promoting Common Core, like the authors of the report? One of them, Tiffany D. Miller, associate director for school improvement, has among other things been a fundraiser for the Democratic Party.
Two of the report’s authors come from the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL): David A. Farbman, a senior researcher, and David J. Goldberg, vice president for national policy and partnerships. NCTL itself, however, is an outgrowth of the Center for American Progress. It was “launched in October 2007 at an event at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. featuring Senator Ted Kennedy,” and grew out of the work of a Boston-based nonprofit, Massachusetts 2020, which led the first statewide expanded learning time grant program in the country, according to Wikipedia. NCTL was formed to expand that work to more states and to develop policies at the federal level.
The report serves this effort: to expand the role of public schools, fulfilling Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s vision of “community schools” on a national scale. These would pretty much replace home life by offering such things as homework help, three square meals, and health clinics.
The “report” masquerades as a legitimate report. But when one looks at the sources and methods used, it is clear that there is no real review of evidence.
Questionable Sources and Grandiose Claims
The first paragraph signals more hype than evidence with the grand claim, “Implementation of the standards, as currently planned in 45 states and the District of Columbia . . . means that the vast majority of students will soon be held to the highest set of English language arts and math literacy expectations in U.S. history.” This grandiose statement comes from the Fordham Foundation, itself a promoter of Common Core and recipient of funds from the biggest Common Core funder, the Gates Foundation.
The report is full of such sweeping, unsupported assertions and such frequently bandied terms like “deep” and “deeper,” as well as “critical thinking.” In Common Core promotional material such terms have become commonly accepted truisms; they are repeated by proponents as if they were proven measurements. (These are unstated references to Bloom’s taxonomy.)
The generalities abound: “Replacing lectures with interactive learning between teachers and students, especially learning to a richer and higher level, will require more classroom time, as teachers will have to personalize their attention to individual and small groups of students.”
The report’s authors quote a Chicago teacher who has been told that she needs to be a “facilitator” instead of a teacher in order to properly teach the Common Core standards. The source for the quotation is Catalyst Chicago, published by the Community Renewal Society, another progressive advocacy organization.
The report’s authors continue to bandy about terms that imply intellectual sophistication: “High-quality expanded-time schools are already using the opportunities inherent in longer classes to build in individualized instruction, critical thinking, and problem solving. . . .”
The authors refer to a report by the “policy group Achieve”: “Teachers will likely need more instructional time in order to teach more rigorous, higher-level content in more depth and to integrate literacy skills into their lessons.” Achieve is the well-connected non-profit that was the architect for Common Core.
For math, the authors write, “Common Core will bring a shift in focus from briefly and superficially covering many topics to studying fewer topics in much greater depth.” The authorities they cite are Common Core proponents: Educational Testing Service and EngageNY, of the New York State Department of Education, which has adopted Common Core.
For math, the authors claim that fractions will be introduced at earlier ages, but that as time goes on students will draw upon their accumulated knowledge to solve increasingly complex problems—hardly a new practice in education. What they don’t mention is that algebra is being moved to ninth grade from eighth grade, and that the standards impose tasks on young children far above their maturity levels.
Masking the Read Aims
Part of the overall (but often unstated) goal of Common Core is closing the “achievement gap.” Proponents like to hide the fact that slower learners will have endless opportunities to learn the material under the cover of “deeper learning.” Consider these two sentences in the report:
“Allowing students to both try and fail and requiring them to find more than one route to success will mean providing them with more time to explore and learn on their own than is the norm in today’s classrooms. Students will then be asked to explain their reasoning, a process that consumes time but fosters still deeper learning.”
Such demands to demonstrate deeper learning have led to bizarre math. Much of the parental opposition to Common Core has been instigated by the math homework. To truly understand how convoluted the new math is one needs to see the examples. One sign at an anti-Common Core rally at the Georgia state capitol, on February 4th, did this and exclaimed, significantly, “Parents Can’t Help.” Indeed, parents are being cut out in more ways than one.
The sign set side-by-side a long multiplication problem under traditional math and then under the new Common Core math. One glance will show how math is being unnecessarily complicated in the demand to have students “explain their reasoning,” while allowing credit for those students who get the wrong answer but provide pleasing explanations. (In English Language Arts, more time is to be spent on “deep reading” and “deep discussion.”) This is one way to close the “achievement gap.”
Indeed, the CAP report states that the aim of a longer school day is to close the achievement gap: underprivileged students need time to catch up. However, the authors also claim that a longer school day is needed to teach the more rigorous standards. They want it both ways.
“Collaboration”: More Money for Failed Progressive Teaching Methods
Another reason for the longer school day is for time to “collaborate”—hardly a new idea in education,” as references to such practices as “cooperative reading” in the 1990s indicate. “Intra-student communication and collaboration” will presumably prepare students for what they will encounter in higher education and the work force. But this requires more time, even as the students seem to be left to themselves: “Having regular opportunities for student collaboration necessitates many group projects and the continuous integration of a technique known as ‘turn and talk,’ where students discuss the topic at hand with each other and seek to gain insights from their peers.”
Teachers are supposed to be “facilitators” to their students, and spend their time analyzing student data and determining which teacher fits best with which “cohort” of students. Extra time is needed for teacher collaboration and “professional development,” presumably to improve teaching. But as is the common wisdom among teachers, such “collaboration” is a means to control teachers, to make sure they don’t go off script and improvise.
Of course, the longer school day means spending more tax-payer money for keeping schools open and more pay for teachers. According to the report, the Department of Education is already spending money on longer school days through School Improvement Grants. Flexibility waivers allow funding to be set aside for tutoring under the Supplemental Educational Services program for “whole-school expanded learning time.” The 21st Century Community Learning Centers waiver also allows in-school expanded learning time. No doubt, there are cases where students require extra time and extra help. But it seems that the longer school day will mean for most students time to sit in groups endlessly discussing preselected topics with their peers, devising byzantine ways to explain through drawings and stories their thinking on otherwise straightforward math problems—all while gaining little actual knowledge.
Collaboration, facilitation, critical thinking, etc., are the hallmarks of progressive, student-centered teaching methods that have long been demonstrated to be counterproductive. As Jeanne S. Chall stated in her 2000 seminal survey, The Academic Achievement Challenge, “The major conclusion of my study in this book is that a traditional, teacher-centered approach to education generally results in higher academic achievement than a progressive, student-centered approach.” She found this to be particularly true for students who came from low-income and middle-income families, and had less school preparation. Unlike the authors of the CAP report and the reports which appear in their bibliography, Chall was a scholar, a Harvard University education professor and was recognized in the New York Times as “having written the definitive analysis of reading research.”
The traditional teaching methods that Chall describes are also much more efficient. But then again, efficiency and real education are not what the Center for American Progress is about
This appeared here and I would like to thank Mary for allowing me to publish her work.
Mary Grabar, Ph.D., has taught college English for over twenty years. She is the founder of the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., an education reform initiative that offers information and resources for students, parents, and citizens. The motto, “Resisting the Re-Education of America,” arose in part from her perspective as a very young immigrant from the former Communist Yugoslavia (Slovenia specifically). She writes extensively and is the editor of EXILED. Ms. Grabar is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.