Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal and the Politics of National Education Reform: the Common Core State Standards Debate?

Keywords or Terms: Gov. Jeb Bush; Gov. Bobby Jindal; Common Core State Standards (CCSS); US Department of Education; K-12 Education; OBAMA’s Administration; Education as a Civil Right; Foundation for Education Excellence; Heritage Foundation; Home School Legal Defense Association; The Pioneer Institute; CATO Institute; The Eagle Forum; Reclaiming America for Christ; Neutralism; Pacifism; Religiosity; Indifference; and Profiteering

The best definition of a term is one that is simple, clear, and unambiguous. But it is hard to have a conversation with politicians when it comes to series of conflicting status on national education policy. It is even harder to get their personal opinion on the subject of standards and measurable indicators of learning; and or, the place of K-12 curriculum in preparing our children for life after high school. Whether you want a common core states curriculum or an alternative that is as whimsical as a magicians scarf because it recognizes or grants local autonomy at the expenses of quality and efficiency, it is good to know where you stand as a Presidential aspirant.

For those of us, who have no iron to grind; or, always given to the truth, we will define Common Core State Standard (CCSS) as a set of standards that a curriculum is built on; or built around, which are measurable and objective enough for progressive education reform. It abdicates unbridled regional or local autonomy because of associated inefficiency for delivery of education services. The current fragmented curriculum(s) across the nation continues to fail our high school graduates because there is no one uniform set of standards for measuring the quality of instruction and learning going on in our K-12 classrooms.

Now the politics of 2016 Presidential campaign: Imagine, for a while, Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal, both 2016 Presidential aspirants, were for the Common Core State Standards; suddenly, Bobby Jindal is no longer sure; or is not for it.  Jeb Bush remains constant in his support for Common Core State Standards and once established a foundation, Foundation for Education Excellence, to peddle the brilliance or advantage of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). A little while ago, the Foundation actively broadcasted fliers and emails to several state legislators, titled: “Debunking Common Core State Standards Myths,” to advance the objective of national education reform. Whether this actually achieved anything is yet to be determined; however, the raging debate of the flip-flop from Governor of Louisiana, is making this subject palatable for attention all over again. For appetizers, it is good to know that the following far right conservative organizations are vehemently against the common core state standards: The Heritage Foundation, Home School Legal Defense Association, The Pioneer Institute, CATO Institute, The Eagle Forum, and Reclaiming America for Christ.

We also know from experience that the far right conservative groups have problems with setting and maintaining clear standard or a recipe of standards that make everyone accountable for their actions in the education of our children. A National consensus and acceptance of core standards or curriculum by various groups often depends on a number of factors many of which raise the question, how much learning is going on in America’s K-12 classrooms. Basic national standards that make students, teachers, and administrators accountable will seem logical, especially considering the number of our high school graduates who can hardly read or write in an information age.

Neutralism, pacifism, religiosity, indifference, profiteering and recalcitrance can occur simultaneously in several of our states’ educational systems. The finger-pointing syndrome and the usual blaming others for our local or regional education’s system failures can easily become a national sport. Judging from Obama Administration’s experience, unless there is firmness at the federal level, some States’ and Counties Department of Education will like to retain the old status-quo, which makes splintered curriculum the norm. The problems of sprawled and unequal curriculum contents that drive teaching and learning in all our classrooms have made measurement of learning indicators difficult; thus, the recommendation of a Common Core State Standards (CCSS); call it, the minimum learning experience at the K-12 level to be literate in an information age. If the incoming administration is not as firm, if not even firmer than the Obama’s Administration, we will probably go back to the rot that we are attempting to leave behind. This is why in 2016 Presidential Elections the nation cannot afford to default to a 'flip-flopper' on our education reforms
In our past experience, prior to advent of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), what is good for parents, teachers and students, were often thrown aboard for reason of regional autonomy, divided loyalty of key players, and probably profit in the private K-12 education services. The totality of this experience is graduating students who are hardly prepared for college or life after twelfth year education. Both Republican and Democratic White Houses have sought to reform the education system, with the Common Core State Standards of President Obama and the No child Left Behind initiative of President George W. Bush. Unfortunately, both initiatives have met resistance from those who love to claim local autonomy in education over universal (non-fragmented) measurable standards of learning and teaching in the classrooms.  Notwithstanding, criticisms abound. An example of criticisms of the initiative is found in the words of a South-Central State Christian Conservative, Jenni White, on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS):

The CCSS have never been state-led.  The initiative was designed from the outset to be a set of national standards that would not be directly labeled as such to avoid violating federal law.  Individual private groups (the NGA and the CCSSO) facilitated the writing of the standards, and the Obama Administration pushed them to cash-strapped states by offering buckets of stimulus funds (RTT).  The NGA and CCSSO developed alliances with gigantic book publishers (Pearson), suppliers of CCSS materials (Achieve) to cover the needs of states for CCSS materials and the Gates Foundation to provide software and bribe money to organizations (ALEC) to help facilitate their use and moved one of the architects of the standards into position to become president of the college board where he could align the most widely-used college admissions test (ACT) to the CCSS.

To Ms. White and other far right Christian Conservatives, since the Common Core State Standard was not state led, there is no need to give it a chance to succeed. We can learn from experience: the localization of initiatives sometimes bring forth ambiguities because of the multiple opinions and perspectives of different inputs. Further, we also know that successful partnership of private and public initiatives on education does not necessarily lead to success regarding such initiatives; a case in point is the Charter School Experience in some of our states. It is true that sensitivity to democratic opinion-forming process on an initiative in a Republic like ours, is worthy of consideration; however, this hardly says having a set of objective parameters from where all  curriculum are drawn, is out of place in a democracy; or, would necessarily side track local or regional autonomy. There are those who will like us to believe that the Common Core State Standards is a take all or none process for many local or State school Boards; however, recent changes or waivers, NCLB Waivers by Obama’s Administration, shows the flexibility in the policy, associated programs and funding.

The present implementation process of the Common Core State Standards seems to be promising, provided two conditions continue to be met: the first is basic agreement as regards what constitutes learning, understanding and proficiency at a specific grade level. The acceptance of waivers for waiver’s sake hardly shows a common concern for equality of learning and only gives room for inferiority in knowledge dispensation in the classrooms. The fact that some states and school districts have shown an unwillingness to cooperate with US Department of Education and asked for suspected waivers is very troubling. The second is that US Department of Education must give a convincing signal of its determination not to accommodate shifting demands of excessive waivers from the Common Core State Standards’ non-conformists.

We have no doubts that the Common Core State Standards is working and would work, if we can only set aside our political and religious agenda and think about our children. We also see no reason to abandon the Common Cores State Standards (CCCS) as probably, the preference of some Christian Conservatives; and, the new choice of Presidential aspirant Bobby Jindal, in a bid to play to the wishes of Conservative Christian groups in the Republican Party. We recognize that there are no simple solutions to reforming the education system; however, our Strategies must remain apolitical and our efforts must be geared towards accountability and sanctity of the implementation process.

The most important factors contributing to inequality in learning and teaching experience at K-12 level has often been the funding of schools; schools in affluent neighborhoods are better able to fund and implement rigorous curriculum, while those in poorer neighborhoods suffer the consequence of poor or non-existing funding. Our basic throes to eradicate this inequality by having a common core standard are hardly designed to encroach on people’s freedom or local autonomy on education; rather, it is to afford for equality of standards that are measurable for both the learner and the teacher. Our supports for a Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are non-Negotiable. Our teachers and students can depend on it, so also can the parents, communities and our democracy. In addition, neither the current Administration nor the past Republicans have left any doubt about the need for education reforms; neither also, should an incoming administration. Politicians who are bending to pressure groups to satisfy their ambition must be held accountable.

In the final analysis, a better end product, a well informed and literate society, where everyone is able to exercise their civic duties with freedom and liberty, is what is desired. Even if US Department of Education accepts waivers for say a grading system, it still behooves the bureaucrats to insist on uniformity in measurable learning indicators in curriculum. It is unlikely that complete local autonomy on K-12 curriculum will bring substantial change in the quality of learning and teachings in American Classrooms. The concept of localized curriculum and home schooling – where local authorities, cities, persons, boroughs and counties have substantial control over their educational affairs – is firmly rooted in American political institutions. Nonetheless, the time has come for a change with the growing inequality in education received by all American Children.
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