What does Rick Hess say that “Common Core” is all about?

(Who’s he? you may ask. He’s one of Michelle Rhee’s friends, or so he writes; he’s also a well-paid shill for the American Enterprise Institute, which you can look up yourself.)

He wrote, regarding the real purpose of the Common Core “State” Standards, revealing exactly why many teachers and others oppose them:

In truth, the idea that the Common Core might be a “game-changer” has little to do with the Common Core standards themselves, and everything to do with stuff attached to them, especially the adoption of common tests that make it possible to readily compare schools, programs, districts, and states (of course, the announcement that one state after another is opting out of the two testing consortia is hollowing out this promise).

But the Common Core will only make a dramatic difference if those test results are used to evaluate schools or hire, pay, or fire teachers; or if the effort serves to alter teacher preparation, revamp instructional materials, or compel teachers to change what students read and do.  And, of course, advocates have made clear that this is exactly what they have in mind. When they refer to the “Common Core,” they don’t just mean the words on paper–what they really have in mind is this whole complex of changes. [Emphasis added by someone else.]

Another commenter wrote:

“Hess even broaches the major topic of federal involvement in CCSS. In this two part series written in June 2013, Hess opens Part One with the statement that he is “not on board” with CCSS:”

Hess again:

I’ve long said that the Common Core strikes me as an intriguing effort that could do much good. So, why am I not on board? Because I think the effort has a good chance of stalling out over the next four or five years. And, because standards and assessments are the backbone of pretty much everything else in K-12 schooling, that could tear down all manner of promising efforts on teacher quality, school improvement, and the rest. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, he wants the top-down, fascistic micro-managing control over teachers and the majority of the population that attends public schools, he just doesn’t think that CCSS will be successful in carrying it off. He wants to do it by other means.

Rick Hess’ classroom experience? A grand total of two years as a social studies teacher in Louisiana, about 21 years ago, according to his official website. It must have been pretty tough, if he quit teaching so soon. I’m sure he’s making much, much more money now as a spokesman for the billionaires who have taken over our educational system, and he doesn’t have to worry about teaching 150 students every single day and grading papers and filling out useless forms and memos until he can’t see straight at night, with no administrative support at all… Life’s pretty cool if you are a 40-something with a million-dollar portfolio schmoozing at conferences all over the place instead of actually teaching in the classroom any more…

All it takes is the ability to show those with deep pockets that you are on their side and are an effective mouthpiece for them. You can be very rich and very powerful, very soon in your career. Just ask Michelle Rhee how it’s done, but don’t expect any truthful answers out of her mouth…

So why do I object so much to this? Because it’s utterly false to say that SOMEBODY knows all the answers to the questions about how to educate our youth, our younger generation. Whenever I have a serious or even frivolous conversation in any forum whatsoever about education, I am struck by the degree to which perfectly serious, reasonable people, of all walks of life, disagree on the ultimate goals of education.

Heck, people can’t even agree on what are the most important questions!!

Of course, I have my own opinions, but as facts and situations change, my own opinions about education and many other aspects of society have been shifting a lot over my lifetime — and I’m willing to bet that this is also true of any of you who read this sentence, however old or young you might be.

So the idea that all lessons conducted in school need to follow a script that was written by somebody else, and that the teacher’s job is simply to follow that script — damn, that’s scary. Especially since the scripted stuff I see most of the time is clever but ultimately utterly dishonest advertising that is trying, for the most part, to get me to do things that are bad for me and my friends and former students but profitable for some small group of  very powerful people.

And guess who owns these companies who plan to sell, at very high prices, these all-encompassing, all-controlling educational UBER-bureaucracies that really would like to dictate — for a very hefty set of fees and costs and so on — every single lesson for every single kid in every single class in the United States of America, at every grade level, in every subject? Why, the same group of billionaires who run the country today – the Gateses, the Murdochs, the Koch brothers, Bloomberg, and a few hundred other people that comprise the 1% of 1% that are attempting to run the entire world.

They actually say it’s a good thing that if you transfer from one state to the next because your family moves, that you will be using the same exact textbook and electronic apps and can turn in the exact same assignment for the previous day to your new teacher. But since you only have one adult for 50 kids supposedly getting “personalized” learning from some form of computer, it really won’t matter where you go to school. No need to learn to get along with your schoolmates in a band, on a team, in a dramatic production or in building a project — those have all been eliminated, since the only important thing is test scores.

Wait – isn’t that what we criticize North Korea for? Or South Korea, for that matter? Rigid uniformity where nobody ever gets out of line, and all the adults and kids are working in fear of results of tests?

Is that REALLY what we want for our teachers and students?

I didn’t think so. Unless you are some sort of fascist or control freak.

Of course, the people organizing the government to require and to tax us to pay to concoct and implement these plans wouldn’t possibly allow their own kids to grow up in schools like that. Billionaire and millionaire kids go to schools like Lakeside in Seattle, or Sidwell or St. Albans in DC, or Chicago Lab School or Andover or Choate or whatever, and each teacher challenges kids to think for themselves, and there are music lessons and glee clubs and handicrafts and outdoor activities and other sports and drama clubs and so on and so on.

I’m of the opinion that that sort of structure, where the working-class kids get a stultifying school regime and the children of the rich get a whole lot of indulgences and individual attention, is just plain wrong, and it’s sick.

All kids need individual attention. They need really small class sizes, and they need breaks. If a kid has serious mental or medical or physical or emotional or learning difficulties, he/she can require a lot of one-on-one time from a caring adult, and assurances that he/she is OK, and help with dealing with those problems so that he/she can go ahead with life.

As we know, some people don’t get that help, and they are indeed scarred for life. But you don’t help kids like that by increasing class sizes and pouring ridiculous workloads on their teachers and withdrawing any sort of support and creating so much of a ‘churn’ of teaching staffs that none of them stay longer than 3-5 years and get to know the community they teach in. You don’t help kids like that by requiring that every single kid in the entire country has to be on the same page, LITERALLY, and not having any sort of link to the community from the school itself – no PTA, but a distant celebrity CEO who is paid half a million dollars a year and who runs a for-profit foundation that does all its business with the school.

But you CAN help kids like that if you have adults in the building who know the family, who live in the area, and who come from all walks of life, who have time to take an interest and help talk to the kid, and if there are activities of all sorts (marching band, orchestra, debate club, science club, football team, basketball team, track team, wrestling team, hot-rod shop, welding classes, wood shop, computer club, and so on…) that kids can relate to each other with as well.

As I mentioned earlier, people do not exactly agree on what education is for. Is it just to prepare you for work (through more classes or direct job preparation)? Some people think so, and give reasons related to national security and income and such.

Or is the purpose of our school system to increase our national ranking in PISA and such?

Or is it to sort and rank people so that the “best” become the hedge fund managers and quants and bankers who gamble with the GNP and sometimes cheat and bring the entire world to the brink of financial disaster, and the rest of us fall into our proper places, be they burger-flippers or cab-drivers?

Or is it to lead us through the paths foretold for us by some religious group or other?

Or is it to let people make up their own minds about what they want to do, and to question why the rules are the way they are, so that they can contribute their own ideas?

Obviously I’m writing those choices in a biased manner because I think that the last choice I gave is the correct one. You may well object to the loaded wording I used in phrasing some of those choices, and you are right to do so. Feel free to write what you think the real purpose of education is. Maybe you’ll piss me off… That’s OK. There is no need for us all to agree. This is America, right?

You’re supposed to be free to disagree here.



In fact, in diversity there is also strength. Not just in unity.

In biology and in life, if a species has too much uniformity in its genes or even in its habits, that can be a recipe for disaster: some unknown plague or virus can wipe out the whole lot of them. Better that a species be very diverse. Like humans are. And boy, are we ever a diverse species, which helps. The worst plagues in the past couple of centuries, namely the 1919 Spanish Flu and smallpox, killed millions of people including at least one aunt of mine whom I never new, according to family tradition, but the rest of my family was resistant for whatever reason. My dad got polio and was in an Iron Lung instead of getting drafted for World War 2, but nobody else in his family or that he knew well got sick; they were resistant, for as-yet-unknown reasons that relate to our considerable genetic diversity as a species.

And that has consequences:

All schools and all teachers and all lessons DO NOT have to be on exactly the same page, saying the same thing, using the same TLF rubric and blueprint, the way they expect teachers to behave here in DC public schools. It’s nuts! Nobody knows for sure how the brain works, exactly! Our best scientists are working on it, but they disagree among themselves as to who of them is a fraud and who of them is actually pursuing the truth. Certainly the sporadic headlines that the public sees or hears on psychology and learning theory are about as united and synoptic as the advice we hear on diet and fitness: experts firmly disagree with each other on the best way to lose weight, or how fit is fit, or even on what foods to eat and how to prepare them.

Why do some people then proclaim that a particular list of books is the only set of books that should be read by young people? That a particular set of ideas in mathematics, or history, or science, or geography need to be learned by every child, at the same rate, at the same ages? That’s an utter crock!

Even in math, which some people think is cut and dried, there are enormous controversies about how to teach it in general and even on what subset of the ever-expanding set of mathematical knowledge needs to be imparted. Or whether ‘imparting’ mathematical knowledge really means, or whether mathematics itself was created or was discovered.

Sounds theological, doesn’t it? I swear I’m not making that up.

In biology: to my surprise, biologists don’t even agree what “life” is. Or what are its requirements. Every day, it seems that current orthodoxy on how life and death and reproduction proceed seems to be at least challenged, if not overturned.

And in physics and cosmology, the most widely-accepted theory right now is that we have no idea what constitutes over 90% of the universe, and we have no real idea how it got the way it is in the first place. Physicists are pretty sure, however, that it does exist, and they have figured out how to predict how some of the stuff in the universe behaves, most of the time. But they disagree on what happens when those predictions will break down, such as in a black hole, and nobody knows what happened before 14 Billion years ago…

So if the greatest experts can’t agree, on either subject matter content or pedagogy, then why on earth would we willingly give a TRILLION DOLLARS to a network of corporations to hire low-paid or high-paid temps to crank out scripts or computerized lessons that every kid is supposed to follow — except the children of the very wealthy?

Haven’t we seen the kind of corruption these sorts of top-down enterprises bring?

Remember those pallet-loads of shrink-wrapped $100 bills air-dropped into Iraq and Afghanistan? Wonderful governments, those. Remember those hundreds of billions in “bonuses” given to all those Wall Street gamblers executives, while millions of industrial workers lost their jobs and others lost their houses and entire cities were forced to close schools and go into bankruptcy? Do you seriously think that people like Joel Klein, Rupert Murdock, Bernie Madoff, and Bill Gates are better than you and need to run society?

I mean, Gates didn’t even write his own beginning operating system; he’s only rich because he was able to create a monopoly — on operating systems that crash all the time and whose good features he “stole” from others.

Let’s not go back to the bad old days.

Published in: on December 28, 2013 at 3:40 am  Comments (10)  
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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. While considered “alternative” today, most alternative systems have existed since ancient times. After the public school system was widely developed beginning in the 19th century, some parents found reasons to be discontented with the new system. Alternative education developed in part a reaction to perceived limitations and failings of traditional education and a broad range of educational approaches, including alternative schools , self learning , homeschooling and unschooling . Example alternative schools include Montessori schools , Waldorf schools (or Steiner schools) and Friends schools ; and Sands School , Summerhill School , The Peepal Grove School and Sudbury Valley School , Krishnamurti schools , open classroom schools.


  2. […] and former teacher G.F. Brandenburg has written an important and thoughtful post explaining his objections to Common Core or any other national standards that are overly […]


  3. Absolutely spot on. Any kind of centralized standardization depends on two oft-unexamined assumptions. 1) That there is One Right Answer, 2) That the centralized powers-that-be know what it is. There is no good reason to believe that either of these things is true when it comes to education.


  4. Well said! I’m working to remind people what high-quality education looks like through my organization of the many voices of award-winning children’s nonfiction books. We learn who we are from the many voices we hear–some resonate with us more than others, thus creating development of diverse talents and ideas. There is NO PRESCRIPTION for learning if we want to create many individual thinkers.


  5. Well, you’ve given me hope! Since the educrats all occupy the same biological niche, perhaps they’ll all soon be wiped out at one fell swoop. Meanwhile, true educators, who know diversity and its strengths well, will go on to survive and prosper.


  6. Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.


  7. All of this reform stuff is just nuts, as his writer points out. I grew up in California, went to UC Berkeley and when I got there it was amazing, I met kids from almost every state in the union, some from foreign countries, and guess what? No CCSS in those days yet we’d all read the same literaure, learned the same math and science, studied the same history. Maybe not all at exactly the same time on the same day,or from the same text, but we all knew it. So this whole concept of making education all “common” is probably just a rouse to put more bucks in the already full wallets of a very few. It will, unless we stop it, destroy the uniqueness of an American education which is the envy of the world. We create the innovators, the thinkers, the dreamers. No test necessary for that.


  8. sorry for a couple of typos: “literaure” should be “literature” and “rouse” should be “ruse”….sorry…fingers don’t always land where the brain thinks they should. Does CCSS measure keyboarding skills?!


    • No worries. Ever since my table-saw accident, I make the most amazing typos myself.


  9. For those of you troubled by Mr. Hess’ approach to education I share to following picture of how I view Hess et. al.

    I listened to Mr. Hess speak at some conference. As he finished he told the listeners, “I will subside now”–enjoy the thought.


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