And You Thought It Made No Sense to Cut Math Off at Algebra II…

By Kirsten Lombard / May 23, 2015 / Resounding Books

For the past two years, we have been listening to parents, activists, educators, and average everyday citizens discuss the fact that the Common Core State Standards shortchange secondary school students by cutting mathematics off at Algebra II.

People understandably scratch their heads. Why on earth, if the stated goal of all this legislation is to make children “college- and career-ready,” if rigorous standards are necessary to get us to that stated goal–endlessly repeated talking points–would we essentially curtail highschool math by making it difficult for most or all kids in a district to get past Algebra II? How does this make any sense, when kids used to be able to go straight through to calculus before they’d ever had a day of college? Isn’t this upside down?

comon core graph

Well, yes and no. It is absolutely upside-down if you believe that education is for the benefit of the child. But it’s perfectly rightside-up if business and government are now the customers for education…if what we’re doing in the classroom is designed to benefit them rather than the child sitting at the desk.

A couple of years ago, we stumbled across a slickly produced 2007 report entitled “Tough Choices or Tough Times.” Coordinated by Marc Tucker’s National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), the report was ostensibly submitted by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. We submit for your consideration, the following graphic from that report.

It’s important, right away, to understand just how influential Tucker and his organization have been in the world of education reform. It’s even more important to understand the nature of the reform agenda that Tucker and the NCEE have been pushing and how far they’ve been able to advance it.

Stick with us for a bit here. We promise to get back to math and the graphic above. But there’s some important context to relay first.

Note that the report was submitted by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. This wasn’t the first time that the NCEE had coordinated such a report. Nor was it the first time it had assembled a commission–a long list of individuals from government, big business, and other special interests–to put their names to a slickly produced communiqué. In fact, NCEE’s first and still best-known effort in this regard was the 1990 report “authored” by the first Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, “America’s Choice! High Skills or Low Wages.” The important seeds contained in that landmark NCEE effort would be reiterated and further fleshed out in Tucker’s 1992 “Dear Hillary” letter, written to First Lady Hillary Clinton in the hours immediately after her husband was elected president. The letter was ultimately submitted to the Congressional Record in 1998 by a deeply concerned Colorado Congressman, Bob Schaffer.

It doesn’t take long in looking at the work of Tucker and the NCEE to understand that they view education in a very specific light. It is their goal that it should serve a planned economy–with government and big business holding hands as the central planners. Together these public-private partners become not only the overseers of education but its primary customers.

And you thought education was for students…

The Tucker/NCEE vision necessarily replaces the proper customers for education, the parent and the child. Big business becomes the main customer, with government ensuring that the classroom functions to meet the needs of its business patrons. Career-tracking and preparation of students for the kinds of jobs deemed necessary by Big Government and Big Business become the principle tasks of the school and the school district.

It’s no longer about a child leveraging education. Or about teachers practicing their craft in ways that make children excited to learn about a broad array of different topics and ideas. Rather, it’s about business and government shaping and leveraging the raw material, the human capital, that is your child.

It’s cronyism, plain and simple.

Stopping it has proven a true challenge, even for the most astute and experienced experts and activists. For close to three decades now, the changes have rolled through much like a train on a well-oiled track with few average citizens having any deep awareness or understanding of the changes. In part, this abilty to navigate around the public on an agenda that would almost certainly be objectionable to most people has been possible because, somewhere along the line, our thinking shifted about what education is or should be. Most people today, when asked, will reply that the purpose of education is to ensure you can get a good job. That practical but incomplete view, particularly in a challenging economic period, has made people more vulnerable to the education agenda that Tucker and his ilk have assiduously worked to advance. Government and business holding hands to make sure your child will be not just employable but actually employed has reassured a worried public.

So, until more recently, the transformation has mostly unfolded without awareness, major criticism, or widespread debate. It hasn’t been obvious to most people that this kind of “security” involves other people making decisions about the opportunities their child will have, long before the child has the experience, insight, or maturity to know for him- or herself what kind of career or future they would want to build for themselves. Certainly Tucker and company have not been out encouraging discussion of the deeper implications of what such “guarantees” mean–not just for education but for children and society more broadly. Even they must know that alerting parents to the fact that their children’s choices are being truncated at younger and younger ages would not win them favorable opinion. Better to keep selling the plan to people higher up the chain who can just bypass all of those troublesome parents, teachers, and taxpayers who might say, “Wait just a minute…”

Tucker and the NCEE have done yeoman’s work, actually, in making this agenda sound very pragmatic and efficient and smart to people with clout. Millions of marketing dollars have gone into not only selling this vision of education to business people and elected officials but also to developing and passing hefty federal and state legislation rooted in the agenda. Goals 2000, the School to Work Opportunities Act of 1994, successive renewals of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, and most recently the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 …All of this legislation has already advanced the Tucker vision quite far down the road. One of the outcomes is close ties between departments of education and labor, both at federal and state levels.

The workforce development view of education has been embraced by every single president–and every single Congress–since the Clinton administration, regardless of party. It’s also been heartily embraced by governors and state legislatures across the nation, most of whom now demonstrate the aformentioned close relationship between their departments of education and labor.

So, what about this graphic, then?  What is it telling us?

Quite frankly, it’s unveiling the next phase of the Tucker/NCEE plan for education.

Note that it envisions a “common school” education as only lasting through the 10th grade. At that point, there would be a qualifying exam. The student’s performance on that exam that would determine, or justify, any further education or training. To be sure, the qualifying exam is not the beginning of the career-tracking. Rather, it is its culmination. Multiple decisions earlier in the child’s school career would have been made by those overseeing the system, shaping the child’s education/training experience and making the outcome of the qualifying exam likely a foregone conclusion.

THIS is why Common Core essentially truncates mathematics education at the Algebra II level. Because in this centrally planned vision, most children will be viewed as not needing any additional math instruction. That decision will be made for them. Only students who justify further mathematics instruction by their performance on the qualifying exam will have the opportunity to receive it. Even then, the kind of mathematics instruction available to the student is likely to be determined along vocational lines. If you don’t need it for the career track you’re being slotted into, it likely wouldn’t be easily available to you.

Data scientist and education activist, Jeffrey D. Horn has excellent reason to view the “21st Century Classroom” as part of a career-tracking scheme. In the Tucker/NCEE vision, so much of which has already come to fruition, there’s little other way to view it. Moreover, blogger, author, and public education advocate Anthony Cody has strong reason to wonder if this same system, as it continues to unfold, is in the process of justifying the unemployment of large swaths of a population.

Seems like Yong Zhao and others have an excellent point. If we want to respect children as the individuals that they actually are, and if we want a nimble, innovative, robust economy, perhaps it’s finally time to say no to the central planners, stop the career-tracking, and reject the limiting and unethical molding of our kids. Time to let them be the amazing, creative, engaged, learners that they so readily are when we give them the space, support, and freedom to be so.

No more viewing children as raw product for someone else’s purposes.

No more letting them be used as cogs in someone else’s machine.

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