James O’Keefe’s Common Core Videos Are Just The Tip Of The Iceberg, Part II

James O’Keefe’s Common Core Videos Are Just The Tip Of The Iceberg, Part II

No wonder Americans are feeling ready to riot over their distrust for 'public servants.' These people we do not elect and cannot rid ourselves of keep knifing us in the back.
Joy Pullmann
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James O’Keefe’s latest undercover Common Core video is a doozy. The third in a series shows a former executive of the world’s largest education publishing company talking about how Common Core and the College Board’s U.S. history classes aim to teach American children “The dead white guys did not create this country.”

Kim Koerber told covert videographers conservatives like those running the state education board in Texas were “idiots” because they wanted to teach the U.S. Constitution differently than the liberals who wrote Common Core and College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum.

“People who say they want to teach the Constitution, only want to teach the part of the Constitution that they like…Damn the Second Amendment,” she said, apparently without irony. “I don’t think personal handguns need to be on anyone except the government, the police.”

Koerber explains the implicit and explicit belief of progressive education: “The progressive bias is [that] the more educated you are, the better you are, and the conservative bias is the less [kids] know the better they are going to be.”

These Project Veritas videos help illuminate the well-known and long-standing reality of the U.S. education system that its guardians willfully ignored when telling us all about the magical fairy goodness land Common Core would bring American children and industry. It is that centrally planned education cannot fail but impose leftist ideology on American children, thereby helping morph a unique country founded on self-government into a sclerotic, quasi-socialist welfare state like all the others in the world, where inhabitants are slaves to swarms of regulators and their own passions rather than free citizens.

Centrally planned education cannot fail but impose leftist ideology on American children.

Because of several basic realities of U.S. education, such as the ineptitude of all central planning, Common Core could never work. It was doomed from the beginning (it didn’t “fall apart during implementation,” which is the new narrative now that the problems are too big to hide). This information was freely available and known to the controlling class before the Obama administration and its enablers pushed the country into Common Core and thereby, as Peter Wood expertly explains, damaged education for most American children for something like a decade. The Left ignored these realities in pursuit of its vision for one curriculum to rule them all, and state politicians and educrats enabled them.

No wonder Americans are feeling ready to riot over their distrust for “public servants.” These people we do not elect and cannot rid ourselves of keep knifing us in the back. They’re not content to rig the system against adults, but must also do it against children, all while congratulating themselves for their “humanitarian” contributions. Meanwhile, the people suffer.

These are serious and horrifying charges. But they are true. Let me prove it.

Curriculum Regulations Benefit Big Business, Not Children

Last time I explained the big-picture reasons curriculum regulations—usually called “standards” by their proponents, which is biased language that predisposes people to accept them—benefit big business at the expense of schools, teachers, parents, and children. Standards also set up something called moral hazard, in which the state substitutes its decisions for what should be individuals’ decisions to make, thereby reducing those individuals’ stake in the decisions and their likelihood of making good ones.

When the state makes itself the arbiter of ‘good curriculum,’ local principals and teachers are less likely to evaluate curriculum carefully.

In other words, when the state makes itself the arbiter of “good curriculum,” local principals and teachers are less likely to evaluate curriculum carefully, trusting instead that the state has done this job for them. But it has not, and it never does—because, I also explained previously, removing decisions from the people closest to a problem eliminates crucial information that would produce a better decision. Giving more power to fewer people also makes it easier for special interests to control the process, since it’s easier to influence ten decisionmakers than ten thousand.

Regulating curriculum through “standards” is just a futile exercise in box-checking, former textbook editor Beverlee Jobrack told me: “You [publishers] have your math program, and new standards come out, and you look to see if you’re covering those topics, and you check it off. You don’t really revise your materials.” No wonder quality research has found that standards do not improve student achievement. Again, these curriculum horrors were known well before Common Core came out. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman, among others, wrote similar critiques in the ‘90s reflecting his experience reviewing math textbooks.

“You can find a ham sandwich in conformity with your state standards depending on who’s doing the judging,” Neal Frey, president and chief textbook analyst for the independent Educational Research Analysts, told me.

It would be funny if the consequences weren’t so sad, both for these individual children and for our arthritic form of representative government, given that curriculum competes with teacher quality for being the biggest in-school influence on children’s academic achievement. This is a major lost opportunity, given estimates such as that raising U.S. student achievement a few points to merely the level of Canada’s students would boost every American worker’s income by 20 percent.

It’s About Looks, Not Substance

Andrew Pudewa, the author of the superb writing curriculum I described in Part I, described to me a set of first-grade Harcourt textbooks he saw while visiting a Catholic school in Hawaii. (Pudewa visits many schools, since he trains teachers to use his materials.) Halfway through the school year, the children had advanced just 12 pages into the book.

‘If these kids are learning one sentence per week, no wonder things are moving in slow motion there.’

“It essentially had one short sentence per page, with a tremendous number of photos and illustrations,” he said. “It was not based on what appeared to be a phonics approach to teaching the children,” which continues to be a contested approach despite decades of solid evidence that phonics instruction is the best way to teach children reading. “I remember thinking, It’s all lovely and beautiful and it looks pretty and I’m sure the children enjoy seeing all these butterflies, but in terms of a reading book it’s just selling paper…If these kids are learning one sentence per week, no wonder things are moving in slow motion there. But Harcourt is the industry standard for that type of material.”

Jobrack’s book, “Tyranny of the Textbook,” corroborates this account. She describes publishers’ marketing focus groups and state curriculum reviews, which feature teachers and other “curriculum experts” looking through stacks of new textbooks, sometimes with as few as 15 minutes to evaluate the materials.

This is known in the industry as “the flip test.” They routinely ended with teachers picking the flashiest, most distracting and magazine-like books with the most “pre-made” components, such as quizzes and review questions. Almost never does it matter if the curriculum may be, say, demanding for a teacher to use but pays off with kids big-time.

Teachers pick the flashiest, most distracting and magazine-like books with the most ‘pre-made’ components, such as quizzes and review questions.

“It takes a good two, three years of using a program before you hit a stride understanding what a program can do,” said Linda Bevilacqua, president of the Core Knowledge Foundation, which produces K-8 curriculum and curriculum guidelines developed around neuroscience made famous by University of Virginia researcher E.D. Hirsch. Most curriculum reviews “are really looking at the most macro level as opposed to diving in and looking at the underlying instructional design principals that have been used to create the program.”

To get their curriculum materials approved by Georgia’s board of education, Core Knowledge representatives had 15 minutes to give a presentation, even though their materials typically require extensive training because most teachers and education administrators are trained using very different approaches and ignorant of most of the research that underlies Core Knowledge’s materials.

We Don’t Get Paid For Being Effective

A professional acquaintance has worked for decades teaching children and adults for whom English is a second language (ESL) and training their teachers. In that pursuit, Patrick Herrera told me, “I have reviewed many curriculum materials. There are many for early English learners. None address illiteracy” in the children’s native language, which is a root problem. “There are scattered bits of instruction, but no cohesive program. A highly structured program is essential. Publishers tailor their materials to conform to federal and state learning standards, not community needs.”

‘Publishers tailor their materials to conform to federal and state learning standards, not community needs.’

Herrera has developed a simple, inexpensive, and effective program to meet this dire and growing need, but a major textbook publisher told him they’re not interested, because they’re making money on their ineffective ESL textbooks right now—so why switch?

Education companies offer all kinds of “studies” claiming to show this or that set of materials is “proven” to benefit children, but education research is notoriously corrupt and of low-quality, and very few studies on any given set of materials created the kind of rigorous conditions necessary to produce reliable results.

This, combined with the horrifically low quality of teacher training I will discuss shortly, means education materials are essentially mental candy bars. Nobody’s against feeding kids a microwave dinner once in a while, but when that’s all their little brains ever get to eat it’s no wonder they’re malnourished.

When microwave dinners are all their little brains ever get to eat it’s no wonder they’re malnourished.

“If I’m a tired teacher, that’s really convenient,” Dan Guernsey, the principal of a Catholic classical school and an education professor, told me about having education companies prepackage what children learn. “It makes teaching safer, but it also makes it sterile and unrewarding. So there’s one sixth-grade literature class now, across the country.”Funny. That’s precisely the sort of environment Common Core also perpetuates: One math class to rule them all. Except that it’s a horrible math class. At least everyone gets the same one, though, right? That way we all get equally bad instruction. Wait…isn’t that how socialism always works? Ah, sorry, right, nobody studies history or economics any more, just propaganda.

Textbooks Are Merely a Foot in the Door

Textbooks don’t actually make education companies the bulk of their money: ongoing services and products do, such as subscriptions for online curriculum and tests and professional development, or ongoing teacher training.

‘One of the major sources of professional development in the K-12 market comes from educational publishers.’

“Digital is the main product, and print is a derivative,” said Jay Diskey, who analyzes the education industry for the Association of American Publishers. “Most educational publishers don’t just sell product and disappear; they work with the schools to implement it. One of the major sources of professional development in the K-12 market comes from educational publishers.”

Remember, one of O’Keefe’s videos netted this quote from then-Houghton Mifflin employee  Amelia Petties: “Slapping a new name on Common Core], which in my case I hope they do…because I can sell a shit-ton of training around whatever you’re calling it.”

She’s not kidding. The more education regulations change, the more business these companies and government officials will have. They make more money from instability. And it’s probably not a coincidence that research has found essentially all professional development in the education field is a massive waste of time and taxpayers’ money. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.

This is how Tom Loveless, an education researcher at the Brookings Institution, put the state of research on teacher development: “We are flying by the seat of our pants… We know that teachers matter and that some teachers are better than others, but we don’t know the specific attributes that make some teachers effective and others ineffective. Until we can define those qualities and amass a scientifically sound body of research on how to develop them, significantly improving teaching will remain an elusive goal.”

The more education regulations change, the more business these companies and government officials will have. They make more money from instability.

As he notes, the federal government alone spends something near $3 billion on teacher training—even though we have no idea what kind of teacher training will help anyone. It’s largely an exercise in futility. Further, Loveless notes: “Advocates of the Common Core are counting on PD to equip teachers with the instructional capacity to actualize the standards.” Whoops! Well, there’s a pipe dream blown.

“The professional developers [from curriculum companies] come along and make sure you don’t touch any of the old books,” says Joy Hakim, an author of critically acclaimed history and science textbooks. “A lot of them are failed teachers or ex-teachers who don’t want the discipline of a classroom.” She met some teachers who called the professional development-givers “Gestapo agents, because they’d come in and tell these teachers, they tell them how to teach, and good teachers don’t need that.”

Telling Teachers What to Do

So O’Keefe is right in claiming that education materials companies are a pack of cronies, because they literally make billions not just selling ineffective materials, but selling ineffective teacher training. They have strong incentives to keep the spending spigot on and suppress research showing we might as well be burning that money during in-class science experiments (or, hell, during government class, to show what happens with most tax dollars).

This isn’t a victimless white-collar crime.

Again, we knew all this before Common Core, but for some reason that didn’t clue the overlords in to the inherent structural weaknesses dooming their pretty little fantasy game with other people’s children.

Remember, this isn’t a victimless white-collar crime. Every dollar taken from my pocket to stuff teachers in boring training sessions is a) money I don’t have even though I earned it, which is unjust and b) wasting teachers’ time they could actually be helping children, which is also immoral because we’re depriving children now of better instruction all to pad some corporate bottom line.

“We have sold our souls to publishing houses, three of them. And they own teaching,” Hakim said.

Ultimately, Blame Your Representatives

It’s necessary to spread the blame outside publishing companies, even though they are heartless scabs who donate to foundations and feel-good projects not just for the tax writeoffs but also probably to assuage their guilty consciences. That’s because, as I wrote in my first installment, these people are using the rules of the game other people set up. They are a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.

State and federal lawmakers have refused to do due diligence and ensure that the market rewards good actors and punishes bad ones.

The problem is our so-called representatives—state and federal lawmakers who have refused to do due diligence and ensure that the market rewards good actors and punishes bad ones. It’s their fault, after all, that publishing companies can get billions for garbage. As Guernsey told me, people who are directly stewarding children with their own money—namely, parents and school leaders who don’t get money from other people’s pockets automatically—think like he does: “If someone wants access to my children, he better prove he knows what he’s doing.”

Our lawmakers have for decades not only listened to but paid another pack of corrupt, self-appointed education “experts” to tell them, not the truth, but all the comfortable things. They—Republicans most definitely included—have believed the false, Progressive, and Marxist idea that central planning can work if you just get the “right people” in charge.

Who are the “right people” who have been poisoning the well for decades? Professors and administrators in education schools, who provide all these “experts” that curriculum companies and professional development outfits and state bureaucracies employ to not only tell but impose upon the rest of us their ideology.

I call it ideology because, as we have seen, it is not either rooted in respect for every citizen’s right to govern his own affairs nor in a respect for the research that tells them everything they do is wrong. Their main ideas are demonstrably false and have hurt millions of Americans for decades, but that hasn’t stopped them, because they’re motivated by something deeper: an ideology that legitimizes giving them power.

Our Experts Are Not Expert

Education schools—the colleges and graduate schools that have state monopolies on providing coursework and other hoop-jumping anyone must perform to receive a teaching license—are utter failures, if you consider their mission to be training effective teachers. A recent report, for example, finds that they teach almost nothing science indicates about how children learn or how to effectively teach reading, that core academic skill upon which all others rest.

Research shows that education schools recruit the least-qualified students, give them the highest grades, and teach them very little that is practically helpful to their eventual careers.

Even more damning is decades of evidence showing that teachers who are certified are no more effective than teachers who are not. Research shows that education schools recruit the least-qualified students, give them the highest grades, and teach them very little that is practically helpful to their eventual careers.

What on earth do these schools do for five years and tens of thousands of dollars per prospective teacher, then, if they aren’t helping teachers effectively teach children? Ineffective theories that comport with liberal philosophies. Yes, really. Ideology before kids. A 2010 survey found that 68 percent of education professors said their job was to prepare teachers “to be change agents who will reshape education by bringing new ideas and approaches to the public schools,” while just 26 percent chose the alternative, of preparing teachers “to work effectively within the realities of today’s public schools.”

Two-thirds thought it was more important that children “struggle with the process of trying to find the right answers,” while just 20 percent thought it was important that children end up actually knowing the right answer. Contrary to what national research panels have found, most professors said it was not important that children learn their math facts or phonics in early grades.

Many other studies have shown that the learning theories taught in education schools are not only wrong but actually harm children—this, too, has been known for decades. These learning theories derive from liberal ideas about the world, such as that children are born good and society corrupts them, that competition is evil, and that facts are suspicious (not even kidding there—the preferred term for this is “rote learning”).

Many studies have shown that the learning theories taught in education schools are not only wrong but actually harm children—this has been known for decades.

The Core Knowledge Foundation is built upon some of the research that shows how ineffective these theories are, and battles them when attempting to enlighten teachers and school administrators.

“There are issues related to understanding the underlying theories that are findings from cognitive science in terms of why this cumulative knowledge-based curriculum is important,” Bevilacqua said. “Often folks will denigrate what they think of the core knowledge approach as this is just trivial pursuit, filling kids’ minds with facts. That certainly has been a prevalent mindset for many educators….Some people make the accusation this is the people who want to promulgate the teachings of dead white males. When you make a comment like that I know you haven’t looked at our sequence.”

Gut Monopoly Education, Or We’re Doomed to Repeat This

If parents could choose, they would send their children to a school they know or can reliably estimate to be effective. If teacher candidates could choose, they would attend a college that teaches them what has been shown to be demonstrably effective with children, regardless of whether it contradicts liberal non-negotiables.

Teacher’s colleges don’t have to be effective to get billions in tax subsidies and student tuition.

Largely, however, families cannot choose where they will send their children. This is why only about 9 percent of children attend private schools even though nearly half of parents wish they could send their kids to private schools. Almost every teacher must be state certified, even though it doesn’t improve their professional abilities, and states have granted a monopoly on teacher certification qualification-building to education colleges. This means teacher’s colleges don’t have to be effective to get billions in tax subsidies and student tuition. This frees them to be indoctrination camps instead of contributors to society.

As we explored in the first installment, monopolies inevitably mean low quality and high prices. That’s definitely what we’ve got. Yet, talk to even Republican politicians, and they act like education schools and the certified nincompoops that emanate from them are oracles whose edicts must be obeyed (as long as the oracles can tickle the ears of businessman donors). Ask me how I know. (Hint: That’s why all the states still have Common Core, even the ones that “dropped” it.)

The Wizards Behind the Curtain

By the way, this also explains why teachers by and large would not do a good job evaluating curriculum or curriculum regulations even if we gave them more than 15 minutes to do that: They’re not professionally prepared to do so. It also explains why the people who wrote Common Core came up with such a defective product, and all the people evaluating couldn’t tell. They did not have the capacity to judge it because they’ve been mal-educated, even anti-educated.

They did not have the capacity to judge Common Core because they’ve been mal-educated, even anti-educated.

In his book “The Great Divide,” William Gairdner writes, on another topic applicable here, “affirmative action policies result in a tokenism so widespread that no one knows who has properly qualified for their title, their pay, or their station in life, and who has not.” So do our credentialing institutions we erroneously call education institutions. Teachers’ colleges have led the way in giving people shiny stickers that ultimately mean nothing.

If you’re an engineer, everyone knows when your bridges collapse. But if you’re a teacher, it’s a lot harder to see when your students’ minds collapse, especially if you release them into an echo chamber that refuses to admit even the possibility they might be entirely uneducated because they have learned to parrot a few key phrases about “equality” and “rights” and “fairness,” despite having been studiously kept from ever actually analyzing, in any robust and intellectually honest way, what those words mean and imply, and how they have worked out in history.

This is not just a massive waste of money and a huge system of unfair advantages granted to packs of fat cats who cannot rationally justify their existence. It’s a waste of lives. It’s a cancer on a society that desperately needs moral and intellectual development to be able to govern itself. Want to know why we’re at a point where a third of college educated adults cannot name one right guaranteed by the First Amendment? (Remember, all these people can vote!) Blame a lot of that on our criminally ineffective education system, made so by bad ideologies created by legally enforced monopolies.

Then there’s this angle, which Herrera highlights and is also crucial, since more than half of K-12 students are now minorities: “Personal observation from over 15 years teaching in disadvantaged Latino communities: Children who are succeeding in school do not become involved in criminal activities and do not join gangs.”

We desperately need our education system to work, for everyone’s good. It doesn’t. And O’Keefe’s Common Core videos point to the root problems of government-created child exploitation.

Joy Pullmann is managing editor of The Federalist and author of the forthcoming "The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids," from Encounter Books.

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