Rex Tillerson’s Support of Common Core Built on False Premises

rex-tillersonLast week Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, wrote an op/ed in The Wall Street Journal entitled “How to Stop the Drop in American Education.”

In it he makes some false premises in supporting the Common Core.  The first false premise is that these standards are state-driven.

These voluntary, state-driven standards are a set of expectations for the knowledge and skills that students from kindergarten to 12th grade need to master for college and career readiness. Some oppose the standards, complaining that they undermine the autonomy of teachers; others decry the standards as a takeover of local schools by big government.

I’ve written extensively about this.  Yes, technically these standards were voluntary.  Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins in “Controlling Education from the Top: Why the Common Core is Bad for America” make a compelling case that this is a top-down initiative that was not state-driven, but Gates-driven and special-interest-driven.

He completely glosses over the Federal government’s involvement.

A second false premise is that the Common Core is data driven.

The criticism is misguided. The Common Core State Standards are based on the best international research. They are built on the standards used by the most effective education systems around the world, including Singapore, Finland, Canada and the U.K. The standards are also designed to allow each state to make its own decisions regarding the curriculum, technology and lesson plans to be used in local schools.

What research?  Now advocates are cherry-picking countries these standards are based on?  First they said the Common Core is internationally benchmarked. Then they said they were informed by international benchmarking, but didn’t list countries as models.  Now suddenly we have model countries?  Fascinating.  What standards from those standards did we pattern ours after?

The fact is this… The Common Core is data-less reform.  Below are some points made by Christopher Tienken of Seton Hall University.

  • The Common Core State Standards Initiative claims that the standards are evidence-based, but they only list two documents to prove it.  Myths and Facts and the Joint International Benchmarking Report both documents were published by the NGA, one of the same groups developing the standards.
  • The “large and growing” body of evidence cited is built mostly on one report – Benchmarking for Success – a report from the NGA and CCSSO. Hardly independent research.
  • The Benchmarking report has over 135 endnotes, many of which are repetitive references. Only four of the cited pieces of evidences can be considered empirical studies related directly to the top of national standards and student achievement.

A third false premise is that states have abundant freedom to make their own decisions on curriculum, technology and lessons plans.

Yes on the surface states have that freedom.  However the assessment consortium that a Common Core State belongs to drives technology.  Assessments also will drive curriculum and lesson plans.  States then are expecting local school districts to use curriculum that is aligned with the Common Core.

Let’s not pretend this doesn’t have a trickle down effect.

A fourth false premise is that “the standards are a tool to help educators, not a straitjacket for them.”

So he’s talked to every teacher?  That’s a mixed bag.  Some teachers like them, and some don’t.  Those who don’t are told to shut up.

A fifth false premise is that the Common Core will help develop critical reasoning skills.

A major benefit of the Common Core State Standards is that they encourage students to analyze and apply critical reasoning skills to the texts they are reading and the math problems they are solving. These are the capabilities that students need as they prepare for high-skill jobs.

Again there’s a lot of debate on how well the Common Core will accomplish that.

For example the shift to informational text:

Critics assert that “the stated policy of emphasizing ‘informational,’ or non-fiction reading, in English will inevitably come at the expense of literature classics,” which are not only fun to read but also teach students about perspective, the skill of analysis of character and personality, and how to formulate a writing style.

Brigham Young University English Professor Alan Manning reportedly wrote in an email statement to opponents to Common Core in Utah, “An argument can be made that any improvement in reading/writing instruction should include more rather than fewer exercises where students write stories themselves that are modeled on the classics.”

Manning added, “This creates a more stable foundation on which students can build skills for other kinds of writing. The Core standards would prevent public schools from testing these kinds of approaches.”

Fox News reported this summer:

Stanford Prof. James Milgram, the only mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to sign off on the math standards, calling the whole thing “in large measure a political document” during testimony he gave in May 2011 in which he advocated for Texas not to adopt the Common Core standards.

“I had considerable influence on the mathematics standards in the document. However, as is often the case, there was input from many other sources — including State Departments of Education — that had to be incorporated into the standards,” he said during the testimony.

“A number of these sources were mainly focused on things like making the standards as non-challenging as possible. Others were focused on making sure their favorite topics were present, and handled in the way they liked,” he also said, adding that it led to a number of “extremely serious failings” in the Common Core that made it premature for any state hoping to improve math scores to implement them and that the Core Math standards were designed to reflect very low expectations.

Coupled with this is the belief that the Common Core will prepare kids for STEM careers.  That isn’t the case.

“With the exception of a few standards in trigonometry, the math standards end after Algebra II,” said James Milgram, professor of mathematics emeritus at Stanford University.  “They include no precalculus or calculus.”

At a 2010 meeting of Massachusetts’ Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Professor Jason Zimba, a lead writer of the math standards, said the standards, known as Common Core, prepare students “for the colleges most kids go to, but not for the college most parents aspire to,” and added that the standards are “not for selective colleges.”

U.S. government data show that only one out of every 50 prospective STEM majors who begin their undergraduate math coursework at the precalculus level or lower will earn a bachelor’s degree in a STEM area.  Moreover, students whose last high school math course was Algebra II or lower have less than a 40 percent chance of earning any kind of four-year college degree.

In 2010, William McCallum, another lead writer of Common Core’s math standards, said “The overall standards would not be too high, certainly not in comparison [to] other nations, including East Asia, where math education excels.”

Then of course he leaves us with the scare tactic: “To abandon the standards is to endanger America’s ability to create the technologies that change the world for the better.”

Gee without the Common Core State Standards how in the world did we send man to the moon and invent computers?

Tillerson has also become a bully.  After this op-ed he was reported to have said that he might be prone in the future to only hire people that came out of Common Core states.

Perhaps those not in Common Core states and those who oppose the Common Core should refuse to buy Exxon Mobil.