The Common Core

September 9–13, 2013   |   Vol. 117, Programs 6–10

The Common Core State Standards initiative claims to prepare students for college and career, but is its one-size-fits-all approach harmful to a child’s education? This week on Home School Heartbeat, join your host Mike Farris and HSLDA Federal Relations Director Will Estrada as they discuss the issue.

“The Common Core basically nationalizes mediocrity.”—Mike Farris

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Does our national education system really need a one-size-fits-all set of standards to improve student achievement? Join host Mike Farris today as he discusses the Common Core Curriculum Standards Initiative with HSLDA’s director of federal relations, Will Estrada. That’s on this week’s Home School Heartbeat.

Mike Farris: Our guest today is Will Estrada, who is a homeschool graduate, and he is HSLDA’s federal lobbyist. Will, welcome to the program!

Will Estrada: Great to be here, Mike.

Mike: The educational establishment claims that it is trying to improve academic performance for students in our nation’s public schools. And they’ve planned a new program called the Common Core State Standards Initiative. It’s been adopted by 45 states. Will, can you summarize for our listeners what this current plan involves?

Will: Mike, the Common Core, as it’s become known, is yet again another attempt by the federal and national education establishment to try and, from the top down, promote educational success. Unfortunately, the success of homeschooling shows that education happens best when kids are being educated by the parents and teachers who know their children, who see them face-to-face. The Common Core is creating a national standards of education—national curriculum—that supposedly will help school achievement and help students in these schools. Unfortunately, it’s more of what we’ve seen before, and is not really going to be successful.

Mike: Will, I think we both agree that the Common Core basically nationalizes mediocrity. Tomorrow we’re going to discuss how these common standards affect homeschoolers. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Will, why should homeschoolers be wary of the Common Core? What’s so bad about states developing a common curriculum so that all the public school districts have the same educational standards?

Will Estrada: Mike, national standards will always lead to national curriculum because the standards guide the curriculum and then the tests which follow the curriculum. As a result, with this one-size-fits-all, national approach to the standards that children learn, the pressure is going to build and build for homeschoolers and for private schools that do not receive federal funds to eventually start teaching some or all of this Common Core. The second problem is we’re already seeing an alignment of the tests that all students take. For example, the SAT and the ACT, many of the publishers which push out these tests are saying that they’re going to start aligning their tests to the Common Core. And so what will happen is that homeschoolers who use independent curriculum will be disadvantaged when they take these tests because their kids have not learned what some national bureaucrat who dictates these national standards thinks that all kids need to learn. Finally, we’re concerned that the colleges and universities will start to refuse to accept students who have not taken these Common Core-aligned curriculum. We are seeing an approach to change education to see what national bureaucrats think all kids should learn taught in every single school.

Mike: When parents are free to make educational choices for their children, all children benefit. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Though the Common Core program is touted as state-led effort, the federal government is playing a big role behind the scenes. Would you please unpack that for us, Will?

Will Estrada: Mike, this all started in 2009 with President Obama’s stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Part of this bill created the Race to the Top program, which gave points from the federal government to states which aligned their curriculum, which adopted the Common Core, and which adopted these national databases, as well. These states which then did this would be granted extra money from the federal government, which is our tax dollars going to states which adopted the Common Core curriculum. In addition, the federal government is giving waivers to states—No Child Left Behind waivers—only to these states which have adopted the Common Core. It’s a fact that every state that has received Race to the Top funds or a No Child Left Behind waiver has adopted the Common Core or has had to prove to the Department of Education that its standards are fully aligned to the Common Core. We are seeing nothing less than the federal government pressuring states to adopt the Common Core and to change their curriculum.

Mike: One more example of the federal government trampling the Constitution and educational freedom. I’m Mike Farris.

Mike Farris: Will, the NSA is spying on everybody’s email, everybody’s cell phone calls, everything that we do on the internet. They’re treating us improperly in the IRS by auditing conservatives and not auditing others and giving people a hard time. And now they want to create a massive database recording what students from kindergarten all the way through their educational career, and they want us to trust them. Have I overstated it? Am I missing something? Is this what the Common Core does?

Will Estrada: In 2011 the U.S. Department of Education quietly changed the definitions in FERPA, that’s the 1974 law that protects all the privacy of students. They changed it to allow student-specific data, the information on your child, tons of information about who they are, what they like, their education, this information to be shared with non-government entities, with businesses, and across state lines into different public schools. There’s a national database that’s being created, which is being marketed to public schools. And in 2011, the Council of Chief State School Officials, which is pushing for the Common Core, quietly said at one of their conferences, “We wish to include the data of homeschool students, even though it’s currently not being included.” They’re coming after the data of not just public and private school students but also homeschool students.

Mike: Thanks, Will. There is no basis for trust. I’m Mike Farris./p><

Mike Farris: Will, the longer I study the Common Core, the more I realize that the problems are not in the details of the mathematics or language arts standards but in its overall structure and its overall purpose. Can you talk to us about that?

Will Estrada: Mike, the whole point of the Common Core is creating students who are ready for college and career, instead of teaching students about how they can love learning. I always remember what William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, said, “Education is not about filling up a bucket but lighting a fire.” That’s what homeschool students have proven with their success, because homeschool parents are instilling a love of learning in their children. The Common Core is focused on this college- and career-readiness: it’s nothing more than a fight between two worldviews. Are kids cogs in the system, or are they each an individual person who has a God-given spirit and a God-given future ahead of them?

Mike: Will, one of the ways we see the evidence of what you just outlined is this: All individualized learning that’s truly valuable is lost in this one-size-fits-all, organized fashion to make us all, really, a bunch of drones. And it has nothing to do with the real goals of education: seeking truth, knowing God, what’s true, what’s beautiful, what’s wise? Those kinds of questions simply are left out of the Common Core entirely. They don’t even consider them, because those values are not important to the people that are pursuing it.

Michael P. Farris

Michael Farris is the chancellor of Patrick Henry College and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He was the founding president of each organization.

Farris is a constitutional appellate litigator who has served as lead counsel in the United States Supreme Court, eight federal circuit courts, and the appellate courts of 13 states.

He has been a leader on Capitol Hill for over 30 years and is widely known for his leadership on homeschooling, religious freedom, and the preservation of American sovereignty.

At Patrick Henry College, Farris teaches constitutional law, public international law, and coaches PHC’s Moot Court team which has won six national championships.

A prolific author, Farris has been recognized with a number of awards including the Salvatori Prize for American Citizenship by the Heritage Foundation and as one of the “Top 100 Faces in Education for the 20th Century” by Education Week magazine.

Mike and Vickie Farris have 10 children and 14 grandchildren.

Will Estrada

A homeschool graduate from Pennsylvania, Will began working for HSLDA in January, 2004 as a legal assistant to Staff Attorney Scott Woodruff. After graduating from Oak Brook College of Law with his J.D., he moved on to direct HSLDA’s Federal Relations department and to serve as HSLDA’s federal lobbyist. As HSLDA’s representative on Capitol Hill, Will uses his passion for homeschooling to advocate for all homeschoolers before Congress and the federal departments. He has testified before Congress and met with senior officials from federal agencies and the executive branch. From October 2007 through December 2012, Will served as the director of Generation Joshua, a division of HSLDA, where he worked with young people who are passionate about making a difference in politics. He oversaw a doubling of Generation Joshua’s membership, an increase in local clubs, and an expansion of Generation Joshua’s reach and effectiveness. In July 2011, he also took on lobbying for ParentalRights.org as the organization’s director of federal relations, where he advocates before Congress for the Parental Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He is a member of the California bar. Will and his wife Rachel, who is also a homeschool graduate as well as an accomplished portrait artist, and their son Dominic reside in northern Virginia.

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