Rotten to the Core: Obama’s War on Academic Standards (Part 1)


America’s downfall doesn’t begin with the “low-information voter.” It starts  with the no-knowledge student.

For decades, collectivist agitators in our schools have chipped away at  academic excellence in the name of fairness, diversity and social justice.  “Progressive” reformers denounced Western civilization requirements, the  Founding Fathers and the Great Books as racist. They attacked traditional  grammar classes as irrelevant in modern life. They deemed ability grouping of  students (tracking) bad for self-esteem. They replaced time-tested rote  techniques and standard algorithms with fuzzy math, inventive spelling and  multicultural claptrap.

Under President Obama, these top-down mal-formers — empowered by Washington  education bureaucrats and backed by misguided liberal philanthropists led by  billionaire Bill Gates — are now presiding over a radical makeover of your  children’s school curriculum. It’s being done in the name of federal “Common  Core” standards that do anything but raise achievement standards.

Common Core was enabled by Obama’s federal stimulus law and his Department of  Education’s “Race to the Top” gimmickry. The administration bribed cash-starved  states into adopting unseen instructional standards as a condition of winning  billions of dollars in grants. Even states that lost their bids for Race to the  Top money were required to commit to a dumbed-down and amorphous curricular  “alignment.”

In practice, Common Core’s dubious “college- and career”-ready standards  undermine local control of education, usurp state autonomy over curricular  materials, and foist untested, mediocre and incoherent pedagogical theories on  America’s schoolchildren.

Over the next several weeks and months, I’ll use this column space to expose  who’s behind this disastrous scheme in D.C. backrooms. I’ll tell you who’s  fighting it in grassroots tea party and parental revolts across the country from  Massachusetts to Indiana, Texas, Georgia and Utah. And most importantly, I’ll  explain how this unprecedented federal meddling is corrupting our children’s  classrooms and textbooks.

There’s no better illustration of Common Core’s duplicitous talk of higher  standards than to start with its math “reforms.” While Common Core promoters  assert their standards are “internationally benchmarked,” independent members of  the expert panel in charge of validating the standards refute the claim. Panel  member Dr. Sandra Stotsky of the University of Arkansas reported, “No material  was ever provided to the Validation Committee or to the public on the specific  college readiness expectations of other leading nations in mathematics” or other  subjects.

In fact, Stanford University professor James Milgram, the only mathematician  on the validation panel, concluded that the Common Core math scheme would place  American students two years behind their peers in other high-achieving  countries. In protest, Milgram refused to sign off on the standards. He’s not  alone.

Professor Jonathan Goodman of New York University found that the Common Core  math standards imposed “significantly lower expectations with respect to algebra  and geometry than the published standards of other countries.”

Under Common Core, as the American Principles Project and Pioneer Institute  point out, algebra I instruction is pushed to 9th grade, instead of 8th grade,  as commonly taught. Division is postponed from 5th to 6th grade. Prime  factorization, common denominators, conversions of fractions and decimals, and  algebraic manipulation are de-emphasized or eschewed. Traditional Euclidean  geometry is replaced with an experimental approach that had not been previously  pilot-tested in the U.S.

Ze’ev Wurman, a prominent software architect, electrical engineer and  longtime math advisory expert in California and Washington, D.C., points out  that Common Core delays proficiency with addition and subtraction until 4th  grade and proficiency with basic multiplication until 5th grade, and skimps on  logarithms, mathematical induction, parametric equations and trigonometry at the  high school level.

I cannot sum up the stakes any more clearly than Wurman did in his critique  of this mess and the vested interests behind it:

“I believe the Common Core marks the cessation of educational standards  improvement in the United States. No state has any reason left to aspire for  first-rate standards, as all states will be judged by the same mediocre national  benchmark enforced by the federal government. Moreover, there are organizations  that have reasons to work for lower and less-demanding standards, specifically  teachers unions and professional teacher organizations. While they may not admit  it, they have a vested interest in lowering the accountability bar for their  members. …This will be done in the name of ‘critical thinking’ and  ’21st-century’ skills, and in faraway Washington, D.C., well beyond the reach of  parents and most states and employers.”

This is all in keeping with my own experience as a parent of elementary- and  middle-school age kids who were exposed to “Everyday Math” nonsense. This and  other fads abandon “drill and kill” memorization techniques for fuzzy “critical  thinking” methods that put the cart of “why” in front of the horse of “how.” In  other words: Instead of doing the grunt work of hammering times tables and basic  functions into kids’ heads first, the faddists have turned to wacky, wordy  non-math alternatives to encourage “conceptual” understanding — without any  mastery of the fundamentals of math.

Common Core is rotten to the core. The corruption of math education is just  the beginning. Contributing Editor Michelle  Malkin is the author of Culture of Corruption: Obama and his Team of Tax  Cheats, Crooks & Cronies (Regnery 2009). Her e-mail address is


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