Monday, March 17, 2014

Another Style of CCSS Profiteering

Common Core profiteers are becoming wise to the ways of the interwebs.

There at the top of my search results was a paid ad-- in large letters "Blame Common Core" with the link to the website and the single line of copy "What's wrong with Common Core? Is it as bad as you have heard?"

Interesting point #1. My google search terms were "common core standards." Nothing negative. Just a search based on those three terms. Yet this ad was primed to attract my attention by playing to my imagined dislike and distrust of the CCSS. Even the website name and address is set to appeal to CCSS non-fans. This tells me that even the market knows that the prevailing winds are not blowing in a CCSSesterly direction.

So where does take us? Well, it's not a place that wants to blame the Core for much of anything.

The site is actually entitled "Blame Common Core? Common Sense for the Common Core." And once we get past that, it's koolaid all the way. The site is basically a blog, and its articles are deeply devoted to serving up all the standard talking points that we've all come to know and love.

Are you smarter than a 2nd grader? Bert Zahniser is disgusted when adults use children as pawns. And by that he means the people who take pictures of weeping children struggling with CCSS homework. No word about how he feels when charter school operators ship all their students to the state capital to lobby for privatization.

Confusing the curriculum with the Common Core. Steve Klugewicz says shame on people who conflate the standards with the materials used to push them. CCSS is totally not a curriculum.

Common Core and the big picture. Dr. Kevin T. Brady is pretty sure that people who object to the ELA standards have no idea what the standards say. CCSS is not content, peoples.

Dr. Kevin T. Brady is also the author of my favorite title on the site: Common Core destroys "creativity"? The so-called "creativity" is that of the teacher. He's responding to Matthew Altieri, a thirty-year teacher in Wallingfor CT who is, for some reason, a favorite target of Dr. Brady. "Pshaw," says Dr. Brady. "CCSS doesn't tell you what to do or how to do it. You can pretend to be as fake creative as you want to be." (I'm paraphrasing).

So who is this working so hard to not blame the Common Core?

It's Cicero Systems, a group in Swedesboro, NJ, and they have some services they'd like to sell you. Specifically, Common Core Professional Development, Curricula Services (including audits and alignments), a monthly webinar (Talking Common Core), online beyond-the-textbook resources, and even field study trips for teachers which seem to focus on historical sites.

That emphasis makes sense because these guys used to be the American Institute for History Education. The Cicero name is a nod to Important Ancient Dead White Guy Cicero, just one example of the important pieces of classic education going unappreciated today. Dr. Kevin T. Brady is the founder and president, and with Steve Klugewicz has gotten in on the ground floor of the growing Trying To Sell CCSS to Conservatives Movement.

At "The Imaginative Conservative," Brady and Klugewicz make their case for a conservative embrace of CCSS.* Their argument, severely summarized, goes as follows:

CCSS is wide open in terms of content. Conservatives who are afraid CCSS will be used to push a liberal agenda are short-sighted, because schools are chock-full of agenda-pushing liberals already. "There exists, then, an opportunity for conservatives to bring substantive content knowledge to teachers who so desperately need it." With CCSS, conservatives have a chance to finally teach liberals all the classics that they are so ignorant of.

This is not a new drum for Dr. Brady to beat. Old editions of the AIHE newsletter often return to the refrain of history being under-appreciated, inadequately taught, and insufficiently tested. "American history is not a core-content subject tested under the No Child Left Behind Law," wrote Dr. Brady in 2010. "That alone shows us that American history is not as highly valued in America as other core-content subjects that are mandatorily tested." And I feel his pain-- history is a hugely important discipline that is getting unjustly short-changed by the standards movement.

Well, history is no more tested now than it ever was, but somehow Dr. Brady has transformed his group into a go-to CCSS resource with special history topping. This opportunism is not a new phenomenon. Every time The Next Big Thing shows up in education, it is accompanied by a host of people who are sure that their personal pet project dovetails perfectly with The Thing. Cicero has seen a way to make a buck AND push their own favorite snake oil flavor, and I guess we can't really blame them. But we should remember not to focus so closely on the big sharks that we fail to notice the little piranhas.

*Hat tip to Adam Laats at the awesomely named "I Love You But You're Going To Hell"

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