Perhaps the most disturbing testimony presented to Wisconsin’s Assembly during a recent hearing on Common Core was not about Common Core at all. Superintendent Nick Madison, of the Brillion School District, offered the most revealing look at the thought process behind the current popular “reforms.” Madison’s district is situated in a farming community of about 3,000 people and is home of Ariens, a manufacturer of bright orange removal equipment, including snow blowers and lawn mowers. Brillion is a peaceful pastoral setting with low unemployment, little crime, hard working innovative people growing the nation’s food and manufacturing tools typically used by America’s middle-class families. Some would say Brillion is the perfect symbol of American Exceptionalism.
That is why Madison’s testimony came as such a surprise to so many. After Madison presented the business community’s scripted defense of Common Core, and a reminder to the legislators that one of the reasons Common Core was created was to meet the needs of industry, Madison argued that “the policy is right because the policy is what is reflected in the demands of business.”
Throughout his testimony, it was difficult to ascertain whether Madison represented educators and the children they serve or the chambers of commerce and the businesses they serve. Those two interests, while not opposing, are not one and of the same. However, after presenting a case for industry, remarkably Madison concluded his prepared statement claiming that “it is time that we focus on kids and what’s in their best interests and not on politics.”
It could have been the perfect ending for an educator; one with which all educators could agree.
However, it was when Madison lashed out at Representative Michael Schraa that he revealed what is at the core of Common Core. Schraa began his questioning by noting, “American Exceptionalism was present before Common Core, and you are kind of insinuating that we need Common Core standards….” Madison aggressively interrupted, “You bet. That exceptionalism has come and gone with all due respect, Representative.” Madison continued, “We have to be willing to innovate faster than the Chinese can copy us or our industry is going to go away. You talk about what country standards did you look at, here’s what country I look at when I go down to Home Depot and see snow blowers made in China. That’s a real problem for Brillion, that’s our standard. That is who we are competing with.”
In one flash of anger, Madison summed up what drives too many supporters of Common Core: the belief that the unexceptional children of the United States are nothing more than servants of industry to be educated only to the extent that industry requires.
For years, as the teaching of basic skills has been rejected by educators who are bored with the material or have a political agenda, the performance of our students has been lacking. Rather than look at their failures, educators are seeking any remedy that will lower standards even more while offering a product for which someone is willing to pay. Madison seemed to acknowledge that it was America’s ingenuity that must have surely sprung from America’s educational system, which led to the Ariens’ products being superior in design and function when compared to Chinese ripoffs. Yet, he persisted in fighting for a set of standards which do nothing to raise academic performance and everything to keep the cost of labor low.
The testimony of Kirsten Lombard and Jody Lueck brought into sharp focus the reasons for the business community’s investment in Common Core.
It turns out, the investment the chambers of commerce make will be small when compared. As Lombard put it to the legislators, “I’m very concerned to hear that there are people who think that the purpose of education is to prepare people for work. Who really is the customer for education?” Lombard asked. “Is the customer for education business or industry? Or is it the parent and the child? I would suggest to you that it’s not business and industry nor is it government,” said Lombard.
“It is the child and the parent,” said Lombard. “Those are people to whom we have an obligation. Yet over and over again, I’ve heard about needing to prepare people for work. I heard a businessman from Brillion talk about how the world of business doesn’t have time for all we were talking about here.”
Lombard advised the Legislature that Common Core is nothing more than a public private partnership. “It is a very dangerous thing. It’s very fashionable as some say it leads to very efficient government, but the reason it’s more efficient is because we cut the public out of the mix.”
Lombard argued that in the Common Core public-private partnership, government brings the force and business brings the money. Then, the investors and the special-interest groups are brought in to make it appear that it has the support of people. “That is exactly what Common Core is: a public private partnership which is designed to nothing more than shift private risk to public shoulders.”
Lombard concluded, “I have seen the way this is being constructed. I’ve done my homework, and this is very dangerous for the state and for the people who live here. Particularly for its children, I urge you to think about who the real customer for education should be.”
The testimony, which seemed to make the legislators most uncomfortable was offered by Appleton businesswoman and CPA, Jody Lueck, who related her experience with the promoters of Common Core. Lueck described a meeting of the Appleton Chamber of Commerce in which a Common Core promotional presentation was made this year.
The Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership’s promotional program began with an explanation that Common Core was the centerpiece of their effort to “match up the American educational system with the European educational system of work-ready.”
Lueck advised the legislators that when the group referred to career and college ready, they did not mean college “the way we think about it. They’re discussing technical colleges.” Lueck said that while she valued technical colleges, she became concerned when the group was told, “We need to change to meet the job market demands in Wisconsin and discourage our children from seeking a college degree.” She told legislators that the intent of the proponents is to change the model from one in which we promote thinking to one in which children are trained solely for careers to meet the needs of industry. The chamber members were told that “only 27% of jobs in Wisconsin required a college education, and we are doing our kids a disservice, they said, we needed to change to meet the job market demands in Wisconsin and discourage our children from seeking a college degree.”
Attendees were told this would be a shift in mindset.
When the attendees asked about the role of parents, they were told, “We did not include them because we did not know how this would work.” When the attendees persisted and asked again what the parents’ role would be, the presenters said, ‘We are not telling the parents; their children will bring them along.’
Lueck described a system in which kindergartners will be given information about careers, and by the 8th grade, children will be funneled into 16 career tracks.
Lueck said, “There’s no parental involvement at all. The child will be tested, and the educators will offer them three tracks from which a child can choose based upon the needs of business in Wisconsin.” Students will then be placed in a track that best suits the student’s skill and will feed the industry in need.
“We are going to restructure the educational system so that all schools will work in tandem, and because you can’t have 16 career academies in one school. Different high schools will be assigned different academies,” Lueck testified. Under the new system a child might likely attend one high school one day, and spend other days at another school.
Lueck told the legislators that schools will essentially take over the role of HR departments. Teachers will determine which student is qualified to interview for which apprenticeship. “This is not far-off,” she warned the legislators.
“They didn’t know people were sitting in that audience who would not necessarily agree with what they were doing,” said Lueck. She did not to see “them hijack what education is supposed to be about. We want thinking children who can really critically think and look at things. How did I become a CPA before if our education system was so bad before Common Core?”
Lueck concluded, “If you thought our education system was so bad, why on earth did we wait for a group of east coast foundations to tell us what we should we doing here in Wisconsin?”
The “educators” of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies classes said that they did not want “children to be cogs for the capitalist machine.” Conservatives have made it clear that they do not want children to become mindless cogs as well, so it leaves one to wonder if the progressives’ silence in the Common Core debate is due to the fact that they object to children becoming mindless cogs only for the capitalist machine.
We can only hope that both conservatives and progressives will come together on this simple principle: children should be equally granted access to the finest education available so that someday, they alone will determine the path they take, and the mark they make on their world.