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Dumbed Down SAT Will Align With Common Core to Achieve “Social Justice”

Dr. Peter Wood, President National Association of Scholars

Dr. Peter Wood, President National Association of Scholars


By Dr. Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars

The College Board is reformulating the SAT.  Again.

The new changes, like others that have been instituted since the mid 1990s, are driven by politics.  David Coleman, head of the College Board, is also the chief architect of the Common Core K-12 State Standards, which are now mired in controversy across the country.  Coleman’s initiative in revising the SAT should be seen first of all as a rescue mission.  As the Common Core flounders, he is throwing it an SAT life preserver.  I’ll explain, but first let’s get the essentials of how the SAT is about to change.



The essay is now optional, ending a decade-long experiment in awarding points for sloppy writing graded by mindless formulae.

The parts of the test that explored the range and richness of a student’s vocabulary have been etiolated. The test now will look for evidence that students are familiar with academic buzzwords and jargon.  The College Board calls this “Relevant Words in Context.”  Test-takers won’t have to “memorize obscure words” but instead “will be asked to interpret the meaning of words based on the context of the passage in which they appear.”

The deductions for guessing wrong are gone.  Literally, there will be no harm in guessing.

Math will narrow to linear equations, functions, and proportions.

The scale on which scores are recorded will revert to the old 800 each on two sections, from the current 2,400 on three sections.  (Goodbye essay points.)

The old verbal section will be replaced by “evidence-based reading and writing.”

All the tests will include snippets from America’s Founding Documents.


What They Mean

The College Board’s announcement of these changes came under the headline “Delivering Opportunity:  Redesigning the SAT Is Just One Step.”  The “delivering opportunity” theme is divided into three parts:

Ensure that students are propelled forward.

Provide free test preparation for the world.

Promote excellent classroom work and support students who are behind.

There is a thicket of explanation behind each of these headings, some of it beyond silly.  We learn, for example, that the College Board, “cannot stand by while students’ futures remain unclaimed.”  Unclaimed?  Like lottery prizes?  Like coats left in a checkroom?

If you work your way through this folderol, it appears that the College Board is launching a whole battery of new diversity programs.   ”Access to Opportunity (“A2O”) pushes (“propels”) low-income, first-generation, underrepresented students to college.  The “All In Campaign” aims “to ensure to ensure that every African American, Latino, and Native American student who is ready for rigorous work takes an AP course or another advanced course.”  Another program offers college application fee waivers.

Those initiatives bear on the redesigned SAT mainly as evidence of the College Board’s preoccupation with its ideas about social justice.  The announcement of the changes in the SAT itself is succinct—and friendly, with helpful icons to get across ideas like “documents.”

The redesigned SAT will focus on the knowledge and skills that current research shows are most essential for college and career readiness and success. The exam will reflect the best of classroom work:

  • Relevant words in context
  • Command of evidence
  • Essay analyzing a source
  • Math focused on three key areas
  • Problems grounded in real-world contexts
  • Analysis in science and social studies
  • Founding documents and great global conversation
  • No penalty for wrong answers”

The student who comes across the College Board’s explanation—and maybe even the journalist who reads it—might miss the full weight of that key phrase “college and career readiness.”  That’s the smoking gun that what is really happening in the College Board’s revision of the SAT is that the test is being wrenched into alignment with the Common Core.  That phrase, “college and career readiness,” is the Common Core mantra.  The Common Core was vigorously promoted to the states and to the public as something that would “raise standards” in the schools by creating a nationwide framework that would lead students to “college readiness.”

But alas, as the Common Core Standards emerged, it became apparent that they set a ceiling on the academic preparation of most students.  Students who go through schools that follow the Common Core Standards will be ill-prepared for the rigors of college That is, unless something can be done on the other end to ensure that colleges lower their standards.  Then everything will be well.

The Bind

None of this might matter if the Common Core were just a baseline and students and schools could easily move above it if they wished to.  The trouble is that the Common Core has been designed to be a sticky baseline.  It is hard for schools to rise above it.  There are two reasons for that.

First, it uses up most of the time in a K-12 curriculum, leaving little room for anything else.

Second, the states that were leveraged into it via Obama’s “Race to the Top” agreed that students who graduate from high school with a Common Core education and are admitted to public colleges and universities will automatically be entered into “credit-bearing courses.”  This is tricky.  Essentially what it means is that public colleges will have to adjust their curricula down to the level of knowledge and skill that the Common Core mandates.  And that in turn means that most schools will have little reason to offer anything beyond the Common Core, even if they can. 

In this way, the Common Core floor becomes very much a ceiling too.  The changes in the SAT are meant to expedite this transition.


The Common Core Connection

The life-preserver that the College Board is throwing to the Common Core is a redefinition of what it means to be “college ready.” The SAT after all is a test aimed at determining who is ready for college. An SAT refurbished to match what the Common Core actually teaches instead of what colleges expect freshmen to know will go far to quiet worries that the Common Core is selling students short.  If the SAT says a student is “college ready,” who is to say that he is not?

The new changes in the SAT are meant first to skate around the looming problem that students educated within the framework of the Common Core would almost certainly see their performance on the old SAT plummet compared to students educated in pre-Common Core curricula.

The subject can get complicated, so it is best to consider an example.


Perhaps the most vivid example of how the Common Core lowers standards and creates a situation which invites mischief with the SATs is the decision of the Common Core architects to defer teaching algebra to 9th grade.  That move, along with several other pieces of the Common Core’s Mathematics Standards, generally means that students in high school will not reach the level of “pre-calculus.”  And that in turn means that as college freshmen, they will be at least a year behind where college freshmen used to be.  Instead of starting in with a freshman calculus course, they will have to start with complex numbers, trigonometric functions, conic sections, parametric equations, and the like.

Of course, lots of students who go to college today never take a calculus course and are in no way hindered if their high school math preparation stopped with binomial equations.   The trouble comes with students who wish to pursue science, technology, or engineering—the “STEM” fields.  College curricula generally assume that students who set out to study these fields have already reached the level of calculus.

One might think that students who have aptitudes and interests in these areas could simply leapfrog the Common Core by taking accelerated math courses in high school.  Some indeed will be able to do just that.  They will be students who attend prosperous schools that have the resources to work around the Common Core.  Or they will be students whose parents pay for tutors or courses outside school.

We can be confident that Americans will be ingenious in finding ways to circumnavigate this new roadblock.  And we can count on the emergence of entrepreneurs who will serve the market for extra-curricular math instruction.  There is no reason to think that MIT and Caltech will go begging for suitably prepared students.

But there is reason to worry that a large percentage of bright and capable students in ordinary American schools are going to be shortchanged in math. 

And while I have chosen math as the example, the Common Core is up to similar mischief in English, and the SAT is being similarly altered to match the diminished K-12 curriculum there too.  Those who have followed the debate on the Common Core will have some idea of how this works out.  The Common Core prizes “informational texts” above literature, and it prizes teaching students how to treat documents as “evidence” above teaching students how to search out the deeper meaning in what they read.  The Common Core approaches reading and writing in a utilitarian spirit.  Clearly this has some power.  It fosters certain kinds of analytic skills—those that might be called forensic.  But it scants the cultivation of other aspects of reading and writing, especially those that depend on analogy, implication, and aesthetic sense. 

That’s why the Common Core has such limited use for imaginative literature and why it so readily turns to out-of-context excerpts and uprooted fragments.  Information is information; it does not much depend on a sense of the whole; nor does it depend on gathering in the unsaid background.  The now infamous example of the Common Core’s deracinated approach to writing is a reading of the Gettysburg Address shorn of any explanation that it was a speech commemorating a battlefield, let alone the battlefield of the decisive battle in the Civil War.

Presumably the Common Core folks will repair this particular mistake, but it is telling that it happened in the first place.  And it is telling that the College Board has adopted all the same conceptual devices in the new SAT:  relevant words in context, command of evidence, analyzing sources, and using fragments and excerpts of historical documents.  None of these by itself should raise concern.  Each is a legitimate line for testing.  But note that they come unaccompanied by anything that would balance the focus on “evidence-based” inquiry with examination of other skills.


A Puzzle

Why should a grandly announced effort to raise school standards end up lowering them instead?  The answer lies in the convergence of several political forces.  Politicians see a can’t-lose proposition in the conceit that everyone should have the opportunity to go to college.  School standards that really separated the wheat from the chaff would be unpopular.  Americans today like the pretense that the only thing that holds us back is external circumstance, not natural limitation.  And the academic “achievement gap” between Asians and whites on one hand and blacks and Hispanics on the other has made forthright discussion of standards extremely difficult.

For all these reasons, we Americans were in the market for a new brand of educational snake oil and the Common Core provided it.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle lined up to buy franchises: Obama on the left, Jeb Bush on the right, and many more.

Now that the charm has worn off, the politicians have become hotly defensive about their support for Common Core.  This isn’t the place to delve into their excuses and recriminations, but it is important to remember that that rancor is the backdrop to the College Board’s decision to change the SAT.  Again.

SAT Down

My account of what lies behind the changes differs quite a bit from what The New York Times reported. The Times story emphasized Coleman’s heroic decision to take on the test preparation industry, which profits by exploiting the anxieties of students over how they will perform on the SAT.  Test preparation can be expensive and thus wealthier families have an edge.  According to the Times, Coleman declared, “It is time for the College Board to say in a clearer voice that the culture and practice of costly test preparation that has arisen around admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country.”

How exactly the changes in the SAT will combat that “culture and practice” is unclear.  The test preparation industry itself seemed to shrug at Coleman’s oration.  The Times quotes a vice president for Kaplan Test Prep saying that “Test changes always spur demand.”

Coleman is far from the first to rejigger the SAT to advance a notion of equality and justice.  The SAT was invented in 1926 to open the doors to college for students who were natively smart but came from unpromising backgrounds.  Over the decades it became a primary tool for college admissions officers to match potential students with the level off rigor embodied in a college’s curriculum.  The goal was to find students who in all likelihood would succeed.

That began to change with the push for racial preferences in college admissions in the 1970s and 1980s.  As colleges and universities more and more foregrounded the goal of “diversity” in admissions, the SAT began to look like an embarrassing artifact of an earlier time.  It stood for established standards and evidence of intellectual reach at a time when it had become much more useful to emphasize “evolving” definitions of excellence and achievement.  The new approaches emphasized cultural variety in how people think and what they think about, and the greater relevance to college work of “personal perspective” and viewpoint over mere knowledge.  Likewise “experience” began to seem as valuable in a college applicant as intellectual skill.

The first real fruit of these new concerns was the “re-centering” of the SAT’s scoring system in the 1990s, which ballooned the scores of mediocre students and erased the differences among students at the higher end of the scale.  Then, among other changes, came the elimination in 2002 of the verbal analogies portion of the tests, which jettisoned a section for the explicit reason that black students on average performed less well on it than they did on other sections.  That same year the College Board removed the “asterisk” that indicated that a student had taken the test with special accommodations such as extra time.

So the attempt to use the SAT as an instrument to advance “social justice” is, in a sense, more of the same.  We can expect most colleges and universities to welcome Coleman’s changes in that spirit.  But there are always costs, and sooner or later we will pay them.  We are embarking on a great expansion of the left’s long-term project of trading off our best chances to foster individual excellence for broadly-distributed access to mediocre education.



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College Board Stung by Report Card Series on AP U.S. History Reacts



(Editor: Mr. Larry Krieger, an AP History instructor, wrote a series for The Report Card on the College Board’s new, and sadly deficient Advanced Placement History Framework. The College Board, publishers of the SAT exam, is now presided over by David Coleman, author of the Common Core Standards. The College Board VP, Trevor Packer, who has never taught a high school course, took issue with Mr. Krieger. Here is Mr. Packer’s response:


Mr. Krieger noting inaccuracies in Mr. Packer’s response, replies here).


By Mr. Larry Krieger


I welcome Mr. Packer’s response to our analysis of the College Board’s redesigned AP US History Framework. Our goal is to spark a constructive dialogue that will prompt the College Board to address problems in the redesigned Framework.


It is important to note that the new AP US History Framework was published shortly after Mr. Coleman was chosen to become the President of the College Board. This gives Mr. Coleman an opportunity to objectively evaluate the document and provide much needed leadership in reaching out to parents, teachers, administrators and students who recognize that the redesigned Framework is a seriously flawed document that can and should be improved.


It is also important to address Mr. Packer’s closing statement about my alleged “test-prep” mentality. The AP prep books that I wrote do not reflect my personal philosophy of history. Instead, they reflect the realities of the AP US History test as revealed in a number of released tests. For the record, I personally favor a dynamic approach to American history that uses compelling stories to dramatize the achievements of exemplary leaders.


Mr. Packer provides a very selective response to my analysis of the new APUSH Framework. He begins by denying that “key figures in American history have been sidelined.” Unfortunately, facts are stubborn things. Here is a list of key figures noted in my analysis that have been completely omitted in the redesigned Framework: Roger Williams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Dorothea Dix, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry Clay, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, Theodore Roosevelt, Lost Generation authors (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Lewis,  and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mr. Packer erroneously claims that “most of the dozens of topics or individuals that Krieger finds ‘missing’ from the Framework, such as Sinclair Lewis, Dorothea Dix, or the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, have never been called out or specified in any document released by the College Board.” In fact, all of the omitted people and events listed above and in my analysis have generated numerous questions on released AP US History exams. For the record, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is one of the most frequently tested APUSH items. We believe that

instead of resisting an obvious and needed constructive suggestion, Mr. Packer should agree that these egregious omissions need to be rectified.


The omissions detailed in my analysis cannot be covered up by claiming that the College Board grants teachers the flexibility “to select which figures to focus on in-depth.” In reality, the College Board’s website clearly and unequivocally states, “The curriculum framework describes required content in a concept outline…On the revised exam, all questions are derived from the course’s stated learning objectives.” Although teachers do have the flexibility to teach in-depth units, the AP exam their students will take will in fact be exclusively focused on the content specified in the Framework.


Mr. Packer then provides a table providing a complete list of 15 required documents. We applaud the College Board for attempting to enrich the redesigned Framework with key historic documents. However, we believe that the current list omits many seminal documents and entirely ignores the commitment of many states to enrich America’s story with works of literature. Omitted works that should be added include Winthrop’s” City on a Hill” sermon, Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, excerpts from de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Turner’s essay on “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” excerpts from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, excerpts from Dr. King’s writings, and Barbara Jordan’s speech on the constitution before the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment hearings.


After discussing his table of key historic documents, Mr. Packer misrepresents my point about the Framework’s omission of military history. I do not believe that the Framework should list “all possible battles in every US war.” In fact my analysis only noted the omission of Valley Forge, Saratoga, Yorktown, Midway, and D-Day because these battles are typically included in most state frameworks. Mr. Packer fails to address my key point that the College Board Framework does not note the heroism and sacrifices of American servicemen and women.


Mr. Packer then turns to my analysis of the Framework’s decision to devote 5 percent of the AP Course to the period from 1491 to 1607. He incorrectly calculates that 5 percent of a 180 day course would equate to just one week of class time. Mr. Packer then erroneously claims that “AP Exams have long included questions on this period and topic.” In fact, the released 2001, 2006, 2008, and 2012 APUSH exams contain a total of 320 multiple-choice questions none of which asked students to recall any information contained in the Framework’s unit on the period from 1491 to 1607. As noted in my analysis, the real problem is that the Framework uses this introductory unit to establish its key theme that European exploitation led to native decline and black bondage. This negative view of American history then becomes the dominant theme in the Framework.


My analysis of the redesigned APUSH Framework carefully explains and documents that new curriculum’s biases and negative depiction of American history. Mr. Packer charges that “Krieger disparages the type of nuanced language used by historians in assessing complex events.” He further asserts that “college professors endorse the curriculum framework’s careful and balanced treatment of American history.” Rather than repeat what I have

already documented,  let me provide a sample of direct quotes from the Framework. I invite readers to evaluate if these Framework assertions are in fact “careful and balanced.” I also ask readers if this is what they want their children to learn about American history.


.        “Many Europeans developed a belief in white superiority to justify

         their subjugation of Africans and American Indians, using several

         different rationales.” (Page 25)

.        “Unlike Spanish, French, and Dutch colonies, which accepted

         intermarriage and cross-racial sexual unions with native peoples, English

         colonies attracted both males and females who rarely intermarried with

         either native peoples or Africans, leading to the development of a rigid

         racial hierarchy.” (Page 27)

.        “Reinforced by a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority,

         the British system enslaved black people in perpetuity, altered African

         gender and kinship relationships in the colonies, and was one factor that

         led the British colonists into violent confrontations with native peoples.”

         (Page 28)

.        “The idea of Manifest Destiny, which asserted U.S. power in the Western

         Hemisphere and supported U.S. expansion westward, was built on a

         belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural

         superiority, and helped to shape the era’s political debates.” (Page 44)

.        “Wartime experiences, such as the internment of Japanese Americans,

         challenges to civil liberties, debates over race and segregation, and the

         decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American

         values.” (Page 59)


In our op-ed piece published by School Reform News, Ms. Robbins and I warn parents and educators that the redesigned APUSH Framework is in fact a “curricular coup” that defines, discusses, and interprets what the Framework forthrightly asserts is “the required knowledge of each period.” Ms. Robbins and I alert parents and school officials that “the College Board has in effect supplanted local and state curriculum by unilaterally assuming the authority to prioritize historic topics. This inevitably means that some topics will be magnified in importance while others will be minimized or even omitted.”


Mr. Packer denies that the redesigned APUSH Framework is “part of a CB ‘takeover’ of history education.” He then claims that the College Board followed “the same process that has been followed for 60 years.” While the College Board may or may not have followed “the same process” it has always used, the finished product is in fact unprecedented. The existing APUSH 5-page topical outline, has been replaced by a 98-page document that it longer and more detailed than any existing state-approved US History framework.

This is not “business as usual;” rather it is an imposition of a curriculum and

biased interpretation of American history upon the states and local school districts.


Mr. Packer’s defense of the redesigned APUSH Framework fails to fully and forthrightly address the document’s biased coverage, poor organization, negative tone and failure to provide teachers with a full set of test items. Ms. Robbins and I urge Mr. Coleman to carefully scrutinize the new APUSH Framework. He has the opportunity to restore a balanced study of American history that respects state curriculum standards and gives our best students a true picture of their country’s past.





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Report to Veterans on the State of U.S. Education: A Preview

Dr. Peter Wood, President  National Association of Scholars

Dr. Peter Wood, President National Association of Scholars

(Editor: The highly respected National Association of Scholars is preparing the report to alert veterans that the liberty and principles they fought for is being expunged from school curricula everywhere in America. We are alarmed that American exceptionalism is no longer taught. We are deeply concerned that the NAEP only considers 12% of high school seniors proficient in history. Most of all we are concerned that students are being instructed that America is the source of much trouble and oppression in the world and not a beacon of liberty and justice. If the next generation accepts this teaching, then there will be little reason for them to support and defend America or the Constitution. The ramifications of this eventuality are frightening to contemplate. We believe that veterans have paid a great price so America can remain the land of liberty. We believe that they should have a voice in reforming education. Dr. Peter Wood is preparing a report for publication within the next 90 days, and The Report Card is pleased to publish a summary of that report).

A Report to Veterans: Schools No Longer Teach American Exceptionalism or America’s Sacrifice in Battle for Liberty and Human Rights

By Peter Woods, President National Association of Scholars 

Executive Summary

  • A popular high school history book author said: “The world would have been better off if America never existed”
  • A People’s History of the United States, among the most popular history book in American High Schools, states that 9/11 was America’s fault because of our Mideast policies
  • A Florida history fair describe Nazi and Japanese soldiers as brave and loyal, while the American army was racist
  • The new College Board Advanced Placement Framework omits mention of 90% of America’s major battles and provides virtually no rationale for the reasons why America fought WW1, WW11, Korea or Vietnam.
  • Citizens for National Security issued a report that 26 textbooks in Florida were biased in favor or Islam
  • The National Association of Scholars studies show college level history is race, class and gender focused

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, Commander of the victorious 8th Army in North Africa and Commander of ground forces at D-Day became post war commander in Germany. He realized he needed to change German education to rid that country of Nazi ideology:

“New school books must be printed which were not tainted by Nazi ideologies, and all Nazi teaching and idea must be eradicated from educational establishments…that matter must be tackled energetically.”

It’s hard for America veterans to understand the extent to which American schools have re-written history to depict America as the cause of trouble in the world, and not the citadel of liberty as was once taught. In the words of Montgomery, this is an issue that must be “tackled energetically.”

A “valediction” is a farewell speech.  One of the most famous in American history was General Douglas MacArthur’s address to Congress, April 19, 1951, after President Truman fired him as commander of the U.S. forces in the Korean War.  MacArthur quoted a sentimental World War I ballad, “Old soldier never die; they just fade away.”

In truth, MacArthur improved on the original, where the second part is, “They always fade away.”   Fading away is a choice, and seldom the best one.  But it was a good exit line for MacArthur.

The valedictions that we hear most often these days are commencement speeches by students graduating from high school and college.  Often these “valedictorians” mistake the occasion, and instead of saying farewell to the chapter in their lives that is closing, they gush about the bright prospects that lie ahead.  They expect to change the world.  And they think it will be easy.

We can only smile at their eagerness.  They’ll learn soon enough.

The trouble is that the valedictorians at the top of their classes are seldom much better informed about the real world than the sluggards who slept through history and social studies.  That’s because our schools (and our colleges too) have been recklessly ignoring some of the most important things students should know, and even more recklessly teaching some things that aren’t true.  To paraphrase General MacArthur: old history doesn’t die, but it sure enough fades away.  The contemporary history curriculum involves a lot of fading.

Two years ago one of my sister organizations that is concerned with higher education did a survey of how much American history students graduating from top American colleges and universities actually know.  You may remember some of the eyebrow-raising results.  Ninety-six percent could identify Lady Gaga; 17 percent could correctly identify the Emancipation Proclamation.[1]

Those aren’t figures pulled out of context.  The survey focused on simple questions and gave easy multiple-choice options.  Who was the American general at Yorktown?  Fewer than half picked George Washington.  Who was the father of the U.S. Constitution?  Only one in five picked James Madison.

Surveys can be good wake-up calls, but to really understand something, you usually have to go deeper.  That’s what my organization, the National Association of Scholars, does.  We’ve been diving deep into how colleges teach history.  Why colleges and not grade schools and high schools?  Because grade school and high school teachers learned what they know in college, and the textbooks they use are written by college professors.  College is the key.

In a study we published three years ago, The Vanishing West, we documented the near disappearance of Western history survey courses. Back in 1963, almost all college students were required to take these introductory surveys.  By 1990, they had been reduced to electives, and by 2010, they were gone altogether except for a straggler or two.  Does it matter?

That depends.  If you think that the origins of democracy and self-governance in ancient Greece don’t matter, then you can probably skip learning about how the city states combined to fight off Xerxes’ Persian army.  If you think the extension of law and commerce over most of the Mediterranean and Europe doesn’t matter, you can also skip the rise of the Roman Empire.  The Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and so on, might be banished too, since all-in-all, that “history” is only about what “rich dead white males” did to each other.

The disappearance of Western history survey courses was just one step in reshaping what college students know and don’t know about the past.  Another step has come in the narrowing of the history that is actually taught.  The NAS did another study published last year, Recasting History, which looked at all the history courses for freshmen at the flagship public universities in Texas.  We found that 78 percent of the assigned readings in these courses at the University of Texas focused on race, class, and gender. Whole divisions of history were ignored altogether. Economic, military, and scientific history were nowhere to be found, and other divisions such as political and diplomatic history were treated solely through the lens of race, class, and gender.

Our report prompted outrage among academic historians.  No, no outrage that students were being shortchanged and the country ill-served.  The outrage was that the National Association of Scholars had called into question a widespread practice that the majority of university historians approve.  Emphasizing race, class, and gender as the key to American history is now the norm.  We were seen as calling for the return of the bad old days when minorities and women were given scant attention and American history was all about glorifying the wealthy and the powerful.

Let’s take that off the table right now.  My colleagues and I favor accurate history.  That means history that gets the facts right.  We favor comprehensive history. That’s history that doesn’t leave out essential events.  And finally, we favor connected history.  That’s history that puts important events in context with each other and with what came before and after.  There is plenty of room in accurate, comprehensive, and connected history to present the history of race, class, and gender in America.  But those topics need to be seen as part of a larger whole.

The NAS did one more study that says even more about how history is taught in college.  Last year we released What Does Bowdoin Teach?  which is an in-depth study of an elite liberal arts college in Maine.  We wanted to see how a college with high admissions standards and a sterling reputation actually goes about its work.  When it came to history, however, we were astonished.  Bowdoin students are not required to take any history.  History majors are required to take at least two courses in non-Western history, but no courses in American history.  The history department, like its counterparts in Texas, is top-heavy with courses on race, class, and gender, but has nothing to say about the American Founding.  Military history is scant.  The one course that deals with World War II was titled “Women on the Home Front.”  After we drew attention to it, Bowdoin renamed it, “The United States Home Front in World War II.”  It deals with “government documents and propaganda, films, memoirs, fiction, and advertising [and] investigates how the war shaped and reshaped sexuality, family dynamics, and gender roles; race and ethnic relations; labor conflicts; social reform, civil rights, and citizenship; and popular culture.”

The Vanishing West, Recasting History, and What Does Bowdoin Teach? by no means exhaust the subject of what is going wrong in the teaching of American history in college.  We’ve been shining our light on other questionable practices as well.  An increasingly popular idea on campus, for example, is to urge students to think of themselves as “citizens of the world” rather than American citizens.  A new form of “civics education” has emerged that emphasizes multiculturalism and diversity but is stone silent on America’s institutions of self-government, including elections and juries.  And we’ve paid special attention to the adoption in numerous history courses of the book A People’s History of the United States, by the late Marxist agitator, Howard Zinn.  The popularity of Zinn’s book—rife with inaccuracies and invective— is a barometer of the intellectual ill-health of the academy.

And when the academy sneezes, K-12 education gets a cold.

That cold has a name:  The Common Core K-12 State Standards, which will bring to grade schools and high schools much of the disdain for America that is now a settled attitude in the colleges.  But I’ll leave that for another day.

It’s time for my valediction for this essay.  I am concerned that the ideas and commitments that have made America a great nation are eroding away at the base. Freedom, as Ronald Reagan said, “is never more than one generation from extinction.” When we leave the coming generation bereft of any real idea of the American past, we are risking our freedom.  Who will defend something he never met and does not understand?  And, of course, it not merely that we aren’t teaching accurate, comprehensive, and connected American history. Rather, we teaching a kind of anti-history aimed at emphasizing injustices, resentments, divisions, and loyalties to sub-groups.  It’s a toxic combination.

These are matter in which American veterans could play a constructive role.  Those who have sacrificed for their country understand what is at stake better than most. We need their voices now more than ever.  It is no time to fade away.

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Gates is Wrong!

Will Fitzhugh

Will Fitzhugh

By Will Fitzhugh, Publisher of The Concord Review


“The most decisive factor in student achievement is the teacher” Says Mr. Gates….I say the most decisive factor in student academic achievement is student academic work.


It is settled wisdom among Funderpundits and those to whom they give their grants that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality, but I have regularly pointed out that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work.

Now, however, a small number of other dissenting voices have begun to speak. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, in Academically Adrift have suggested that (p. 131) “Studying is crucial for strong academic performance…” and “Scholarship on teaching and learning has burgeoned over the past several decades and has emphasized the importance of shifting attention from faculty teaching to student learning…”

This may seem unacceptably heterodox to those in government and the private sector who have committed billions of dollars to focusing on the selection, training, supervision, and control of K-12 teachers, while giving no thought to whether K-12 students are actually doing the academic work which they are assigned.

In 2004, Paul A. Zoch, a teacher from Texas, wrote in Doomed to Fail:

“Let there be no doubt about it: the United States looks to its teachers and their efforts, but not to its students and their efforts, for success in education.”

More recently, and less on the fringe of this new concern, Diane Ravitch wrote in Death and Life of the Great American School System:

“One problem with test-based accountability, as currently defined and used, is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students’ academic performance. NCLB neglected to acknowledge that students share in the responsibility for their academic performance and that they are not merely passive recipients of their teachers’ influence.”

There are necessarily problems in turning attention toward the work of students in judging the effectiveness of schools. First, all the present attention is on teachers, and it is not easy to turn that around. Second, teachers are employees and can be fired, while students can not. It could not be comfortable for the Funderpundits and their beneficiaries to realize that they may have been overlooking the most important variable in student academic achievement all this time.

In February, when the Associated Press reported that Natalie Monroe, a high school English teacher in Pennsylvania, had called her students, on a blog, “disengaged, lazy whiners,” and “noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS,” the response of the school system was not to look more closely at the academic efforts of the students, but to suspend the teacher. As one of her students explained, “As far as motivated high school students, she’s completely correct. High school kids don’t want to do anything…(but) It’s a teacher’s job…to give students the motivation to learn.” (sic)


It would seem that no matter who points out that “You can lead a student to learning, but you can’t make him drink,” our systems of schools and Funderpundits stick with their wisdom that teachers alone are responsible for student academic achievement.

While that is wrong, it is also stupid. Alfred North Whitehead (or someone else) once wrote:

“For education, a man’s books and teachers are but a help, the real work is his.”

As in the old story about the drunk searching under the lamppost for his keys, those who control funds for education believe that as long as all their money goes to paying attention to what teachers are doing, who they are, how they are trained, and so on, they can’t see the point of looking in the darkness at those who have the complete and ultimate control over how much academic achievement there will be—namely the students.

Apart from scores on math and reading tests after all, student academic work is ignored by all those interested in paying to change the schools. What students do in literature, Latin, chemistry, math, and Asian history classes is of no interest to them. Liberal education is not only on the back burner for those focused on basic skills and job readiness as they define them, but that burner is also turned off at present.

This situation will persist as long as those funding programs and projects for reform in education pay no attention to the actual academic work of our students. And students, who see little or no pressure to be other than “disengaged lazy whiners” will continue to pay the price for their lack of education, both in college and at work, and we will continue to draw behind in comparison with those countries who realize that student academic achievement has always been, and will always be, mainly dependent on diligent student academic work.









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“A Classical Curriculum Produces Strong Math and Science Learning” Principal Benjamin Payne


Benjamin Payne Principal Savannah Classical Academy

Benjamin Payne Principal Savannah Classical Academy


By Bill Korach

Savannah Classical Academy opened in fall of this year using a classical curriculum developed by Hillsdale College. Hillsdale President Larry Arnn was greatly concerned about K-12 public education in American and wished to make a positive impact by encouraging the growth of Classical charter schools serving K-12.

Dr. Larry Arnn was seriously concerned about the deterioration of American public school from their peak of about 80 years ago.  Given Hillsdale’s mission, the development is a natural:

“The College considers itself a trustee of modern man’s intellectual and spiritual inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture, a heritage finding its clearest expression in the American experiment of self-government under law.

By training the young in the liberal arts, Hillsdale College prepares students to become leaders worthy of that legacy. By encouraging the scholarship of its faculty, it contributes to the preservation of that legacy for future generations. By publicly defending that legacy, it enlists the aid of other friends of free civilization and thus secures the conditions of its own survival and independence.”

The Barney Charter School Initiative is a project of Hillsdale College devoted to the education of young Americans. Through this initiative, the College will support the launch of K-12 charter schools. These schools will train the minds and improve the hearts of young people through a rigorous, classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.

The Classical charter school movement can claim significant success in education across the board and in all subject areas. Ridgeview Charter School in Ft. Collins Colorado is ranked second in the state my U.S. News and World Report. Great Hearts, a Charter Management Organization headquartered in Phoenix, out scores all other schools in Arizona, public or private in SAT results. 95% of Great Hearts students go on to attend 4-year colleges.

Classical Charter supporters believe that a classical education with its emphasis on the Liberal Arts and a western curriculum encourage students to think. For this reason, Classical charter students tend to perform well on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) tests and in STEM courses. STEM is very much encouraged by the business and education community because American students rank in the bottom 1/3 of developed nations in math and science.

The Report Card interviewed Savannah Classical Academy Principal Benjamin Payne who himself majored in engineering at the University of Virginia and eared an MA in architecture at the University of North Carolina. Mr. Payne was a practicing architect in Louisville and his office was located next to Highland Latin a private school. He was asked to teach calculus at Highland and was later asked to teach math and social studies at West End, a private college preparatory school for at risk young men. Mr. Payne said that he found his calling teaching and soon became the virtual principal of the school. He responded to a call to interview at Savannah Classical Academy: “I believe that liberal arts is critical for language and understanding. The Savannah Classical Academy planned strong liberal arts curriculum and I was impressed by the school and the opportunity.”

Savannah opened as a K-6 school with plans to become K-12 within a few years.

Mr. Payne and his family relocated to Savannah. Although Mr. Payne has a math and engineering background, be believes that liberal arts particularly history have much to offer: “History offers wonderful virtuous role models in a culture that is moving away from substance and is overly concerned about accommodating every trendy notion.”

He believes in the individuality of each child, but: “I think each child should be held to the same standards and hold to durable truth. Although our school currently has 75% black and 25 % white enrollment, all are held to the same standard. We agree with Dr. Mortimer Adler who said that the best education for the best is the best education for all.”

Mr. Payne, who is white, says that black and white families are want their children in Savannah Classical Academy because they want the best education for their kids. Some of the white students come from well-to-do families who want the best for their children.

We asked Mr. Payne why he with a math and engineering background, believes that a Classical Liberal Arts education also can provide good results in STEM. “I believe that great ideas and inventions come from a strong understanding of our environment. In order to have this understanding, strong written and spoken language skills must be taught. We do just that at Savannah Classical Academy.”

Mr. Payne believes that excessive use of technology today can inhibit learning, communication, and social skills. As a result, students may not bring i phones or tablets to school. Computers are reserved for research labs. Cursive and book reading are encouraged.

Mr. Payne said a parent told him: “Savannah is a small town and people will know if you are doing the right thing.” Mr. Payne says that it is too soon to have metrics for students since Savannah Classical Academy is on 26 weeks old, but “we have 464 applications for 64 openings next fall. If you have the right people who care, patience and structure for students, you have a good formula for success.”

For more information about Savannah Classical Academy:



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What the Common Core Will Do to Colleges

Peter Wood President of The National Association of Scholars

Peter Wood President of The National Association of Scholars


(Editor: Peter Wood is President of The National Association of Scholars and was a guest speaker at The Report Card’s “Dare to Think” Conference on K-12 History)

By Peter Wood

Despite all the hype, changes in the SAT, announced on March 5 by the College Board, are really just an adjustment to the on-going decline in the nation’s public schools–a smaller vocabulary, less advanced math, no penalty for bad guessing. The new SAT is simply an outgrowth of, and accommodation to, the Common Core–the controversial K-12 curriculum being implemented in states that accept it that has the potential to reinforce the lowering of standards on college campuses.

The Common Core K-12 State Standards amount to an assault on the college curriculum. That’s because colleges will have to adapt to what the Common Core teaches–and what it fails to teach. It teaches a mechanical way of reading that is poorly suited to literature, philosophy, history, and the rest of the liberal arts.  It also fails to teach the math students need to begin a college-level curriculum in the sciences.  


The Common Core has aroused a broad-based and sometimes furious reaction among Americans across the political spectrum. The furor, however, isn’t yet focused on what the Common Core does to a college education. Rather, the complaints focus on the immediate harm to students and to schools. The arguments against Common Core have proliferated almost beyond counting, but the short version is something like this: 

The Race to the Middle.  The Common Core promises higher academic standards in the nation’s schools.  In some cases it will deliver on that promise, but in other cases, the Common Core actually lowers standards.  The whole thing is an experiment in social leveling.

Goodbye Local Control.  The Common Core transfers a lot of power over the nation’s schools from local districts and state governments to the federal government.  The transfer is deceptive and probably illegal. The deception comes from the Common Core being sold as “voluntarily” adopted by the states. The illegality comes from statutory law that prohibits the federal government’s involvement in creating school curricula.

Big Brother. The Common Core is designed to collect and aggregate an immense amount of data on individual students’ academic performance. Critics worry that this will eventuate in detailed federal files on everyone who attends school. 

Other objections focus on the Common Core’s utilitarian goals.  Common Core emphasizes ”informational texts” at the expense of literature, promotes out-of-context reading, and significantly lowers expectations for students in math. The Common Core is designed to expedite the way students work, and it minimizes just about everything else schools might be expected to do, such as develop creativity, foster a fullness of mind, and strengthen character.

Common Core was sold to the states as a way to make students “college ready.”  The sales pitch was that our nation’s schools do a mediocre to poor job prepping students for the next leg of the journey to adulthood—the leg that will take them through Chem 101, English Lit, or whatever college “first years” now take. 

Like all good sales pitches, this one was grounded in truth. Our schools don’t do an especially good job at preparing students for college.  As anyone (including me) who has taught freshmen at a “selective” college or university can attest, a great many students arrive at college with no capacity to write a short essay.  Many cannot reliably compose even a grammatical sentence.  Their knowledge of history and literature is generally many steps below what students twenty years ago brought with them, and twenty years ago was a big step down from twenty years before that. Preparation in mathematics and basic science has plummeted even further. 

That said, each semester a handful of students would turn out to be capable and disciplined writers who were pretty well-informed on the things we college teachers used to be able to take for granted.  Some are from elite academies or exceptional public schools.  But a growing number are homeschooled. 

So when Common Core’s proponents announced that they were serious about remaking our public schools into places where students would graduate “college ready,” the American public was primed to say, “It’s about time.”

Ready or Not

But a good sales pitch isn’t the same as a good product.  As we have gotten to see the Common Core up close, it looks less and less likely to yield “college ready students” in the way we hoped. 

The Common Core will in all likelihood improve education for some students.  How many, what percentage, where, at what cost, and with what drawbacks?  The whole thing has been rushed into place so quickly that no one really knows. But a few things have become clear:

Locking In Mediocrity.  The Obama administration’s way of fast-tracking the Common Core through state approval was the $4.35 billion “Race to the Top.” To qualify to get into the competition for these funds, states had to agree in advance that students who complete a Common Core curriculum would be admitted to public colleges and universities as full-fledged students. Such students will be exempt from having to take remedial courses because, after all, the state has pre-certified them as “college ready.”  What part of “college ready” do those professors not understand?  If the students aren’t “ready” to write college essays, so much the worse for college essays. 

I doubt that the bureaucrats and state legislators who approved this stipulation gave a moment’s thought to what this arrangement really means. Thanks to various “preference” programs in college admissions—for racial minorities principally but also for athletes and other “special interests”—colleges admit many students who are mismatched to the prevailing level of academic rigor. The usual recourse for these students has been an effort to repair the gaps in their learning through remedial courses, which are usually non-credit courses, i.e. they don’t count towards graduation. They are on-ramps for students who are not yet ready for freshman courses. 

The Common Core, in a stroke, abolishes this option. If a college admits students who are mismatched, it will have no choice but to mainstream those students into regular courses. 

Colleges could decide not to admit such students at all or admit them and watch them fail. But given higher education’s steely commitment to using college admissions to advance its ideas of “social justice,” most colleges will simply lower academic standards across the board.  Note that this cannot stop with freshman year.  Once a college injects “underprepared” (i.e. incompetent) students into mainstream introductory courses and adjusts those courses to avoid embarrassingly high failure rates, the consequences will propagate through all the subsequent courses. 

Subterfuges will necessarily evolve.  Colleges will create or expand “honors” programs for students who meet what were formerly the basic standards.  Remedial courses will be relabeled as regular courses, even though everyone will know they are remedial. Untalented students will be shunted even more than they are now to soft majors in fields such as African-American studies, sociology, and women’s studies. 

But such subterfuges will be targets for severe criticism by the academic left on the grounds that they discriminate. The emergence too conspicuously of a two-tier system would be denounced as racist, classist, anti-immigrant, and so on. The only viable choice for most colleges and universities will be to dilute the curriculum.  The Common Core is thus set to become a bulldozer aimed at leveling what remains of intellectual excellence in American higher education.

Remedial courses, I might add, have themselves become a blight in American higher education, but that’s a topic for another day. 

Locking Out Liberal Learning.  The Common Core emphasizes how to glean information from the written word—and other media as well. The catchphrase that the Common Core uses for the written words that students will mine for information is “informational texts.”  Think of the recipe on the back of the soup can for turning soup into a tasty casserole. But not all “informational texts” present themselves as instructions. “Information” can be gleaned from all sorts of texts, including picture books, novels, poems, YouTube videos, works of history, and speeches by notables such as Abraham Lincoln. 

The trouble is that if you see the written word as mainly a device for conveying information, you miss many other things that writing can do. It stirs emotions; it points to truths beyond itself; alternatively, it conveys lies; it may possess beauty or it may be ugly; it can cause us to ask questions that the text itself does not ask; it possesses implications; it belongs to and participates in a larger context; it taps into secret memories; it rallies us to public causes. 

The Common Core slights all of these purposes.  That is not to say it ignores them entirely. It gives some small space to mythology and literature—a space that retracts year by year as students progress through the Common Core. 

Why should this matter?  We should surely want students to be able to read recipes on soup cans and to extract important information from “texts.”  That’s a useful skill.  But it is a skill that, cultivated at the expense of a more well-rounded form of literacy, cuts students off from the foundation of a liberal education. Students who know how to read “informational texts,” and to read every piece of writing as though it is an “informational text,” are ill-prepared for Plato’s Republic or Shakespeare’s King Lear. Indeed, they are ill-prepared for Goodnight Moon

This gap between how the Common Core teaches students to read and the kind of reading required in a liberal education is especially worrisome at a time when colleges have to a great extent abandoned their old core curricula.  Students these days are lulled with the illusion that they can become “critical thinkers” by studying whatever catches their interest, rather than what their colleges have deemed the most important works. That whole do-it-yourself approach puts a premium on the capacity of college students to read with their eyes wide open and to get to places well beyond the “information” that a “text” lays out. 

With the Common Core, we will have the worst of both worlds: students who come equipped to read mainly for information and college curricula designed for students equipped mainly for independent intellectual synthesis. 

Watering Down Math.  Common Core defers the teaching of algebra to the 9th grade.  As a consequence, it will be difficult for schools to offer pre-calculus to students before they finish high school. There simply isn’t enough time left in the curriculum to reach that level, and the Common Core poses other obstacles as well. Trigonometry is barely broached. Geometry follows an eccentric path. The result is that students who go to college hoping to study the physical sciences, computing, engineering, economics, and other math-heavy fields will be handicapped.  Or they will have to scramble before they get to college to supplement what their high schools offer. 

Some students will find their ways around these obstacles, but many won’t, and that will leave colleges and universities with few good choices.  The likeliest path will be to reduce the rigor of their science programs to accommodate students who have to spend their first year catching up on mathematics that used to be taught in high school. 

Everybody acknowledges how important the STEM fields are for America’s future—and few are more vocal about this than Bill Gates. One of the ironies of the Common Core is that its most lavish-spending advocate is contributing to the further erosion of our nation’s strength in this area.  Perhaps it is no wonder that Mr. Gates is also a major supporter of increasing the number of H-1B visas for foreign nationals who have expertise in science and engineering. 

 What Else?The Common Core will not make an appreciable number of students more “college ready.” It may smooth the way, however, for more students to be admitted to college. President Obama and Michelle Obama have recently ratcheted up the campaign that Obama announced back in his first address to Congress in February 2009—to make America the nation with the highest percentage of college graduates. The pitch that “everyone should go to college” has been a favorite of American politicians for a long time. It is, on its face, silly. To achieve anything like it would require obliterating academic standards and wasting untold trillions of dollars. But the phrase somehow strokes the national ego.

The Common Core feeds this fantasy and the illusions buried within, namely, that a college degree is a ticket to personal prosperity and that having lots of people who have college degrees necessarily makes the nation more competitive in the global economy. 

For reference: the nation that currently has the greatest percentage of college degrees in its population is that economic powerhouse, Russia. Moreover, the nation with the strongest economy in Europe—Germany—has about half the percentage of college-degreed people as the United States does. 

So the effort to grease the skids from public school to college is founded on a mistake.  But it is a mistake that Americans somehow cherish and won’t easily relinquish.  We would go a lot further towards both a greater degree of personal prosperity and national competitiveness if we really did improve K-12 education—not with the idea of making our schools operate better as conveyor belts to our languishing higher education institutions, but with the idea of fostering a true spirit of educational achievement among students, parents, and teachers. I know.  Easier said than done. 

The task at hand, however, is to stop the Common Core before it can inflict more harm.  The battle will probably be waged over the issues I listed earlier—the race to the middle, goodbye local control, big brother—during the races for public office in which the Common Core becomes an issue.  But the Common Core is also an assault on higher education and as that becomes clear perhaps the strange coalition of opponents will grow stranger still.  I await the rallies where Tea Party activists unite in uncommon cause with English and History professors.

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Legislation to Safeguard Local Control of Textbooks
 Passes Senate Committee on Education


Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla, FL)

Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla, FL)


(Editor: This legislation will reverse the effects of SB 2120 that left textbook approval in the hands of “experts.” Voters particularly those concerned with education should thank Senator Alan Hays R-Umatilla)


Tallahassee–The Florida Senate Committee on Education, chaired by Senator John Legg (R-Lutz), today passed Senate Bill 864, Instructional Materials for K-12 Public Education. Sponsored by Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla), SB 864 provides that the district school board has the constitutional duty and responsibility to select and provide adequate instructional materials for all students.

“As a former school board member, superintendent, and most importantly a parent of two children who received their primary school education in Northwest Florida public schools, I know firsthand that textbooks and other instructional materials should be subject to review by local parents, teachers and district personnel,” said Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville). “This legislation eliminates any suggestion of federal intrusion and affirms local control of a local responsibility.”

Senate Bill 864 affirms local control of instructional materials by repealing the statewide instructional materials review and adoption process and requiring a district school board or consortium of school districts to implement an instructional materials program. The legislation requires the local district school board, rather than the statewide commissioner of education, to conduct an independent investigation to determine the accuracy of district-adopted instructional materials.


Senate Bill 864 also requires public notice of instructional materials adoption, the opportunity for public review and comment, and appointment of a district instructional materials review committee. The committee must contain: (1) a least one person who is not employed by the district; (2) a number of classroom teachers equal to the number of district school board members and representative of the subject areas and grade levels of the instructional materials being considered for adoption; (3) at least one parent of a student who is currently enrolled in a public school in the district. District instructional materials review committees are permitted to combine with other district committees, which may reduce costs associated with the review and adoption of instructional materials for smaller school districts.


For more information, please visit


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Digital Learning Hype: The Case for Books

Paul Horton History Instructor The University of Chicago High School

Paul Horton History Instructor The University of Chicago High School

By Paul Horton

(Editor: Paul Horton, history instructor at the University of Chicago Laboratory High School writes an article on a talk that he gave at The Report Card’s “Dare to Think” Conference on History).

“The purpose of the storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”

Brandon Sanderson

In the Corporate Common Core’s rush to create a snippet curriculum that separates reading comprehension from the acquisition of knowledge, book lovers are panicking all over the world.

Textbook publishers, the sworn enemy of book lovers everywhere, are doing everything they can to collaborate on the new book burning: the digitization of all books. Pearson Education, the new Grand Inquisitor/Savonarola, has worked very hard to corner this market with help from Microsoft, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, many Governors past and present, and many Broad Foundation Superintendents.

Many innocent superintendents and schools boards are streaming/screaming the siren song of a Gates/Pearson seduction without being tied to the next available mast. The result is a Dionysian love fest that makes many of us aching to hurl.

They seem to be intoxicated with a “Jetson’s” idea of the future where people are happy and technology solves all human problems.

I can remember a boss eight years ago waxing poetic about digital classrooms and an all-digital library ASAP. Before we knew it, we were a “one on one” school with a big Apple lease and a very temporary “marketing edge.” There was not much discussion with the faculty about whether this would be the best path to take, but the assistant director had been a manager at Circuit City, so we got plugged in, ready or not.

Books on tablets, after all, are cheaper, they are not cumbersome, they don’t harm backs, and they create a huge “buzz,” sending the message that “we” are a “school of the future.”

It is very difficult to understand why so many under and well-funded districts are leaping into the moneypit of tablets filled with Pearson Common Core products when the results of “one-on-one” laptop programs are so mixed.

We all know about the Los Angeles fiasco with the purchase of tablets loaded with Pearson Common Core materials that is driving the district toward bankruptcy.

A study cited on the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development website from “Teaching Screenagers” predictably concludes that, “Rather than being a cure-all or silver bullet, one-to-one laptop programs may simply amplify what’s already occurring–for better or worse–in classrooms, schools, and districts.”

A far more comprehensive review of the literature on “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) programs by Valdemar W. Setzer provides a very thorough critique of the issues associated with OPLC and its most recent incarnation, tablet learning. Here is a partial list of issues that he groups under the heading “Degrading the human being”:

  • Induction of an admiration for machines
  • Induction of ideas that machines are more perfect than humans
  • Induction of materialist view of the world
  • Damaging sociability
  • Induction of the impulses of doing everything rapidly and many things at the same time
  • Damaging the capacities of mental concentration
  • Induction of a reductionist view of the world
  • Damaging creativity
  • Damaging memory


Induction of the view that learning is the same as playing The author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other,  Sherry Turkle agrees with Setzer. A professor at MIT, Turkle argues in a soon to be published book that we are losing the art of conversation due to our overreliance on digital communication: ”

The conclusion she’s arrived at while researching her new book is not technically, that we’re not talking to each other. We’re talking all of the time, in person as well as in texts, in e-mails, over the phone, on Facebook and Twitter. The world is more talkative now, in many ways, than it’s ever been. The problem, Turkle argues, is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We are talking at each other rather than with each other.

The implications of Turkle’s ideas are troubling.  My students tell me they are on and off Facebook and YouTube nonstop, often in the middle of homework. Many, if not most, have sacrificed reading books to digital media. Attention span, and impatience with listening seem to be on the rise. If understanding or information cannot be located pronto, anger loads very quickly. The one thing that is guaranteed to get kids hopping mad is a slow or interrupted load. I would not be surprised if we see reading levels plateauing and closely correlating to increasing digital viewing. My colleagues in public and private schools have noticed an alarming decline in social skills in general, and an alarming inability to concentrate and focus in particular. Many of my colleagues agree that this has nothing to do with ADHD. They think it has more to do with not reading closely and dominance of visual scanning of computer screens to find information.

My advisees (who are not taking any of my classes) tell me that students who have laptops and tablets open and claim to be taking notes are fibbing. They say that 99% of these students are somewhere on line, most likely on Facebook.

The idea of blocking social media is naïve at best. Kids everywhere and in all social classes are excellent hackers. It took the Los Angeles kids two days to hack out of the blocks. When I mentioned the Los Angeles situation to our kids, they said they had friends who could get through in fifteen minutes.

There is a growing body of evidence to indicate that reading books, not textbooks or screens, is the only way to go. According to a recent article published in Scientific American, students who read on digital screens do not remember and cannot actively process ideas. It turns out that memory requires a narrative, context, and the framing of a printed page and turning a printed page.

Nichols G. Carr in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains really drives home this point:”[Patricia Greenfield] concluded that “every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others.” Our growing use of the Net and other screen-based technologies has led to the “widespread and sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills.” We can, for example, rotate objects in our minds better than we used to be able to. But our “new strengths in visual-spatial intelligence” go hand in hand with a weakening of our capacities for the kind of “deep processing” that underpins “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”

We need to reexamine the very issue of computer and screen based learning and instruction. Clearly technology is a tool, but it is not a solution. The Common Core Curriculum packages that are built into software and hardware packages like LA’s are not cost effective for most school districts. Even if economies of scale were to drive the cost of these packages down, the costs of maintenance and replacement are prohibitive. If money is typically diverted from building maintenance, wraparound services, P.E., the Arts and Humanities, and teacher and staff salaries to pay for these packages, we must ask ourselves whether they are worth such a high price.

When parents are given the opportunity to do their own cost/benefit analysis, they tend to embrace small-scale experiments before they scale up.  The problem is that states and districts have signed memoranda of understanding under Race to the Top that commit to standardized testing that is computer driven. They had no idea of how much funding this would require when they signed on. Now districts are forced to choose between technology and people to adhere to Race to the Top. This is clearly a devil’s bargain–a bargain that was made to profit Pearson, Microsoft, Amplify, K-12, and whichever vendors can hang in with these corporate behemoths. Parents of students in cities where school boards are not elected are given no choice.


To paraphrase Emerson, “the machine is in the saddle and is driving mankind.”

It would clearly be more cost effective to scale up the production of cheap books like Dover editions than to scale up Apple or Microsoft tablets loaded with Pearson Common Core materials. It would be cheaper to make sure that every three year old learned to love reading. Rather than putting all of the mandated billions into the hands of companies that are driven to expand market share rather than to connect in any meaningful way with kids, we need to pause.

As usual, the Dalai Lama cheerfully gets things right: “Technology is good. It’s when we let it control us that it becomes bad. Technology does not produce compassion. The Dalai Lama does not own a smart phone, nor does he watch much TV….

I am all for cheap books and kids and young adults reading books as a way to learn to read, learn to love learning, and absorb knowledge. We need to encourage more book reading and less digital scanning and viewing.

We live in a scary time and the words of Alberto Manguel (A History of Reading) are prescient:

Demotic regimes demand that we forget, and therefore they brand books as superfluous luxuries; totalitarian regimes demand that we not think, and therefore they ban threaten and censor; both, by and large, require that we become stupid and that we accept our degradation meekly, and therefore they encourage the consumption of pap. In such circumstances, readers cannot help but be subversive.

Books are becoming “superfluous luxuries.” Technology is not learning. And compassion cannot be digitally transmitted.

What do you think? Is a digitized curriculum going to mean the end of the book? What will be lost if this trend continues? 

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Florida School History Fair: A Race Class Gender Perspective



By Bill Korach

This week, the St. John County School District held their annual National Day of History Fair, and I was asked to be a judge. The theme of this year’s National History Day was “Rights and Responsibilities.” The student volunteers, who were mostly between the ages of 11-15, were given broad latitude on topic selection. But according to Travis Brown, fair coordinator and social studies specialist, topic selection was up to the teachers, but many teachers left it to the students to select a topic. I found the majority of submissions to be focused on race, class and gender topics. Race, class gender history according to the National association of Scholars, is the vogue at most universities today. As a result, high schools across the county are now looking at history through the perspective of victimhood. In this worldview, America has very few virtues, but is taken with racism, bigotry and oppression.

Students has the option of writing a paper, creating a website or building a display, and clearly they put some effort into it. Of the 13 papers, 21 websites and 10 exhibits I was asked to judge at least 90% were focused on topics like racial discrimination, animal rights, feminism, gay/lesbian rights, discrimination against Muslims after 9/11, and the right to teach evolution vs. creationism. In addition, many of the papers had come to a conclusion first, and did research to support their views later. For example, the paper on creationism vs. evolution stated that evolution was a proven theory developed by scientists, but creationism was offered up by “Bible thumpers.” Why did the teacher allow such an inappropriate turn of phrase? The paper on 9/11 Rights and Responsibilities stated “Many Americans believe the American response to 9/11 was overly aggressive and caused discrimination against Muslims.” However, there was no discussion about how Muslim terrorists murdered 3000 innocent civilians. There was no discussion about how Muslims can live in peace in America, but Jews and Christians in the Muslim world are persecuted and murdered.

Business and free enterprise suffer as well. A website on the Economic Rights and Responsibilities of consumers and business tars business as greedy and underhanded in causing pain to consumers, but offers no discussion of the free market economy. Similarly, Sea World is shown to be cruel and indifferent to the well being of the whales on display.

Strangely, a website that discussed WWII soldiers, made no value judgment on Nazism, the Holocaust or Japanese aggression in Asia. The website authors confined themselves to saying something nice about the German and Japanese soldiers. The American Army on the other hand “thought it should be segregated.” This site also contained some truly egregious factual and grammatical errors: “The army deemed the African-American soldiers to be in the front lines.” Deemed is used improperly and African American soldiers were not permitted in the front lines. Why did the teacher catch and cause these mistakes to be corrected? Why did the teacher allow the Nazi and Japanese soldiers to be portrayed in a better light than the American soldier?

One paper reflected a clear opinion of how Communism affects the rights of the people, but it made the erroneous statement that “The Soviet Union is one of the remaining Communist powers in the world today.” But The Soviet Union ceased to exist 20 years ago, and Russia is no longer officially Communist. Again, where was the teacher? How can students learn unless they are given correction?

A Pro-Planned Parenthood display that also praised the founder Margaret Sanger, failed to mention that Sanger was an early supporter of the Nazi Party and lived in Nazi Germany for several years in the 1930’s. Sanger founded Planned Parenthood’s because she believed in eugenics, and that the growing population of Jews, Italians and blacks should be reduced.

In fairness, there were some truly excellent submissions. A paper on the rights and responsibilities of tobacco companies took the novel approach of supporting the First Amendment right of tobacco companies to advertise on television. A paper discussed the moral dilemma of Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele who used his medical skills to torture and maim concentration camp prisoners. A thoughtful display on Stem Cell research compared the very real medical benefits to the very real moral dilemma. The author presented the topic through thorough research and clear analysis.

The students would have been better served by deeper teacher involvement, criticism and correction. While they were at it, the teachers might have taught the students some of America’s virtues like freedom of religion and individual liberty. Next year, hopefully the Fair will be fairer.







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Common Core Standards: Do You Get This?


By Bill Korach

Google shows 55 Million search results for Common Core. So clearly a great deal has been written about the standards, but many Report Card readers have asked about the standards themselves. Are they clear and easy to understand? Why are so many students and their families so upset about their experience with Common Core standards? Perhaps because the standards are not so clear, logical or even comprehensible. The Report Card has gone the Common Core website and selected a few examples.

Notice the focus on technique/skills, but where are the knowledge learning requirements? Where is the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Revolution or the Civil War? Where is one taught to form judgment on any of these topics or are they value free?

Social Studies/ History Language Arts Grade 6-8

Craft and Structure

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.5 Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally).

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).


Social Studies/ History language Arts Grade 9-10

Craft and Structure

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.5 Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

Reading skills Grade 6-8


What is “scaffolding?”


Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.10 By the end of the year read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 6–8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

Math Skills: Arithmetic for 4th Graders

There was a time when we learning adding and subtracting by using tables. The approach listed here requires show multiple steps for each problem. Does this make sense to you? Because it makes no sense to many students or teachers either.

Use place value understanding and properties of operations to perform multi-digit arithmetic.

  • CCSS.Math.Content.4.NBT.B.4 Fluently add and subtract multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.
  • CCSS.Math.Content.4.NBT.B.5 Multiply a whole number of up to four digits by a one-digit whole number, and multiply two two-digit numbers, using strategies based on place value and the properties of operations. Illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models.

CCSS.Math.Content.4.NBT.B.6 Find whole-number quotients and remainders with up to four-digit dividends and one-digit divisors, using strategies based on place value, the properties of operations, and/or the relationship between multiplication and division. Illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models.


Dr. Terrence Moore in his book “Storykillers” says Common Core language arts are taught at the expense of great literature. The Pioneer Institute and the Heartland institute say Common Core math is not only unproven, but does not prepare students for math at colleges and universities. 

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