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TX Board of Ed Member: “This is Our Valley Forge, Our D-day”

Ken Mercer Texas State Board of Education

Ken Mercer Texas State Board of Education

by Ken Mercer

(Editor:   Ken Mercer is a member of the Texas Board of Education and a former member of the Texas House of Representatives. Mr. Mercer has been a strong voice for K-12 curricula containing traditional American History and Civics. Although Texas is not a Common Core state, Mr. Mercer points out the danger of having Common Core author David Coleman as head of the College Board. In this article written for The Report Card, Mr. Mercer comments on the new anti-American College Board Advanced Placement U.S. History Framework).

On July 4th we witnessed nationwide patriotism honoring our Founding Fathers and the sacrifices of our courageous men and women in uniform. This must have annoyed David Coleman, the chief architect of the controversial Common Core national standards, and many of his College Board (CB) colleagues.

After drafting the Common Core English language arts standards, Coleman became president of the CB. He immediately moved to implement his Common Core standards into the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT).

Then it was announced – the 34 Advanced Placement (AP) courses that high school students take for college credit – will be aligned with Common Core.

While we celebrate Independence Day, the CB ( is rolling out its new AP U.S. History (APUSH) course. This fall over 450,000 high school sophomores and juniors, including at least 46,000 from Texas, will enroll in APUSH. This will be their last high school course ever in United States history.

The College Board has traditionally provided APUSH teachers with a detailed 5-page Topical Outline that presents a reasonably balanced view of American history. In practice the APUSH course has always supported the history standards passed by your state’s legislature.

This fall APUSH teachers must ignore state standards and teach the CB’s new 98-page “Framework” that defines “the required knowledge of each period.”

While claiming “flexibility” for educators to study other events and persons required by state curriculum guides, the CB website clearly states that “all questions [on the AP exam] are derived from the course’s stated learning objectives.” In other words, teachers don’t waste your time — we (CB) decide what is important in U.S. history.

This means that Coleman and his unelected College Board become the de facto legislature and board of education for each state.


How bad is the new AP U.S. History Framework? Here are a few key items verified with Larry Krieger (retired teacher and author recognized by the CB as one of the best AP teachers in 2004 and 2005) and Jane Robbins (Senior Fellow at the American Principles Project):

  • In the period of the American Revolution up to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, almost every Founding Father is omitted – no Jefferson, Adams, Madison, or Franklin. The Framework excludes Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, Saratoga, and Yorktown. The commanders and heroes of these pivotal battles are all omitted.
  • The lessons on the Civil War omit the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the Gettysburg Address, and the assassination of President Lincoln. The Framework once again omits crucial battles, key commanders, and the valor of common soldiers.
  • The lessons on World War II omit “The Greatest Generation,” Truman, Hitler, D-Day, Midway, the Battle of the Bulge, and every military commander including Dwight Eisenhower. Inexplicably, Nazi atrocities against Jews and other groups are not required. The CB concludes its treatment of WWII with this blunt statement: “The decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values.”
  • The lessons on the Civil Rights Movement do not mention America’s first African-American President. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, the Navajo Code Talkers, Tuskegee Airmen, 442nd Infantry Regiment, and Barbara Jordan’s famous speech on the Constitution are all omitted.

A word search of the entire 98-page document will not find one military commander or one Medal of Honor recipient. Our best and brightest students will thus learn nothing of the heroism and sacrifices of Americans in uniform.

The CB instead presents an overwhelmingly negative viewpoint of U.S. history that will only please America-haters such as former Illinois professor Bill Ayers.

This unelected body is rewriting United States history and promoting among our students a disdain for American principles and a lack of knowledge of major American achievements.

History is a dramatic story which, if taught well, allows students to study both the good and bad of America. The new APUSH Framework purposely stresses the negative while dismissing America’s positive contributions.

If we do nothing, this radical AP U.S. History course will enter our high schools this fall.

Join me in the “Revolution of 2014” by demanding that Members of your House and Senate and State Board of Education immediately rebuke and reject. Rebuke the College Board for promoting an unbalanced, far-left agenda. Reject the new 2014 APUSH Framework and Exam.

Educators can continue with the previous APUSH course and exam until Congress investigates and demands a new course built by professors who understand balance, honor our military heroes, and love America.

For today’s patriots, this is our Valley Forge and our D-Day – this is the Revolution of 2014!


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New Advanced Placement U.S. History: “A Consistently Negative View of Nation’s Past”

Mary Grabar, Ph.D U. S. History

Mary Grabar, Ph.D.

(Editor: Mary Grabar writing in “Heartlander Magazine” provides a critique of the College Board’s AP U.S. History Framework. The Report Card published a series of articles in January about the now notorious AP History Framework where nothing good is ever uttered about America. The College Board is now managed by David Coleman, author of Common Core, so it is clear to see the tack Coleman and Common Core are taking on their negative view of America’s heritage).

College Board dictates for the new Advanced Placement U.S. History exam have already garnered criticism. Jane Robbins and Larry Krieger charged that the new course of study “inculcates a consistently negative view of the nation’s past.” Units on colonial America stress “the development of a ‘rigid racial hierarchy’ and a ‘strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority.’” At the same time, the new Framework “ignores the United States’ founding principles and their influence in inspiring the spread of democracy and galvanizing the movement to abolish slavery.”

Advanced Placement (AP) teachers, of course, will need retraining for this; accordingly, Summer Institutes are being held across the country. I got a look at how teachers are pitched the new program at a session titled “Boundaries of Freedom: Teaching the Construction of Race and Slavery in the AP U.S. History Course” at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), “the largest professional society dedicated to the teaching and study of American history,” in Atlanta this month. Identity politics and the assumption that conservatism is evil and backwards infused the conference. The AP session fit right into this year’s theme, “Crossing Borders,” highlighting the evils of the United States, in its past with slavery and segregation, and in its present in regards to “immigrants” (illegal aliens).


One of the AP panelists, Lawrence Charap, of the College Board, said that although there was no direct “coordination,” Common Core’s approach is being implemented in the AP and SAT exams by his boss, David Coleman, Common Core’s  architect and the new president of the College Board, which produces the AP and SAT exams. The new approach includes using the scholarly papers that one would find at this conference.

No More Facts, Ma’am
He told  high school teachers the new exams eliminate unnecessary memorization of facts and replace them with “historical thinking skills.” As examples of such irrelevant “facts,” Charap referred to Millard Fillmore and the Lend-Lease program.

The revisions to the exam began in 2006, at the request of college professors who said AP history tried to jam a college survey course, “a mile wide and an inch deep,” into a high school class, according to Charap. So the course has been redesigned to focus on skills, where students go in-depth and ask questions in an engaging way—traits AP shares with Common Core and the SAT. Accordingly, multiple-choice questions count for less of the score and have been reduced from 80 to 55, which Charap would like to reduce even further.

So what will replace facts about the thirteenth president or a controversial wartime program? Students will be tested for “skills,” in relating secondary (scholarly) sources back to the primary (historical) sources.

Dramatic Re-enactments
Such an exercise may sound good. But as I found out, it is a means by which teachers can impose their ideological views on students who do not yet have a foundation in history. The exercises showed that historically significant facts would be replaced with emotional exercises focused disproportionately on negative parts of American history. Two members of the AP development committee, UC-Irvine professor Jessica Millward and high school teacher James Sabathne, demonstrated how.


Millward said she brings her research on female slaves and their children in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland into the classroom. She claimed her students use “critical thinking skills” and focus on concepts, like “freedom” and “bondage.” Millward also recognizes students don’t do the assigned reading, so she breaks them into groups and has them read assignments on the spot. The exercises include a visual timeline and scenarios in which students imagine a way to “resist and rebel” against, for example, the whipping of a six-month pregnant slave face down, her belly in a hole (to protect the future “property”). Millward then play-acts the slave owner. She praised the new “interactive exam” for allowing the freedom to recreate such experiences. She offered a list of online resources, such as the University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South, the African American Mosaic, and Depression-era Works Progress Administration interviews at the Library of Congress, as well as secondary sources, including her article, “‘That All Her Increase Shall Be Free’: Enslaved Women’s Bodies and the 1809 Maryland Law of Manumission” in Women’s History Review. No one can deny her contention that slavery involves “heartbreak,” but she seems intent on exploiting it.

After one teacher in the audience noted that the U.S.’s share of slave trade was only 5 percent, the panelists suggested that that fact and the one that some blacks owned slaves should be downplayed to students. Clearly, the aim is to give high school students a limited, emotional perspective of white-on-black racism, instead of the larger historical one.

Racist White People
The next panelist, James Sabanthe, who teaches at Hononegah High School in Rockton, Illinois, heralded the new focus on “historical interpretations.” It became apparent from his, Millward’s and other teachers’ comments that although high school students are treated as adults who “think like historians,” they do not do the reading that real historians do. Because students do not read all 20 to 30 pages of a typical scholarly article, Sabanthe distributes excerpts among groups of students. As an example of an exercise, students would be asked to use their “historical thinking skills” to demonstrate change while comparing revolutions in France, Russia, and China, a conversation launched by asking students about prior knowledge of labor systems, Indians, servants, and racism.

For the unit on slavery, Sabanthe provided hand-outs, with sample readings. Half of his groups would tackle excerpts from Edmund S. Morgan’s “Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox,” in The Journal of American History (June 1972), and Kathleen M. Brown’s Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, & Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (1996). The other half would read excerpts from Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (1998) by Ira Berlin, former president of OAH, and How Race Survived US History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon (2008) by David Roediger, who writes from a Marxist perspective. These groups would make “t charts” and Venn diagrams, and discuss similarities and differences between the excerpts.

But upon reading Sabanthe’s hand-out, it became clear the excerpts do not stand alone. Sometime surnames pop up, with prior references obviously in an omitted section. His assignment, to annotate the primary document, “’Decisions of the General Court’ regarding William Pierce’s Plantation, Virginia, 1640,” and relate it to Brown’s feminist tract, is bewildering. Students would need considerable direction. Instead of the full narrative of a textbook, history book, or full article that they could digest for themselves, students turn to their teacher for direction. Of course, this leaves wide open opportunities.

Trauma—From Whom?
This activity, according to the hand-out, fulfilled AP U.S. History Curriculum Framework, 2014, “Key Concepts,” pages 35-39, which focused on the especially racist qualities of the British system, for example: “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” and “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. . . . .”

With all the attention on abuses of slavery, it’s no wonder that one of the teachers, who teaches in an Orthodox Jewish school, wondered how she should handle the only black student in her class. In response, Millward acknowledged that these topics bring up anger and white guilt. “I believe in educational affirmative action,” she said and suggested removing the black student from the class discussion to avoid “trauma.”

Quite obviously, the “trauma” is a problem of the teachers’ own making—now to be reinforced by the College Board.

The new AP exams, like Common Core, presumably are inspired by what “engages” students. From what I heard at this and other panels, the revisions come from what engages, and profits, teachers developing the exams.

Although Sabathne said he is getting away from textbooks, he also said he has been working with Charap and publishers on new AP-aligned history books and guides. Sabathne encouraged teachers to sign up for his upcoming week-long AP session in St. Petersburg. The huge publisher Bedford-St. Martins has been working with the College Board on new books and was a “platinum” (highest level) sponsor of the conference. Norton Publishing (silver sponsor) is also coming out with new books. Charap optimistically said that in three years there should be a good bank of materials to prepare students for the new AP exam.

No doubt there will be, at the expense of taxpayers who subsidize the indoctrination.

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Rate Buster


Will Fitzhugh, Publisher The Concord Review

Will Fitzhugh, Publisher The Concord Review

By Will Fitzhugh for
The Concord Review
4 May 2014
Back in the day, when Union contracts specified the number of widgets each worker was expected to produce during a shift, that number was called “the rate.” Anyone who produced more than that number was called a “rate-buster,” and was subjected to pressure, sanctions, and the like, from fellow union members, until the production was once more within the agreed rate for that job.
There are “rates” in education as well, for students. In general, when they are assigned nonfiction papers, even many high school students are asked to write 3-5 pages. The International Baccalaureate asks for Extended Essays of 4,000 words (16 pages) at the end of a candidate’s time in the program, but that is quite out of the ordinary. 
Recently a Junior at one of the most prestigious (and most expensive) New England preparatory schools expressed an interest in preparing a paper to be considered by The Concord Review, where the published history research papers average 6,000 words (24 pages), but she was concerned because her teachers limited history papers at that school to 1,000 words or less (4 pages). 
When The Concord Review started calling for history research papers by secondary students in 1987, the suggestion was that papers should be 4,000-6,000 words (or more), (16-24 pages) and students have been sending in longer papers ever since. One 21,000-word paper on the Mountain Meadows Massacre (c. 80 pages) was submitted by a nationally-ranked equestrienne, who later went to Stanford. When she asked her teacher if it was OK that her paper would be quite long, he said, “Yes.”
But she (and he) are rate-busters, who are willing to go beyond the common expectations for what high school students are capable of in writing serious history research papers. In his introduction to the first issue of The Concord Review, Theodore Sizer, former Dean of the School of Education at Harvard, and former Headmaster at Andover, wrote:   

“Americans shamefully underestimate their adolescents. With often misdirected generosity, we offer them all sorts of opportunities and, at least for middle-class and affluent youths, the time and resources to take advantage of them.
We ask little in return. We expect little, and the young people sense this, and relax. The genially superficial is tolerated, save in areas where the high school students themselves have some control, in inter-scholastic athletics, sometimes in their part-time work, almost always in their socializing.”
Not much has changed since Dr. Sizer wrote that in 1988. Teachers and others continue to find ways to limit the amount of nonfiction writing our students do, with the result, of course, that they do not get very good at it. But no matter how much college professors and employers complain that their students and employees can’t write, our “union rules” at the k-12 level ensure that students do very little serious writing. 
This is not the result of a union contract on rates, but it does come in part from the fact that, for instance in many public high schools, teachers can have 150 or more students. This provides a gigantic disincentive for them in assigning papers. They must consider how much time they have to advise students on term papers and to evaluate them when they are submitted. But the administration and the school committees do not want nonfiction writing to get, for example, the extra time routinely given to after-school sports.
In addition, some significant number of teachers have never written a thesis, or done much serious nonfiction writing of their own, which makes it easier for them to be comfortable in limiting their students to the minimum of nonfiction writing in school.
The Concord Review has published 101 issues with 1,110 history research papers by secondary students from 46 states and 39 other countries, so there are some “rate-buster” teachers out there, even in our public high schools. It is even clearer, from the number of excellent “independent study” papers we receive, that many more students, when they see the exemplary work of their peers, follow the rule that says “Where there’s a Way there’s a Will,” and they take advantage of the fact that the journal not only does not tell them what to write about, it does not limit the length of the papers they want to write. When we see the number of these fine nonfiction papers, it should make us regret all the more everything we do to press our potential student “rate-busters” to do less than they could. We don’t do that in sports. Why in the world do we do it in academics?
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The Concord Review: A Bright Star in the Black Hole of U.S. Education


Will Fitzhugh Publisher of The Concord Review

Will Fitzhugh Publisher of The Concord Review


(Editor: Will Fitzhugh, who Report Card readers will know as a frequent contributor to these columns, publishes The Concord Review. The Concord Review is distributed quarterly, and contains arguably the best high school writing on history in America. Mr. Fitzhugh remembers what many schools seem to have forgotten: the study of history and writing about history is an excellent teacher. Rigorous writing and excellent literature has all but vanished from the classroom in favor of ever-evolving educational fads like Common Core. Students whose work has been published in The Concord Review are admitted to the top universities in America and for that matter the world. Strangely, while every silly new pedagogy is introduced with billions of dollars in support, and teaches nothing, The Concord Review published on a shoestring, has been a great launch pad for students. Mr. Fitzhugh’s Harvard classmates make an appeal to guaranty the future of this wonderful publication).

Dear Harvard & Radcliffe Classes of 1960 Classmate -

On behalf of our classmate, Will Fitzhugh, I encourage you to consider seriously supporting The Concord Review.

Will, since 1987, has published The Concord Review ( as a labor of love and as witness to the need to enable the serious academic development of high school students with an opportunity to delve into historical research and to write some meaningful non-fiction.  As Will is now 77, if The Concord Review is to continue, an understudy to replace him must be sought and, just as importantly, stable financial support is required! This unique journal has published 100 issues with 1,099 exemplary history research papers by secondary students from 46 states and 39 other countries. Papers average 6,000 words, with endnotes and bibliography, and so far 122 of these young authors have been accepted at and gone to Harvard.

What follows is Will’s explanation and appeal. Please support Will and The Concord Review.

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review  730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, MA 01776 USA;   978-443-0022;

Thank you!




- Henry Marcy  (A one-time, high school American history teacher)

The goal of The Concord Review is to seek out and recognize exemplary history essays by high school students and to distribute that work as widely as possible to help other students learn more history and to find inspiration in the writing of their peers.  As of 2014, 1,099 history research papers, by students from 46 states and 39 other countries, in English, have been published in the first 100 issues of this unique international journal.  The Concord Review is the only journal in the world to publish the academic work of secondary school students.

The Concord Review, Inc., a 501(c)(3) Massachusetts corporation, seeks to build an endowment to support its programs into the future, as an example to the world of the highest international standards for academic literacy and assessment at the high school level.

Broeck Oder of Santa Catalina School in Monterey, California, has had his students reading the essays published in the journal and he says: “The fact that teenagers are always highly interested in what other teenagers are doing is helpful, for the articles hold something of a natural attraction to the students. In addition, they are always impressed that students like themselves can produce such high-quality work. Many teens are used to hearing how poorly their age group is doing academically, but the Review is refreshing proof that such is not universally the case!”

And a high school author commented: “When I first came across The Concord Review, I was extremely impressed by the quality of writing and breadth of historical topics covered by the essays in it. While most of the writing I have completed for my high school history classes has been formulaic and limited to specified topics, The Concord Review motivated me to undertake independent research in the development of the American Economy. The chance to delve further into a historical topic was an incredible experience for me and the honor of being published is by far the greatest I have ever received.”



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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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