Obama Administration Condemns Own Common Core Tests

The President asks Congress to overturn policy that he imposed by stealth, bribery, and arm-twisting.

On October 24, 2015, the Obama administration condemned “over-testing” in schools. It called for a cap on testing, limiting it to two percent of a child’s class time.  It called on Congress to enact this cap and on teachers to “step back and make tests less onerous and more purposeful.”  This accompanied the release of a study by the Council of the Great City Schools.

In a smooth move, the Obama administration called on Congress to fix a problem that had been foisted on the people without the consent of Congress—namely the national Common Core standards, even as the widely hated name was scrupulously avoided.  The Obama administration also told teachers to fix tests that they had not devised and were forced to administer.    

In an even smoother move, the New York Times summed up the blame this way:

The administration’s move seemed a reckoning on a two-decade push that began during the Bush administration and intensified under President Obama. Programs with aspirational names — No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top — were responding to swelling agreement among Democrats and Republicans that higher expectations and accountability could lift the performance of American students… . .”

Alas, the push began “during the Bush administration.”

It is true.  NCLB was a misapplication of “compassionate conservatism” through the federal government in hopes of ensuring that children (mostly in urban schools) would not be denied a basic education.  You see, while “urban schools” teachers were assigning group projects in “social justice” per the philosophy of Bill Ayers, students were left virtually illiterate and unable to do basic math.  

Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council (but prior to that “Senior Vice President for the Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation at the National Council of La Raza”), said that all the testing “can sap the joy and fun out of the classroom for students and for teachers” (unlike Raza Studies, perhaps). 

The lead designer of one of the two national Common Core tests was head of the Obama education transition team, Linda Darling-Hammond.  She was also Bill Ayers’s pick for Secretary of Education and a close colleague of his.  She had promised that these tests would be so much better; they wouldn’t even be like tests at all.  In the August 2009 Harvard Educational Review, she claimed the tests would go beyond “the narrow views of the last eight years” of measuring knowledge objectively.  She would make tests that measure “deep understanding.”  They would support “developing creativity, critical thinking skills, and the capacity to innovate.”  In November 2009, in her speech to the Grow Your Own organization in Chicago (later published as part of a collection titled Grow Your Own Teachers, under the Columbia Teachers College “Teaching for Social Justice” series edited by Bill Ayers), she rejected “the imaginary model classroom where every student is learning in the same way at the same pace at the same time.”  She envisioned a classroom culture of “revision and redemption.”  On April 28, 2010, in an Education Week article titled “Developing an Internationally Comparable Balanced Assessment System,” she claimed that the new assessment system is “designed to go beyond recall of facts and show students’ abilities to evaluate evidence, problem solve and understand context.”  

Obama, in his Facebook video released on the day of the “over-testing” announcement, repeated Darling-Hammond’s promises from several years back, and said, “Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble.’’  In a newfound spirit of cooperation, he pledged, ‘‘we’re going to work with states, school districts, teachers and parents to make sure that we’re not obsessing about testing.’’  

Candidate Obama in 2007, in his best black dialect, before the National Education Association, railed against No Child Left Behind, standardized tests, and inequitable resources among schools. 

At a town hall in Washington in 2011 President Obama, said, “’Too often what we have been doing is using [standardized] tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools.’” 

In 2013, at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) meeting, as educators held protest signs against the new Common Core assessments, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised Darling-Hammond. Duncan promised a “sea-change in assessments,” with new tests measuring “growth” and “non-cognitive” abilities.  Most likely Ayers and Darling-Hammond applauded him, for they participated in several panels at the conference.

Funny, though, in spite of the best-laid plans, teachers didn’t like it.  Students were failing and teachers’ evaluations tied to the test scores were suffering.  Under Common Core, first-graders have to write op-eds.  Older students have to draw pictures for crazy math problems.  English Language Arts is dull and dreary.  Common Core tests punish bright students—those who can think abstractly, do equations, and read at a level that goes beyond retrieving bits of information. 

The Common Core tests, of course, had to test for a minimal level of knowledge. The sales pitch was that it prepared “workers in a global twenty-first century economy.”

Teachers, after having invested so much in Democrats, were miffed at not being invited to the Common Core standards writing party.  In 2011, I heard them grousing at one of the panels at the Conference on College Composition and Communication meeting for college and high school writing teachers.  They were upset because the “social, civil, and aesthetic,” purposes like the Native American greetings, analysis of protest signs at rallies for illegal aliens, and descriptions of ladies undergarments that were discussed at the conference were not factored in.  

So now Obama is asking Congress to overturn policy that he imposed by stealth, bribery, and arm-twisting—much like the health care legislation.  

Funny, isn’t it, how the Obama administration has reversed course, now that an election is coming up and the teachers are unhappy about Common Core.

No longer are opponents of Common Core a “conspiracy in search of a conspiracy” or “white suburban moms” frustrated that their “brilliant” kids weren’t doing well, as Arne Duncan had jibed.

Democratic contender Hillary Rodham Clinton (who sits on the board of a Council of the Great City Schools “partner” that teaches kids about elections) “embraced the principles laid out by Obama,” and said in a statement, ‘We should be ruthless in looking at tests and eliminating them if they do not actually help us move our kids forward.’”  

Maybe she too can blame Bush.