TUCSON, Ariz. – What a difference a year makes.
Last spring, Arizona teacher Brad McQueen knew so little about Common Core that he would’ve had trouble filling a Post-It note with information about it. That’s because his school was still using the previous set of standards, and Common Core seemed to be just another item on a long list of K-12 reforms.
Today, McQueen is well-versed in the nationalized math and English standards – so much so that he could fill a book with what he knows.
And he has.
The fifth-grade teacher is the author of “The Cult of Common Core: Obama’s Final Solution for Your Child’s Mind and Our Country’s Exceptionalism.” The self-published book explains the K-12 experiment from a teacher’s perspective and in a way that’s easy for parents and concerned citizens to understand.
The title is sure to raise some eyebrows, beginning with his use of “cult.” McQueen uses the term as a shorthand way of describing all the acronym-laden policy groups and education-related organizations that have helped foist the K-12 overhaul onto America’s schools.
“Cult” also captures some of religious-like zeal that Common Core supporters are exhibiting for the K-12 experiment.
“This cult is relentlessly pulling our children under its control, with a seemingly endless supply of money, and uses intimidation to silence its opponents,” McQueen writes in the book’s preface.
McQueen’s book seems to have hit a nerve with his intended audience. “The Cult of Common Core” was published just last month, and it’s already reached the top of Amazon’s bestseller list for education-related books.
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In the book, McQueen knocks down most of the Common Core enthusiasts’ talking points. He debunks claims that the new standards are “rigorous,” were developed through a “state-led” initiative without federal involvement, and that they have overwhelming support among teachers.
He also makes the case that Common Core is designed to shift control of education from the states and local communities to central planners in Washington D.C. The keys to accomplishing that, McQueen says, are the Common Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced standardized tests that most states will begin using next school year.
“When you have control of the tests and the standards – you have control of the content in the classroom,” McQueen tells EAGnews.
Part of the reason for that is because learning standards – which tell educators which concepts to teach at each grade level – are written in a technical and lifeless manner. McQueen says educators often interpret what the standards mean in concrete terms by seeing the kinds of questions that get posed to students in the standardized tests.
“Usually, working with the test gives teachers an idea of what’s expected,” the 10-year teacher explains.
The other reason that the Common Core assessments will exert so much influence over what gets taught in America’s classrooms is because teachers’ job evaluations will be connected to their students’ scores on the related standardized tests. The teacher evaluations are the “enforcement arm” of the whole enterprise, McQueen says.
But teacher evaluations are just the beginning of this educator’s worries under Common Core.
McQueen says now that everything is online – assessments, test scores, grades, lesson plans and various other data – administrators can easily track what teachers are doing in the classroom, which will make it easier to pinpoint those who “aren’t falling in line.”
That will lead to less creativity in the classroom and less freedom for teachers to adjust their lessons on the fly, based on wherever the class discussion happens to go.
“Common Core is taking away the profession that I’ve loved being a part of,” McQueen says, adding that some veteran colleagues are leaving because they don’t like the new standards.
“The good teachers are leaving – they’re disheartened,” he says. “Even young teachers are saying, ‘I need to plan my escape’ because of Common Core. The teachers that stay will be the bureaucrats who will implement whatever they’re told, whatever’s in the textbook.”
McQueen’s transition from Common Core novice to critic
Before McQueen became a critic of the standards, he was actually part of the Common Core machine, albeit a relatively minor one.
McQueen was among a handful of teachers chosen by the Arizona officials to spend spring break 2013 in Chicago working with other education professionals to help evaluate the scoring rubrics used in conjunction with the new PARCC test – the Common Core-aligned assessment that’s replacing the state standardized test. (Most of the 44 Common Core-aligned states will begin using either the PARCC test or the Smarter Balanced test in the 2014-15 school year.)
McQueen was a natural choice, given his in-depth knowledge of how standardized tests work. The veteran educator spent five years working with other educators and Arizona Department of Education officials to help write and refine the state assessments.
“I went (to Chicago) with an open mind,” McQueen tells EAGnews. “I wanted to see what Common Core was all about, and to get a better understanding of what it would mean for my classroom.”
But he started seeing red flags the moment he read PARCC’s reading and writing test questions for fifth and sixth graders. McQueen could tell the questions weren’t written by classroom teachers.
Teachers know how to write a test question in a way that won’t confuse students, McQueen explains. But the PARCC questions were so poorly worded that even the teachers at the review session were having issues with them.
“So I knew students certainly would, too,” McQueen says.
That was the first red flag that Common Core wasn’t the “rigorous” academic game-changer it was being touted as.
The second came when the Common Core expert leading the review session said that students were not to give their opinions when answering test essay questions. Instead, students will be expected to determine the experts’ opinions in the assigned reading passages – many of which are non-fiction, “informational texts” – and to regurgitate those views in their answers.
The expert explained that under the Common Core standards, teachers would have to use that same approach in their lessons.
“That felt like a kick in the gut because that’s not how I teach,” McQueen says.
His approach to education is to have students take a position on a topic and to support it with evidence – after reading multiple points of view on the issue.
McQueen is politically savvy enough to understand that the left-wing activists who currently control much of public education will exploit Common Core’s regurgitate-the-expert’s-view approach to introduce only their political views to students through textbooks, lessons and tests.
These uncomfortable revelations about Common Core caused McQueen to ask the expert in charge of the review sessions exactly who wrote the standards. He says the “handler” would only reply with the weird, non-answer: “They were created with teacher input.”
“I realized Common Core isn’t just another set of standards,” he says. “I started getting the feeling there was a problem, that it’s not what they were saying it was.”
He also got the strong impression that his presence at the PARCC review session was mere “window dressing” so Common Core officials could truthfully claim that classroom teachers had input in the test’s design.
The Obamacare of education
After that experience in the Windy City, McQueen decided to get to the bottom of Common Core by reading everything he could find about it. He soon concluded that nationalized learning standards were the K-12 equivalent of “Obamacare” – the controversial health care law.
According to McQueen, both policies were “written in secret” with no public involvement, “put into place by coercing states with the promise of federal money,” and represent “a centrally controlled delivery system, shaped by Big Government and steeped in the Progressive worldview of uniformity.”
“What better way to slowly, progressively change the country’s mindset than to have control over our children’s minds by having full control of our education system? Progressives have already infiltrated our school systems with revisionist history and pseudoscience. The Common Core is just the final phase of their control.”
McQueen says he included President Obama in the book’s title because “he is the latest in a long line of progressives – both Republican and Democrat – who have overseen the federal expansion into state and parent sovereignty over education.
“(President Obama) happens to be in charge now of the final solution to this problem of the state control of education, which will lead to the control of our children’s minds and the loss of what makes our country exceptional.”
Many educators would be afraid to go public with such high-octane views. McQueen was hesitant at first, too, though he decided that he needed to share all the information he was discovering with colleagues and parents.
He has wisely decided to only discuss Common Core away from school so as to avoid any charges of impropriety. As long as he does that, McQueen’s been assured by school officials that his views will not affect his employment.
McQueen says he was inspired to “go big” in his criticism by seeing how ordinary parents have bravely stood up to the Common Core machine and its powerful supporters – such as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – even though they aren’t fluent in “education-ese.”
He believes his book can be a helpful resource for parents and citizens who want to understand the controversy without getting bogged down in all the acronyms and minutia of K-12 policy making.
“After that (Chicago) meeting last year, I felt like I was part of Common Core,” McQueen says. “Now I feel like I’m on the right side.”
McQueen’s book is available for purchase through Amazon.com as an e-book and in paperback. He can be reached through his Twitter handle @cultcommoncore.