Time of Testing Approaches for Obamacore

Published February 3, 2014

Maybe he was hard up for a good bragging point.

Whatever the motive, President Barack Obama may rue taking ownership of the Common Core standardization of elementary and secondary education in his January 28 State of the Union oration.

Without mentioning Common Core (CC), Obama clearly coupled it with his Race to the Top grant program, and he heralded a shift to problem-solving, critical thinking, and technological skills in affected schools nationwide.

“Some of this change is hard,” he declared. “It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.”

Henceforth, it will be fair to refer to this incipient transformation of learning as Obamacore when the online national student assessments start this spring and the following school year. The resemblance to the fatally flawed Obamacare will be painfully evident.

Grassroots opposition to the CC math and English standards has spread like wildfire in the past year as parents began learning about drastic changes in academic content and methods of which they were never informed.

The coming assessments will seal it all in place as a national curriculum, in fact if not name. Despite the protestations about CC being purely a state-led initiative, the national tests have federal fingerprints all over them. The Obama administration used $360 million in federal stimulus stash to pay consortia of “experts” to develop the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests, with related curricular guides.

This intervention directly violates at least three statutory prohibitions against federal government meddling in school curriculum, but of course Obama’s possession of pen, phone, and Race to the Top cash evidently overrides such trifles as federal laws and the Constitutional separation of powers.

State legislators and governors have begun to discover they are being stuck with a very large tab to administer the tests the feds have developed. New computer capacity will cost hundreds of millions of dollars the state and local school governments don’t have.

Cost has been a factor in 10 of the 45 CC-signatory states dropping out of the two testing consortia. Those states are Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Utah. At least another half-dozen are actively considering withdrawal.

For many parents, cost is secondary to the question of what the faceless assessors will be asking of their children in those time-consuming online sessions, and how the data will be collected, used, and stored.

As maligned as multiple-choice tests are, they at least give a good indication of students’ grasp of basic knowledge, which is what the tests are for. The new assessment will be more subjective and likely to probe students’ attitudes. It is entirely reasonable for parents to be outraged about this switch being pulled without their informed consent.

Teachers have concerns of their own. Last week, the board of the New York State teachers union unanimously revoked its support of Common Core, objecting to dubious academic content and teachers being evaluated on the results of a new-fangled assessment they have not been allowed to see.

The big battles may come when parents assert their right to refuse to let their children be Common Core-assessed. Rumblings are already being heard in states such as Connecticut, Missouri, New Mexico, and South Dakota, and parents have at least one website, United Opt Out, taking up the cause.

The education establishment is countering with not-so-subtle threats. For example, South Dakota’s secretary of education, Dr. Melody Schopp, wrote a letter last fall stating that keeping a child home to avoid assessment not only would break school-district legal requirements “but also potentially violate the State’s truancy laws.”

Thus states will use their compulsory attendance laws to serve as mere agents of an all-encompassing Obamacore that prescribes a unitary curriculum and officially approved ways of thinking for schoolchildren coast to coast.

The time of testing is coming, for Obamacore and for parental rights in a free country. Which will prevail?