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Thompson: How Common Core Is Being Defeated In Oklahoma

The Common_Core_Standards_Pushback_0ab1cNPR report Common Core Turns Business Leaders Against Oklahoma GOP, by Claudio Sanchez, must be understood within the context of business conservatives and Christian Conservatives having turned the state into a bastion of Republicanism.

Just a few months ago, it was inconceivable that Oklahoma would repudiate Common Core, but now the Republican Governor and Republican State Superintendent, Chief for Change Janet Baressi, are getting clobbered by what Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman calls the “unfunded nightmare” that is Common Core.

Sanchez stresses the anger and political fear felt by conservative business Republicans in reaction to the grassroots assault on Common Core. He quotes Chamber of Commerce leader Mike Neal who derides the conservative Restore Oklahoma Public Education and others as “fringe groups.”

Neal rejects as fear-mongering the claims that Common Core is a federal scheme, that “private groups will mine and profit from test results,” and that it will undermine local control. But, isn’t there more truth in those statements than Neal’s claim that it won’t take local control away "at all?”

Neal’s opponent is Jenni White, a former teacher, a published epidemiologist, and a Christian with two adopted children from Zambia, as well as her biological children. In my conversations with Ms. White and other conservative opponents of Common Core at the State Capitol, I did not hide my support for President Obama (while opposing his education policy).  I would never judge Ms. White as a fringe element and I don’t believe she judged me either.

I don’t agree with all of her fact-based indictment of Common Core, which draws on sources from the Friedman Foundation to Diane Ravitch. She has always impressed me as being equally or more knowledgeable about schools than most of the other witnesses we heard in Senate Committees – not that I should judge them either.

I don’t claim that Ms. White’s entire case is evidence-based. It also seems rooted in her opposition to the “encroaching globalist, humanist worldview.” Similarly, I interpret evidence based on my blue collar background, my worries that the “One Percent,” enriched by globalization, are worsening the gap between rich and poor, and the increasing dangers of consumerism. I also suspect most of the ROPE members who I’ve met at the Capitol are Tea Party supporters, but I think we all enjoyed and gained from our conversations. Our children should also benefit from these sorts of exchanges of ideas and values in school – even though class discussions have become increasing rare in an age of nonstop testing.

The comments on the NPR web site were illustrative of something very different. One prejudges, "’Local students' needs’ always seems to be code for lowering the bar or injecting local beliefs like climate denial and creationism into the curriculum.” It was also argued that low standards of learning were the reason why Oklahoma is backward, being 43rd in education. In fact, dating back to 1997, Education Week’s Quality Counts has given Oklahoma B+s and A-s for its standards. Our failures are rooted in the lack of funding that earned us Ds.

Another claimed that ROPE opposes Common Core because it comes from “non-Okies, little green men from outer space, or -- gasp! -- New Yorkers.” A quick glance at the ROPE web site yields support for that assessment. After all, it links to research on this international chain of charters, with a funny sounding foreign name, implying that it might set up charter schools in Oklahoma, destroying local schools.

A careful review of the research on the ROPE site yields the opposite conclusion. If legislators or commenters have not read the blogging of Sharon Higgins or the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, Common Core opponents’ warning about the Gulen charter chain might seem xenophobic. It can’t happen here. But, in fact, Gulen already has two controversial charters a mile from the Capitol, and the stories I’ve heard from my young neighbors who were kicked out of that charter are disturbing. (And, the California corporate reform group Parent Revolution is campaigning in east Oklahoma City, urging parents to “go to war” against the local school board and open so many Charter Management Organization schools that the remaining neighborhood schools could be unsustainable.)

One anti-Common Core commenter initially rubbed me the wrong way, as he did other commenters. He then explained his background as a home-schooler, as well as a supporter of Career Tech, who explained, “All I know is big GOP money is dictating Common Core. My fear is we are creating robots to toil for the upper 1 percent.” He won me over with the joke, “Third grade was the most difficult three years of my life.”

My take on Common Core opponents is influenced by my longterm membership in a fringe group – liberal Democrats seeking to advance civil rights and social justice. People in our small Oklahoma minority can’t afford to judge others. But, the same applied to my classroom experience. We teachers can’t even be tempted to judge our students for holding beliefs contrary to ours. And, that is where we teachers (who hold all types of ideologies) and our conservative neighbors also share common ground.

We’re tired of non-educators reading a press release on schools and judging us as the problem. We’re tired of the disrespect that the elites feel entitled to dump on working stiffs like us. And, in our daily lives, when we get to know our neighbors who hold opinions different from us, we usually get along with each other. –JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.



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