The BLOG: Voices

Why do the MBAE and Bill Gates want to kill a Massachusetts education ballot initiative?

In a lead article “Common Core ballot fight may head to court” by Statehouse reporter Christian M. Wade, the chief litigant against the ballot question, Linda Noonan, is quoted as saying that “Massachusetts deserves to have the best educational standards. We don’t need Common Core-light.” Her pro-CC group is seeking a stay of the ballot question on the grounds it is “vaguely worded and conflicts with the state constitution.” The backdrop is that on Sept. 2, 2015, Attorney General Maura Healey and Secretary of State Bill Galvin approved the constitutionality of the ballot question proposing to stop the state from using the Common Core education standards. Subsequent to the AG’s approval, hundreds of parents, grandparents and educators gathered the required number of confirmed signatures (more than 64,750) to give the initiative a chance to be on the November 2016 ballot.

Although Noonan asserts that the Bay State deserves the best educational standards, she doesn’t explain why she supports Common Core. We know that the adoption of Common Core’s standards led to a loss of content-rich literary materials by up to 50 percent in English (replaced by something called “informational texts”). Students end up unable to understand America’s civic culture and to participate in it.

What about the costs of implementing Common Core? Updating and buying hardware, buying testing materials and changing instructors’ methods caused an increase of spending in comparison with pre-2010 expenditures. Future IT costs can be expected to rise significantly and impact poor communities the hardest. By contrast, the implementation of the 1993 MERA with no “technology” but paper and pencils was a success, and with much lower costs.

Although Common Core supporters keep repeating the mantra of “college readiness,” no evidence exists that students arrive in college more prepared than their earlier counterparts. New freshmen at my college now have to be instructed in basic literacy in ELA, history and the sciences to do serious college course work. In no way has Common Core increased their curiosity or elevated the rigor of their work.

The lawsuit is unquestionably an effort by Common Core interests to salvage a bad investment by insisting that the experiment is not complete. As someone who collected hundreds of signatures for the “EndCommonCoreMA” ballot question, I can testify to the deep anger of many parents who have to deal with unproven standards and to the palpable scorn and fear of many teachers forced to use them. It is going to be hard to convince such people that their petition has no merit.

Bill Gates, acting like a modern-day Lord of the Rings, is pushing the MBAE case with his easy money. But Gates’ and Noonan’s views are shared by decreasing numbers of MA stakeholders who have observed first hand this failed top-down reform. Why are Gates and Noonan seeking to prevent a vote by the people about their children’s education? Was there an agreement between Gates/Noonan and the test vendors to deny input by Massachusetts’s parents, grandparents, teachers, local officials, and higher education specialists? This last bit of arrogance can hardly be consistent with the Massachusetts constitution

Michael Gendre teaches ethics and philosophy in the Boston area. He is the author with Nicolas Sanchez of a forthcoming book of political philosophy, “Aligning Values and Politics — Empowerment versus Entitlement,” University Press of America, 2016.