Also billed as the “Common Core Movie,” “Building the Machine” explains the problems with the Common Core State Standards that are causing a huge upheaval at all levels of education.
This 40-minute movie has been produced by Home School Legal Defense Association, an organization that has been warning about the dangers of nationalized educational standards for years. In this movie, they point that the Common Core standards were adopted quickly with hardly any awareness among the general public. There was no public debate and minimal public comment.
The Common Core standards are supposed to be rigorous standards, comparable to international standards—standards that prepare students for the jobs of the 21st century. But there’s huge debate about whether or not that’s true. That is only part of the problem.
The video explains that the standards have been heavily financed by the Gates Foundation with funding of over $170 million. The standards are also backed by influential groups such as the Fordham Foundation. To try to avoid the perception that the standards are coming from the federal government, the visible face of the standards movement has been groups such as Achieve, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors Association. However, the U.S. Department of Education used $4.35 billion in grants from their Race to the Top program as a very strong incentive for states to sign on to the Common Core. States had only a few months to apply for these grants at a time when state budgets were very stressed, so most states signed on with only a vague idea of what would be required of them.
I found some of the most interesting segments of the movie to be interviews with Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. Jim Milgram who both served on the Common Core Validation committee. Importantly, according to the film, “Dr. Milgram and Dr. Stotsky were the only mathematics and english language arts content specialists on the entire 30-person validation committee,” a committee charged with determining whether math and English language arts standards were valid.
However, five of the committee members, including Stotsky and Milgram, did not support that finding and would not sign off on the final standards. Stotsky reveals that all of their committee work was very secretive throughout the process. At the end, there was no acknowledgement of any dissent and no minority report. The names of dissenters were simply removed from the record.
One of the most significant complaints they had was that the Common Core prepares students for community college and vocational training, but not for selective colleges or higher level math and science study. Instead, the standards aim for lower objectives that might be attainable for more students. Dr. Milgram points out how Common Core actually sets the stage for the dumbing down of college courses by requiring colleges and universities to allow all students who have graduated from high schools that have taught the Common Core to enroll in for-credit courses in math and English; they cannot require those students to take remedial courses. The inevitable result will be a lowering of the level of first-year college courses in math and English, with a subsequent scaling back of subsequent college levels courses.
While most homeschoolers are not yet feeling the brunt of the Common Core, the plan is that eventually curriculum and tests aligned to the Common Core will control education for most students, even if indirectly. It remains to be seen if there will be alternative educational paths for college and career that are independent of the Common Core.
I very much appreciate that those who created this movie contacted supporters of the Common Core to get their perspective. The few that responded are included so that we can understand that while they are well-intentioned, their philosophical outlook seems very much at odds with that of those who prefer smaller government and individual freedom. The movie allows them to present their arguments without trying to portray them as evil or silly.
“Building the Machine” also deserves praise for not straying off into arguments about particular standards. It acknowledges that some might be better than previous standards. The issue isn’t really about the content of the standards even though that might be problematic.
“Building the Machine” points out that, ultimately, the debate is about who gets to decide what’s good for children, parents or the government. The Common Core presents serious problems, and it is difficult to envision government schools backing away from the standards movement altogether since a tremendous amount of money and power stands behind them. Anyone who is concerned about educational freedom and parental rights needs to be aware of what is happening and do all within their power to resist this encroachment on our freedom.