WHEELING - Instead of blazing a path to higher student achievement, education writer Joy Pullmann believes the new Common Core national standards for schools serve to stifle individual thought and shut parents out of the educational process.
"The people who attempt to centrally plan schools tend to view them as a farm team for a centrally planned economy. ... In America, the citizens are the masters and the government the servant, but Common Core, like so many other things, flips that on its head," Pullmann told a luncheon crowd at River City Ale Works on Thursday.
Pullmann's appearance was the latest installment in the West Liberty University Economics Club speaker series. A resident of Indiana, she is a research fellow for the Heartland Institute and managing editor of School Reform News whose reporting has focused on Common Core and its impact.
Common Core is a 640-page series of guidelines for what children should know when they finish each school year, from kindergarten through 12th grade. Proponents say they're an improvement over artificially low standards set by some states under the No Child Left Behind Act, while opponents of Common Core say it removes autonomy from local school districts and leaves students unprepared to compete with their global peers.
Lacking constitutional authority to legislate regarding education, Pullmann said, the federal government employed a tactic it has used many times through its history: Dangle the carrot of federal funding as an incentive for promising to adopt a particular policy.
"They take our money and then say (to states), 'You can have your people's money back if you do what we say,'" Pullmann said.
When the Department of Education announced in 2009 that adoption of Common Core standards would earn states bonus points on their applications for competitive federal Race to the Top grants, many states jumped at the request before they even knew what the requirements would be.
"It's another case of having to pass it to find out what's in it," Pullmann said, referring to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 2010 statement concerning the Affordable Care Act. "They had to sign their name on the dotted line five months before the standards were published."
But Pullmann said Common Core is heavy on style while light on substance. For example, she believes collaboration between students is overemphasized in Common Core.
Pullmann said while learning to work with others is important, too much group work can impede children's ability to think for themselves. She said studies have shown that people are less likely to reveal their true opinions in a group setting.
She also predicts opportunities for gifted students to move at a faster pace - such as taking algebra while still in middle school, for example - will disappear.
Higher education, she said, will be forced to lower its standards in order to teach concepts that used to be taught in high school.
"It squashes people who want nothing more, nothing less than the power to do what's best for their kids. ... Now, our national policy prefers equality over freedom," Pullmann said.
One audience member challenged some of Pullmann's objections to Common Core, pointing out that the guidelines only set out a standard that must be reached and doesn't force a particular method of achieving them.
But Pullmann said the standards will discourage teachers from being innovative in the classroom, with too much of a focus on making sure students are prepared for the Common Core-based tests that will be rolled out beginning next spring.
"Your job is on the line. ... That's the worry people have," she said.
The University Economics Club is sponsored by West Liberty's Center for Economic Philosophy. The speaker series is funded through a grant from BB&T Bank.