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The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids Hardcover – March 14, 2017
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Highfill quickly proved to be an excellent teacher. Her specialty was preparing students for Advanced Placement classes in high school, which can earn students college credit. In 2005, she was selected as codirector of the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project at the University of Arkansas, a local affiliate of an international writing program that attracts some of the world’s best teachers. In 2011, the Arkansas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts named her Middle School English Teacher of the Year. In the 2011–12 school year, 77 percent of her students scored “advanced” on state tests. That’s an amazing success rate. Typically, no more than one-quarter of students score “advanced” on state English tests, even the less rigorous ones.
Highfill’s eighth graders learned about comedy and political satire from James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” They read Arthurian legends, poems by Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. They learned about internal dialogue, quest literature, parody, and symbolism. Highfill’s guide for choosing assignments was Henry David Thoreau’s maxim, “Read the best books first, or you might not have a chance to read them at all.”
When Arkansas signed on to the Common Core curriculum man- dates in 2010 ― to be followed later by national tests to enforce them ― Highfill joined the committee her school convened to decide how to put the mandates into place. Schools across the country created similar committees.
In the era of “education accountability,” curriculum mandates spell out the learning requirements that annual tests assess. The national Common Core tests measure only reading and math to fulfill the federal mandates, but Common Core actually asserts authority over the entire curriculum, since its English mandates also apply to “literacy in history/ social studies, science, and technical subjects. A series of grant competitions and executive rewrites of federal education law during the first year of the Obama presidency ensured that Common Core would determine far more than what teachers hand to children in the classroom. The administration required schools to use Common Core test results in evaluating, ranking, hiring, firing, and even redistributing teachers, and required states to use the results to judge and rank schools and even to take them over from local authorities.
Unlike most teachers, Highfill had paid attention to how Common Core became her boss. When she got a look at the mandates, she was dismayed at what they would do to the extraordinarily rich lessons she had been providing her students.
In language arts, Common Core explicitly requires schools to give “much greater attention to a specific category of informational text ― literary nonfiction ― than has been traditional.” A graph included in the standards document shows an increasing nonfiction intake through the school years: 50 percent in fourth grade, 55 percent in eighth grade, 70 percent in twelfth grade. This requirement alarmed Highfill, who had achieved great success with her students by feeding them a diet replete with poetry and short stories and classic novels.
“Where is the research that proves more nonfiction is better for students?” she asked. “What about inferencing skills that you only get with fiction and poetry? That was my whole issue: please, tell me where the research says this is better for kids.” Indeed, research indicates that students’ experience with high-quality fiction is a major predictor of their college success, while it finds nothing of the kind for nonfiction.
Highfill expressed her concerns to some colleagues. When administrators asked teachers what they thought about Common Core, Highfill and others began pointing out its flaws, but the principal said, “You guys are being too negative.” The administration, said Highfill, “wanted us to accept the document lock, stock, and barrel.”
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The public education landscape looks bleak, but she gives readers hope. We do not have to accept the academic carnage Common Core has left in its wake. We have the power as parents and citizens to demand change and, if necessary, find ways to offer an alternative education to our children as well.
Shane Vander Hart
Truth In American Education
Common Core’s Clandestine Origins
Beginning in 2001, the federal government’s No Child Left Behind program mandated schools focus on standardized tests in math and reading in exchange for significant penalties for not toeing the line and, in Pullmann’s words, “a gush of federal funds.”
Instituted in 2010 and after, Common Core, the national standards dictating what a student should know at the end of each grade level, does not build a solid foundation of cultural knowledge and practical skills. It replaces thought-provoking fiction with doctrinaire informational texts and jettisons proven math techniques in favor of convoluted processes unknown to earlier generations.
Of even greater concern is the way the government pulled off the standardized takeover through clandestine activities, which took years to formulate, without exposure to skilled educators, concerned parents, or elected officials. It was all made possible by nonprofit organizations, the bulk of them heavily financed by Bill Gates, whose fortune enabled him to force on children his own uneducated views on education. Arne Duncan, secretary of education under President Barack Obama, proved to be a skilled coconspirator with previous ties to Gates.
Pullmann invested four years crisscrossing the nation to talk to parents, teachers, legislators, and despicable leftist goon squads, the latter of whom resemble characters out of George Orwell’s 1984 with their constant attempts to remold society in their narrow-minded vision. The Common Core proponents largely remained silent, but Pullmann uncovers the entire plot against our children and supports every fact in this book, which includes 485 detailed endnotes.
The Education Invasion reads like a mystery novel, and the reader will wish it were fiction. Pullmann brings the reader to classrooms with her as she describes exactly how Common Core was sold, implemented, and imposed on our children—in spite of so many warrior parents fighting vigorously against it.
Methodology Replaces Content
Common Core has removed detailed content from teaching colleges in favor of methodology proponents of the standards claim will work across any discipline, Pullmann reports. For instance, they invented a technique called “close reading,” which teaches a student to rely only on the words in the text (they no longer use the word “book”) to gain understanding. The new standards require outside knowledge not be used in understanding a work, in order not to disadvantage students from disadvantaged environments, where a variety of books may be less available.
Standardized Tests and Data Mining
Grading methods under Common Core are tied to standardized tests, which were developed by well-paid nonprofit organizations and never tested in any meaningful way to prove their efficacy. In California, where the teachers union rules largely unopposed, the lack of transparency in the construction of tests was easily ignored, but in other states, many political battles occurred, Pullmann reports.
The greatest uproar has occurred over the fact the standardized tests require students to list a wide variety of personal data for a centralized database. Big Brother tiptoes around the controversy by commissioning nonprofit organizations to maintain the databases.
Parents across the country have attempted to opt their children out of the standardized tests, and Pullmann includes a detailed account of a mother’s hard-fought efforts to exclude her daughter from the tests in Massachusetts, a struggle repeated across the country, as evidenced by the fact Truth in American Education, a website for similarly distressed parents, was accessed 49,882 times during the 2013–14 school year.
In response to these expressions of concern, Duncan personally threatened federal government action against states with high opt-out rates.
The number of Common Core state repeal bills tracked by the National Conference of State Legislatures has now passed 700. Behind each is a small army of zealous parents who want better for their children.
As you might expect, they have taken a lot of abuse. A man in Baltimore was arrested for resisting an eviction from an education hearing for complaining Common Core was dumbing down his children. Pullmann provides numerous such examples.
As dissent mounted, the federal government used large amounts of taxpayer money to finance public-relations campaigns to convince the public Common Core is benign. Many private foundations also participated in these PR initiatives using government grant money. To hide from the opposition to Common Core, 25 of the 42 states now using Common Core have renamed their standards.
Downfall and Success
Pullmann includes in her book numerous sad stories of wonderfully dedicated teachers who have chosen to leave the profession rather than subject their students to the harmful, regimented education and meaningless tests now required. Pullmann also details the tremendous success of many parent-run private schools and charter schools that rely upon common sense, creativity, and long-established practices for raising intelligent young people.
It will be difficult to undo the harm Common Core has already caused, but a journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step.
Jay Lehr, Ph.D. (Jlehr@heartland.org) is science director at The Heartland Institute.