By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
It would be understandable if a parent or taxpayer felt it was hopeless to stand up against Common Core, the Obama administration’s attempt to establish education standards for the country. It is not easy to take on the federal government, especially when it offers millions of dollars in federal funds to those who go along with its wishes. But this is not the time to give up. All across the country we find examples of states rejecting Common Core. Time is not on the side of the Obama administration on this one. As people find out what is in Common Core, more and more of them want no part of it. And the more states that opt out of Common Core, the more it becomes clear that it can be done.
There is another angle to consider: The American landscape is littered with failed education “reforms.” It is the rule rather than the exception that these schemes come and go. Think back. We have gone through the “open classroom,” “schools without walls,” “team-teaching,” “open-book tests,” “values clarification” exercises, “holistic testing,” and on and on and on.
There is no reason to not think that Common Core will be on that list one day soon. Phyllis Schlafly devoted a recent column to what she calls the “backlash” against Common Core, observing, “About 100 bills have been introduced into various state legislatures to cancel, stop, or slow down Common Core requirements.”
She points first to Indiana, which, she writes, “broke the ice on March 23, becoming the first state to pass an anti-Common Core law.” The Indiana law “strikes out references to Common Core…and requires the state board of education to maintain Indiana’s sovereignty while complying with federal standards.” South Carolina followed suit. “On May 30 Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill abolishing Common Core standards in that state beginning in 2015.” Oklahoma joined the effort on June 5, when Gov. Mary Fallin signed a law repealing the use of Common Core. The vote in the Oklahoma legislature, Schlafly continues, was an “overwhelming bipartisan vote of 71 to 18 in the House and 31 to 10 in the Senate.” Oklahoma replaced Common Core’s standards “with academic standards written by Oklahoma.”
Gov. Fallin minced no words in explaining Oklahoma’s position. She called Common Core “an attempt to influence state education standards. Common Core is now widely regarded as the president’s plan to establish federal control of the curricula, testing, and teaching strategies.”
Oklahoma’s campaign against Common Core has much to teach the rest of the country. It was started by four mothers, Jenni White, Julia Seay, Lynn Habluetzel, and Joy Collins, who told National Review Online they “bankrolled the whole thing out of our poor husbands’ bank accounts.” The women spent the last four years talking to Republican leaders, attending conservative conferences and lobbying local school boards, parents’ groups, and state legislators. They said their biggest expense was “gasoline to travel around the state for town-hall meetings. If people asked us to speak, we came. We’ve never taken a speaker’s fee, but we were always happy if we got gas money, and sometimes we did.”
When questioned about whether their grassroots effort could be replicated across the country, the Oklahoma women responded, “Look at Eric Cantor, seriously. Some guy who had $300,000 beat him. You don’t think that kind of thing is possible when people have had enough? They have nationalized health care; they’re nationalizing education. You don’t want to be in a country where your government is raising your kids.”
The administration’s response? We keep hearing about how clever and politically savvy the Obama team is. Maybe. But they were tone deaf on this one. Education Secretary Arne Duncan resorted to the race card. He accused the opponents of Common Core of being just “white suburban moms.” He later apologized. But Phyllis Schlafly wonders if the apology came only because he saw The New York Times story on the opposition to Common Core. It featured, she writes, “a picture of both white and African-American moms protesting Common Core, wearing signs that said ‘My child is not common’.”
On another topic: teacher sick days. It has long been suspected that teachers take more sick days than workers in other industries. It is no longer just a suspicion. A study by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) provided the facts. It found that teachers miss more days at work due to illness than workers in other industries. The NCTQ found that 16 percent of teachers surveyed were “chronically absent” during the 2012-2013 school year. For the purpose of this study “chronically absent” means missing 18 or more days of the school year. In the Portland, Ore., Public School District teachers are not in their classrooms for an average of three weeks a year. In comparison, “workers in farming, forestry, and fishing industries, which report the most health problems, only miss an average of one day every four months.”
Why are teachers absent more than the average worker? Anyone who has taught in a public school can give you the answer: There are teachers who make a point of taking every sick day that the contract provides them, whether they are sick or not. These teachers may be few in number, but they drive up the average. I can remember colleagues who kept a chart of the sick days they had taken, and who coincided the days they intended to call in sick with times of the year when they had planned various leisure activities: Broadway shows, overnight trips to the shore or the mountains, get-togethers with old friends, etc. Their goal was to use up all their sick days by the end of the school year.
Why do fewer workers in private industry act this way? I would argue because they know they will pay a price. They know they could lose their job if it becomes obvious that they are taking sick days when they are not ill. They also know that such a reputation will destroy their chances for promotion.
Teachers do not face this pressure. It is unlikely that their supervisors will question them unless they take more than the contractually permitted number of sick days. And they will get the same salary increases built into the contract as the teacher who seldom takes a day off for medical reasons. The risk-reward calculation become favorable, even if ethically questionable. Take the sick day; leave a lesson plan for the substitute teacher to keep your classes busy for the day you are absent; enjoy your day off.
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Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The email address for First Teachers is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford, CT 06492.