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School Wars: The Feud Continues

by Tammy Drennan

What do we want all children to know and how will they learn it?


That's the basic question that drives common standards proponents, as well as groups that simply want certain skills integrated into current curricula.


But here's the problem — the reformers disagree, sometimes vehemently, on the specifics.


Lynne Munson, president of a reform group called Common Core, is accusing another group, P21, of harboring ulterior motives — profit — in its agenda.


Ken Kay, president of P21, has accused Lynne Munson of taking a “cheap shot” at his organization.


P21 enjoys the backing of the National Education Association and the National School Boards Association, as well as the support and backing of such big corporations as Microsoft, Intel and Cisco Systems, and the membership of fourteen U.S. states (West Virginia schools superintendent Steven L. Paine is a voting member of P21).


Common Core is backed by education historian and reform advocate Diane Ravitch, who is a trustee of the group, and is funded by the Thomas B. Fordham and the William E. Simon Foundations, among others. The group promotes a core liberal arts education and works to influence education policy at all political levels. Trustee Ms. Ravitch, who is personally critical of P21, doesn't rule out a role for the rival group, though; she just wants it to line up a little more with her philosophy. It's not the engineering she objects to, just the difference of opinion.


P21 does not promote its agenda as standards or requirements it's trying to get states to adopt, only as suggestions, at least for now; there is evidence they are moving in another direction. But it's still using states — and the federal government — to try to get its ideas into schools.


This is hardly the only school war going on. As we’ve reported previously, there’s the National Governors Association Common Core Standards Initiative.


Most of the states have signed on to this effort, but Texas is a notable holdout. Its chief education officer, Robert Scott, has accused the federal government of trying to take over education through its support, via funding criteria, of a common standards curriculum.


And so the war rages on. The National Parent Teacher Association, funded by Bill and Melinda Gates, is on the warpath for the governors’ agenda. Alaska opted out of it back in June. Businesses want schools to better prepare students to meet their needs. Others think schools should produce Renaissance men and women, grounded in a “well-rounded” education. Topic-specific groups fight over math, science, history, and literature standards, technology, the arts, you name it.

The battle has been going on since the inception of modern compulsory schooling 160 years ago. It will continue as long as government at any level controls schooling.


If there was no government-school relationship, there would be no war. There would be competition, to be sure. Businesses would vie for a position in schools and schooling, as would non-profits. There would be reform groups trying to promote their particular versions of education. And there would be hordes of people trying, just as Horace Mann and others succeeded at, to figure out how to create a government-school relationship.


But education could progress, in all its great variety, with parents and the people they chose in charge of safeguarding and enriching children’s minds, emotions, values, and futures. Our country would be on a path dictated by its citizens rather than its politicians and lobbyists.


Wouldn’t that be a beautiful picture?


Additional Reading


School Wars: Who Will Win?


What Everyone Needs to Know


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Updated March 26, 2010