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OPINION - The view of Common Core from the cafeteria

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The tradition in America is that schools are controlled locally. This goes back to our very roots to the time when families on the plains would work together to raise money for a schoolhouse and pool their resources to hire a teacher. And in a large, diverse nation, there’s a strong argument for localism. Does the city kid from Boston need the same curriculum as a farm kid from Iowa? We choose trusted community members to sit on our school boards and help shape what our schools are like.

Having lived in many different places, I know that all schools are not the same. My family moved from Brooklyn because the schools were lousy. The school district I moved into – Fairfield, Connecticut – is one of the best in the country. But there are other very good school districts too, and they are not all the same.

80-percent of my classmates at Andrew Warde High School in Fairfield went on to college. Yet when I lived in Laconia, New Hampshire the schools were equally good – although fewer kids went onto higher education. The industrial arts curriculum outstanding; kids graduated with skills to go onto family-supporting jobs. My daughter’s high school – Wausau West – offers top-flight agriculture classes that would have been empty in New Hampshire or Connecticut. All of these differences are shaped by the local communities and the expectations of their schools.

If we trust local school board to shape our high school graduates, surely we’d trust them with the more basic management of elementary schools. That’s what would be lost if Wisconsin adopts Common Core standards. The federal government would essentially end local school control.

Like many federal programs, this seems innocent and simple at the start. We want all kids to know more-or-less the same stuff at more-or-less the same age. Common Core would standardize all of that. Yes, state participation is voluntary. Yes, states are free to adopt tougher standards above the Common Core requirements. No, they are not doing retinal scans on our children. So, what’s the problem? This: every program is open to federal meddling. Common Core today will have nothing to do with Common Core tomorrow. Textbook companies will hire lobbyists and sent them marching to Washington. Imagine how lucrative if your history textbook is “Common Core” approved. The Phys Ed Teachers Association will push for more time under Common Core. Ethic groups will want more of their history included in curriculum. (We already have a law in New York State that requires the Irish potato famine be taught in school.) Social engineers will push for baseline health testing, parenting research, child monitoring and any number of other invasive “ins” that come with a presence in the schools. There are hundreds of learn-to-read programs developed by private companies; they’ll be in a battle royal for Common Core inclusion. Imagine how lucrative it will be when Apple, or Google, or Microsoft vie to be the Common Core technology platform.

Supporters of Common Core say none of that will happen. No, not now… but it will.

And eventually school districts will clamor for funding to change over to the new textbooks, new teacher training, new programs, etc. And as they become more dependent on that money, what is now voluntary will quickly become conditional.

Want a glimpse of what Common Core will be like? Look to the school cafeteria.

There was a time when the school cafeteria was a more of a community dining room than a food-service operation. Many students would go home for lunch. Almost everyone else packed their lunch in a brown bag or a lunchbox. Some school districts decided to sell food. Then came the requirement that cafeterias had to sell their meals at cost, even if it meant that unsold food would be a loss. Next came the federal government subsidizing low-income kids who couldn’t afford at-cost meals. Next up, federal funding to pay for purchasing the food. Then nutrition standards.

Now almost no school district anyway runs its own cafeteria. They’re dependent on federal money. They’re beholden to federal rules. And every school district’s food service program is bogged down with complicated compliance rules, time consuming paperwork, and the always-present threat that you’re up the creek if your funding gets pulled. And school cafeterias are known for bland, low-quality food. Is there any doubt Common Core would be different?

Chris Conley
3.7.14 



Image: A classroom via WikiCommons.com