Unraveling the Common Core: Q&A with Mercedes K. Schneider


Mercedes K. Schneider recently wrapped up her 20th full-time year of classroom teaching. A seasoned educator, she also holds degrees in secondary education (English and German), guidance and counseling, and applied statistics and research methods. Her first book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education, was ∆published last year. In it Schneider dissects the myths and realities of corporate-funded reform of US public schools, following the money and politics involved. “In our estimation Schneider’s book is right at the top with Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything as one of the crucial movement books of our time,” write the editors of the Monthly Review in the June 2015 edition. She lives in southern Louisiana and blogs on education issues, e.g., links between money, laws, policies and politics, at deutsch29.wordpress.com. Her second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? (Teachers College Press), published on June 12, 2015. Schneider and I conducted this interview via email.

SS: How did your household shape you to be a critical teacher and writer today?

MKS: I think one of the primary influences from my childhood was the time I regularly spent with my father in the evenings, sitting in the kitchen and talking about history, politics, and his life experiences. However, no one in my family had been either teacher or writer before me.

SS: What is the thesis of Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?

MKS: The likes of the Common Core State Standards was bound to happen, and it was bound to originate with those whose professional lives were unconnected to the public school classroom. In short, CCSS represents the nexus of the standards movement of the 1990s and the test-score-driven, punitive reform advocated by the 2001 Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, No Child Left Behind.

SS: How does the CCSS fit into the trend of public school privatization?

MKS: CCSS is top-down reform, which kills creativity in the classroom. It is also test-centered—further death to creativity and promoter of fear to pass CCSS-related tests. Tie teacher jobs to tests; guarantee teacher “failure” and rush to early retirement. Test scores can be used to “fail” schools. Teachers can be replaced by the likes of an endless stream of Teach for America, Wendy Kopp’s temp teacher shop; schools can be replaced by an endless charter churn.

SS: Intellectual property, e.g., copyrights and patents, are central to so-called free-trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership being negotiated secretly now. Who benefits from the CCSS copyright, and how?

MKS: The CCSS copyright shows who really “owns” CCSS—two politically-steeped nonprofits, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. These two organizations could say that copyrighting CCSS is only a formality, but a copyright is a copyright, and they own this one.

The greatest potential benefit to these two groups could be selling the rights for some education company to provide “official” CCSS curriculum, professional development—or even assessments.

SS: Are you referring to the corporate sector, e.g., Apple, Google and Pearson Education, as potential commercial buyers of the CCSS?

MKS: Anything is possible. But I do believe a potential buyer would have to be a megacorp like the ones you suggest.

SS: If these education corporations have been in contact with you, what is the feedback to your critique of the CCSS?

MKS: I do not expect an education company to be in touch with me. I am not a market analyst. They would be interested in financial projections, on potential return on their investment. They would want to know how to market CCSS to assure it would pay handsomely.

SS: Who in the national teacher union leadership supports the CCSS, and why?

MKS: Both national teacher union presidents support CCSS, likely because the national-level Democratic Party supports it. National teacher union endorsement of CCSS is an attempt to manufacture teacher support.

SS: What accounts for classroom teacher resistance to the CCSS?

MKS: CCSS was foisted upon us even as we were fed the repeated message that CCSS “was developed by teachers.” Also, CCSS is pitched as “one size fits all” students. In general, seasoned teachers know better, and their experience counters slapping an inflexible CCSS onto their kids.

SS: What surprised you the most in researching and writing Common Core Dilemma, and why?

MKS: That is a difficult question to answer. First, there were a number of times I discovered information that made me pause due to my being surprised. Second, I cannot think of any way to offer an example that will not give too much away and that is easily explained in a sentence or two.

SS: How does it feel to be on the front lines of the struggle to defend public education from ultra-wealthy interests?

MKS: It has its comical moments, like when those benefitting from corporate reform money accuse me of being funded by the teacher unions, or when they are perplexed to find nothing when researching my funding sources. Mostly, it just feels like regular life to me now, with the greater part of my fight happening as I am seated in my recliner with my computer in my lap.

SS: What will be the subject of your next book?

MKS: I have started writing my third book, only because summer break is the time that I have for writing books. It is on the role of so-called “school choice” in creating a dual “public” system. I am surprised at how much I am able to draw on my own experiences as a former public school student in southern Louisiana in writing about issues related to this book.

SS: Thanks for your time, Mercedes.

MKS: Thank you, Seth.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2015


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