BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Standardize This

Uncle Sam helped to spur the Common Core State Standards, the newest “big thing” in education reform that profits businesses. Mercedes K. Schneider names the actors and unveils their deeds and words in Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? (Teachers College Press, 2015).

A laser-like focus on a politically-connected class of edupreneurs propels her empirical case against education privatization’s bid to establish national test-driven assessments and standards for K-12 public schools. There is a vital history here, away from public view for years.

Schneider clarifies such deliberate obscurity. In an Introduction, 11 chapters, Conclusion, Glossary, Notes and an Index, she investigates the relevant CCSS methods and motives.

Schneider begins with a look at the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. It in part paved the path for the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 under GOP President George W. Bush that Sen. And Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders voted for, too.

Central to the NCLB is high-stakes student testing. It fuels education privatization. Teachers’ livelihoods depend on their students’ test scores.

Under this small carrot-and-big stick framework, the NCLB used state education standards to assess and punish disproportionately public schools in black and brown communities. Democratic Party politicians facilitated this process.

Yet such a policy reliance upon state standards proved to limit the playing field of education reform. Such limits to capital accumulation generally require federal intervention, with Pres. Obama’s Race To The Top, the CCSS-friendly offspring of the NCLB, a case in point.

The reformers nearly to a person are not teachers. That fact is striking, and runs a thread throughout Schneider’s book, outraging her and maybe readers, too.

The CCSS solution to the limits of state standards propelled Achieve, Inc.’s grand plan to create a “common” set of K-12 standards in in English and math. Achieve is part of a triad that includes American College Testing and the College Board pushing the CCSS.

Elected by nobody, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers own the copyright for the CCSS. If that is not an attack on democracy, what is?

And as Schneider shows, the plan for the CCSS slithered ahead in stealth for reasons, we read, of preparing US public schools for the intrusion of global monopoly corporations. Business knows best, according to wealthy interest such as Bill and Melinda Gates.

For example, Schneider shines the light on Gates and luminaries such as IBM’s CEO Louis Gerstner, Jr. He drips arrogance in his ignorance of what classroom teachers and their pupils do on a daily basis, while positioning Achieve to suckle from the CCSS.

Readers get to know the CCSS word salad of groups and terms. This language of edureform is a try to obfuscate the privatization of American public education.

Schneider, an author, education blogger and high school English teacher, critically informs us of the intertwined commercial and political interests behind the CCSS emergence. According to her painstaking research, this power grab subverts public school students and teachers under the banner of helping the U.S. to compete in a global economy.

It as if the education system in general and teachers especially are responsible for US deindustrialization and mass black incarceration. It should be no surprise, then, that the labor and capital conflict is fundamental, albeit not so openly stated as such, to Schneider’s CCSS exploration.

She reveals how this class relationship is buried under mounds of self-serving rhetoric and spin about classroom excellence and test scores. Schneider, no doubt a forensic detective in a previous life, who in fact reads true crime books, shares her dogged research to reveal the corporate-government propaganda campaign behind the “origin, development, and promotion” of the CCSS.

Schneider’s voice is at times snarky. I think this feature, though some readers might disagree, spices up the sometimes dry subject matter of education policy and politics.

Public tax dollars fund K-12 public schools. The CCSS is a bid to make this public resource a machine to print money for corporations such as Apple, McGraw-Hill, Microsoft and Pearson.

Schneider doesn’t stop there. To read her book is to learn what the 99% is up against as the one percent wages an aggressive campaign to further undermine public education via the CCSS. It is a Trojan Horse of education privatization.

She blasts out the message that the CCSS, the latest flavor of elite edureform, destroys public education. Ordinary folks such as herself can and do fight back.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2015

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652