Parents in 17 states across the US, staged a 'Don't Send your Child to School Day' on Monday, to demand an end to the common core state standards. These are standards ostensibly to create equity across states, however they are surrounded by huge controversy - partly because they take away the formulation of education policy from states, but also because many teachers see them as an attack on their ability to provide a rich and democratic education to children. The standards are very prescriptive with teachers being given scripted lesson plans. These lessons are then aligned to tests, which have a significant influence in particular on the pay and tenure of teachers.

Most importantly the standards are driven by huge corporate interests, like the giant education corporation, Pearson, who are designing and selling the text books, shrink-wrapped lessons, computer hard and soft ware and testing tools - an opportunity for massive profits. As Bill Gates revealingly put it in 2009:

Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced that $350 million of the stimulus package will be used –to create just these kinds of tests—next-generation assessments aligned to the common core. When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching

But while the corporations are raking in the profits, education is suffering. For a start, where the testing has already begun, for example in New York, there is a significant drop in attainment levels - less than one third of pupils from the 3rd to the 8th grade attained or exceeded the required standard in English. Naturally this has caused a lot of unhappiness to children, their parents and their teachers. Meanwhile the lesson and teaching materials, as well as robbing teachers of their creativity and professional judgement, appear to have been designed by people with little or no idea about education or child development. In this excellent and detailed article for example, a Louisiana parent describes her own and her first grader's frustration with dull but also meaningless common core maths homework, with instructions (to a five year old) like: 

Solve the number sentences.  Write the double fact that helped you solve the double +1

A parent taking part in the Don't Send Your Child to School Day in South Carolina said: “My problem is that these tests are all that the teachers can see, and our children’s educations are becoming statistics and scores and numbers. My children are not a number. They are not a test score. They are NOT a statistic. . . . When imagination is taken away, we are one step closer to being human robots that can only operate when given directions."

The promotional graphic clip above makes it quite clear how the people who are responsible for the common core understand the purpose of education. It is not about helping children to understand and question the world, their fellow human beings and themselves, but rather it is about competition. It is interesting that the steps which the children are climbing in the graphic end nowhere. In fact if the children at the top were to take one more step they would fall off. Is this an oblique or unconscious reference to the fact that for many children from low income families in US, there are no meaningful jobs for them to go to - no matter how hard they try? This is the case across much of the so-called developed world and as well in the global South. 

The same people who are designing this stuff in the US - Pearson, the Gates Foundation, Rupert Murdoch's Amplify - are rolling it out around the world. And they always frame what they are doing in terms of promoting equity. Many teachers, parents, students, community members and activists in the US and Europe are becoming conscious that this is nothing more than a strategem to make their vast profit-making project palatable. Unfortunately although this is realised by many people in the global South as well, too many teaching unions still accept the rhetoric of the corporations and foundations, and help them to design their data systems on the grounds that it will help to bring about quality education for all. It will not - it will as the parent above said only work towards the creation of 'human robots that can only operate when given directions.' 

Teachers all over the world should follow what is happening in the US with the fight against the common core. To read more about it go to this excellent blog post