In the tradition of Dinesh S’Souza’s 2016: Obama's America and Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the expository documentary about the Common Core States Standards Initiative (CCSSI), Building the Machine, attempts to present a more complex discussion of its target issue than proponents or detractors often posit.
The film is the work of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) which began researching the Common Core in 2009, concerned about its impact on private and homeschool education. After several years of investigation, HSLDA saw the move to implement these standards to be “the largest systemic reform of American public education in recent history. What started as a collaboration between the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to reevaluate and nationalize America’s education standards has become one of the most controversial—and yet, unheard of—issues in the American public.” While 45 states adopted the standards, thanks to rich fiscal incentives, a May 2013 Gallup Poll found that 62% of Americans had never heard of them.
Building the Machine centers on interviews “across the spectrum of opinions on the Common Core, including those who were part of the closed door meetings of the Common Core.” Thanks to this multifaceted approach, many Common Core critics found the film to be wanting. Anita Hoge, who has done as much as anyone to alert citizens to the landmines buried in current education reform packages, complains that Building the Machine “is presented like Common Core just arrived and is something new that parents and teachers are fighting. How ridiculous. This is the old OBE agenda remixed. Where were these experts when we were fighting OBE?”
Hoge's concern is that HSLDA fails to appreciate the magnitude of the “education reform” movement. Even if Common Core is defeated, or moved from national standards to state standards, the problem is far from resolved. “Everyone will think they have won this battle [but], all the while, the real College Career Citizenship Readiness or Workforce Readiness (SoftSkills) Standards …are being put in place …”
Common Core was a strategy to introduce standards – as opposed to academic content curriculum. It also began a process for individuated funding to each child. “The ESEA [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] Flexibility Waiver, then, allows the free and reduced 40% lunch to be eliminated, allowing ALL children to be identified for Title I funding, called ‘school-wide.’ Every child becomes educationally deprived because they have not these individual standards.”
The waiver further mandates college and career ready standards. “Even though it sounds different from Common Core, it elaborates and expands Common Core along with dispositions or workforce soft skills. Title II under the Flex Waiver is just forcing the teachers to comply with the training, [as recommended by teacher development experts] Marzano and Danielson. The plan must have three things: EXACT standards; EXACT teacher training to teach the standards and interventions; and EXACT curriculum and software that are validated to meet standards with FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] allowing data mining to third party contractors to develop the EXACT curriculum.”
In other words, Common Core or no Common Core, the hydra of “education reform” has other heads that sit atop a body determined to create a total, state-managed workforce. States may stop trying to implement Common Core “because everyone is so upset with it” but will then introduce College and Career Ready Standards. “That was the plan all along. It’s the Department of Labor, SCANS, and has never strayed from the workforce training agenda. Dispositions or soft skills will be integrated into the curriculum.”
Hoge recommends the far more extensive “Exposing the Global Road to Ruin” series for anyone seeking a deeper understanding. That said, the free, 40-minute film - which can be watched online at www.commoncoremovie.com – is a sobering and well-presented explanation of an immediate issue. If one understands its limits, Building the Machine can begin a conversation with the 62% who have never heard of Common Core…and the much higher percentage who are unconcerned about the direction public education has taken.
Spero columnist Stephanie Block is the author of the four-volume 'Change Agents: Alinskyian Organizing Among Religious Bodies', available at Amazon.