The Educational Tech Scam

The Common Core Standards are an educational reform movement initiated by the National Governors Assocation and intended to standardize the educational curricula of the states around a "common core" of knowledge required to function in modern society.

Put that way, the initiative sounds fine, but as if often the case with educational reforms, Common Core proponents have relied on bafflement and obfuscation to shut down inquiry by the paying public into the very political process of putting the initiative into action -- a process monetarily supported by private education corporations.  

Common Core tests (those used in Oklahoma were developed by a number of individuals and states in a consortium called PARCC; Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) are to be computer adaptive, leaving the paper and pencil tests of yesteryear behind in a cloud of perceived ineffectual dust. Due to their technologically intensive nature, concerns have been raised in a number of quarters over their costs, in no small part due to the technology necessary to administer the tests.

Although no reasonable person would buy a new car sight unseen and without comparing price to another similar vehicle, states have signed on to the Common Core -- including its testing mechanism (either PARCC or SBAC) -- without any serious funding studies and no opportunity to review either testing package, as test questions hadn't even been released until August of last year. In fact, it wasn't until the Pioneer Institute released a paper counting CC's costs at nearly $16 billion nationally that any kind of a critical eye was cast on the cost of Common Core in any way. Now, one has only to search the web for the term "Common Core estimated costs" to return a number of papers poking sticks in the eye of the whole "we're still working on those figures" meme.

In December of 2011, the now former Oklahoma State Department of Education Communications Director, Damon Gardenhire, reported to Capitol Beat OK, "We anticipate the costs of implementation to be covered by the current state budget that includes such line items as professional development and assessments...There may be some additional technology costs at the district level, but these are technology upgrades school districts should be implementing regardless of whether Oklahoma implements the Common Core State Standards. So the argument about costs is essentially a red herring."

I wonder if that's how Superintendent Joe Kitchens of Western Heights School District in Oklahoma County feels? I doubt it, as he's talking about applying for $475,000 from the federal ERate program and the district is expected to place a bond item before voters to cover additional expenses. (ERate is the result of President Clinton's Telecommunications Act of 1996. It is a Marxist-type program created by the Clinton administration to redistribute the wealth of cell-phone owners to schools, libraries, and healthcare providers that were previously unable to provide wireless service to themselves and their patrons.)

According to Mr. Kitchens, "Once you get into a testing situation, you have to be able to support it without interruption." He added: "I do not think this is going to be a cheap exercise at all." Please don't believe this is an isolated event.

Today I received an email from a friend about a school bond election in Putnam City -- a suburb of Oklahoma City. The bond issue actually has a title, "2013 Technology for Learning Bond Election". Now, if it weren't bad enough to ask voters in the district to have their property taxes raised for a number of years in order to retire a bond "Because children and teens find technology engaging and powerful, it makes sense that it be fully utilized in schools", the first quote on the page is from John Dewey. John Dewey, the socialist/Marxist, spoiler of all things educational. That can't bode well.

The second quote on the page is a quote from the Department of Education about how important technology is to, well, everything. Yes, technology is important to the Department of Education's education reform plans (and, incidentally, an important part of current health care reform plans as well). Why? Because the Department of Education (just like the Department of Health and Human Services) wants to collect data on you and your children. Why would they want to spend all that money to do that? Because it is simply very hard to control the lives of people if you don't know everything about them.

Unfortunately, this only gets worse for Putnam City. As I scroll through the large number of pages devoted to persuading the taxpayer to vote for this school bond, there are a number of videos. One is a virtually incomprehensible video taken at a local pumpkin patch by an iPad. Another has a 20-something teacher effusing that 'research' shows how gaming 'engages' a student and causes them to learn.

I have a bit of news for her. Though the outcomes of research -- however scientific -- can purposefully be manipulated and accidentally skewed, several studies on the effects of multimedia and learning have come into the literature of late (Does Technology Hinder or Enhance Learning and Teaching? Too Much Computer Exposure May Hinder Learning,ACLU Case Implicates Reliance on Tech).

Most are summed up by this very apt quote, "They have all the advantages of modernity and democracy, but when the gifts of life lead to social joys, not intellectual labor, the minds of the young plateau at age 18." This quote is bolstered by revealing the actual purpose and genesis of the technology in the classroom, "[The] teaching theory behind technology education is called constructivism; teacher preparation programs or courses in educational technology teach the concepts of inquiry-based learning. In inquiry-based classrooms or lessons, students are encouraged to research topics under their own guidance and direction with teachers acting as facilitators." Constructivism is the backbone of Progressive education theory and the principle tenet underpinning the educational philosophies of John Dewey. Clearly, the expanded role of technology in the classroom acts as yet another political tool for the Left. It should not be hard to look at the state of public schools today, identify the abject failure of Progressive education theory in America and simply reject any further notions of continuing these philosophies in the classroom.

It is also important to determine who is supplying the research cited as the authority to expand classroom technology. As mentioned previously, many for-profit companies in today's education 'reform' tsunami supply classrooms with everything from broadband to computers. Research produced by any company that could be a vendor to the state or the district is very likely biased toward the technology it is studying, making its conclusions suspect.

This concern over Common Core testing costs isn't cropping up only in Oklahoma. Missouri is having the exact same problem. In fact, the Missouri Association of School Administrators had this to say: "Local taxpayers cannot be burdened with another unfunded mandate." So is Mississipi. So is Utah. So is Indiana -- and others.

Why in the world, when our country is TRILLIONS of dollars in debt, would we as taxpayers want to burden ourselves with increased INDIVIDUAL debt (at least Putnam City shows the taxpayer how much to expect their house payments to go up) in order to promote an educational philosophy that is at best controversial and at worst, downright harmful to the students we purport to help?

Why should we allow a group of largely Republican educational elitists -- in tandem with President Obama -- to force unproven reforms on states (through Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waivers) and then treat them as unfunded mandates, creating more and more tax burden for the taxpayer?

Why should our tax dollars go to promote an educational political agenda?

With no study ever attempted at the state level to determine the final costs of the Common Core and PARCC tests, how do we know we won't be asked to fund more bonds? (Putnam City taxpayers seem to enjoy selling out their individual property rights to their schools -- against the ideals of our Founders -- as there are still four unretired bonds jacking up property taxes in the district.)

The answer is, "we don't know". In fact, there are way too many unanswered questions period for any self-respecting, savvy taxpayer to vote "yes" on any technology bond issue coming to a school district near you. In fact, just say NO! NO additional technology, NO data collection, NO Common Core, NO NEW SCHOOL BONDS!