The tea party's war against the Common Core State Standards escalated this week in the form of survey results supposedly attesting to the standards' extreme unpopularity in Mississippi, the lowest-performing state in the country in terms of student achievement. But the survey's questions were misleading, and some of them relied on information that's downright false.
The Common Core State Standards are a new set of education benchmarks that have been adopted in 45 states, including Mississippi. The measure was designed in an effort to make sure students around the country are held to the same educational standards. In a process that was incentivized by the possibility of getting extra federal cash through the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition, the Mississippi Board of Education adopted the Common Core in summer 2010.
On Wednesday, the Mississippi arm of the tea party published the results of its Common Core robocall survey. Naturally, the results bolstered tea party views, finding that a vast majority of respondents think the Common Core should be stopped in its tracks.
The survey was conducted during the last quarter of 2013 and was based on phone calls with more than 3,200 randomly selected Mississippi households. The script for the survey prefaces its questions by calling the Common Core the "Federal Government’s latest attempt to take control of public, private and home-schooled education in America.” Mississippi Citizens for Good Government –- a group whose Facebook says its purpose is to “expose the pretend conservatives at every level of government” –- managed the survey in conjunction with the tea party.
Questions throughout the survey contain biased claims. One such question asks if respondents are concerned that “achievement standards for third graders appear to set lower expectations for black and Hispanic students than for white and Asian students.”
But the Common Core is not connected to racial achievement standards. Rather, racial achievement goals became policy in Mississippi as part of its waiver to escape from the George W. Bush era's No Child Left Behind Act. Mississippi is one of over 40 states that got a reprieve from that much-derided law by agreeing to take on several of the Obama administration's education reforms, such as a revamped school accountability system and higher education standards (but not necessarily the Common Core).
The perception of the Common Core's connection to race-based achievement goals is apparently so ingrained in Mississippi that government officials have set out to correct it. On its website, the Mississippi Department of Education calls this perception a "myth," explaining that such racial achievement goals are solely associated with No Child Left Behind and “have no relation to Common Core State Standards.”
When asked about the basis for the survey's racial achievement question, Rita Anderson, a tea partier who helped write the questionnaire, told The Huffington Post that the framework associated with the Common Core “sets a lower baseline for blacks and Hispanics, and it shows they're going to progress but stay lower [than Caucasian and Asian students].”
After survey respondents heard the question about race, 83 percent of them said they were very concerned about the Common Core setting lower expectations for some minority students.
Anderson said she plans to use these survey results to persuade policymakers to abandon the Common Core.
“I spent several months going around the state, and listening to citizens it became clear that there wasn’t much fundamental knowledge about the issue of Common Core,” Anderson told HuffPost over the phone. “People know it was controversial. … But we began to see that citizens at large really were sort of left out. That was the message we’re trying to get to legislators."
Mississippi's new superintendent of education, Carey Wright, said she believes the state should stick with implementing the Common Core. Working against her is the 10-member Senate Conservative Coalition, which is trying to delay or halt the Common Core's rollout.
“If the Mississippi Department of Education intends to evaluate children and measures of progress differently based on race ... we simply can’t sit by and allow such a blatant discrimination to occur,” said Coalition Chairman Senator Chris McDaniel.
Anderson told HuffPost that the survey's question about race achievement standards was based on information advertised by these elected officials.
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