Category: Why Common Core

Learning the Origins of the Civil War

By now, most reformers have heard about White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s declarations on talk show host Laura Ingraham’s show that the American Civil War resulted from the…

By now, most reformers have heard about White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s declarations on talk show host Laura Ingraham’s show that the American Civil War resulted from the “lack of ability to compromise”, that “Men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand”, and that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was “was an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state.” Nothing in Kelly’s remarks mentioned the reason for the war being fought: The desire by southern state politicians to preserve the enslavement and oppression of Black people.

Certainly Kelly’s statement, likely made as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to sway attention from yesterday’s indictments of key figures in the current Occupant of the White House’s successful presidential campaign, don’t square with facts or original texts. Given the Trump Administration’s comments in defense of White Supremacists in Charlottesville back in August — and the president’s own defense of Confederate monuments — it is also not shocking.

But Kelly isn’t the only person who holds such views. Thanks to the efforts of early 20th century scholars who advocated a romantic “Lost Cause” version of Civil War history that obfuscated the debate over slavery as the main cause of the war (as well as the erecting of statues dedicated to Lee and other Confederate war leaders that served as propaganda), generations of Americans have been misinformed about at least 618,000 Americans died during four years of fighting — and why President Abraham Lincoln was ultimately assassinated just days after the Confederacy finally surrendered to the Union.

Dropout Nation has spent the past three months discussing the steps teachers and reformer can take to overhaul civics and history curricula in order for our children to gain a more-honest understanding of the nation’s history. This has included discussing how to use original texts, Census reports, and even genealogy to help children to know how their lives and that of their families interplayed with the seminal events and issues that have shaped our society. Thankfully, there are also plenty of original texts and books that can help teachers, families, and children fully understand the central role the battles over the continuation of enslaving Black people played in the Civil War.

By studying original texts, we can all fully understand how preservation of slavery was the foremost cause of the Civil War.

One important resource lies with the Civil War Trust, which offers a compendium of the Articles of Secession issued soon after Abraham Lincoln (who wanted to compromise on slavery) won the presidential election in 1860. As you read the original texts, it becomes clear that preserving the enslavement of Black people, an activity that was the underpinning of economies in the southern states, was the primary reason for leaving the Union. The secession ordinance issued by Florida, another one of the states that made up the Confederacy can also be read, as well as that of the Constitution of the Confederate States, which explicitly protected the ownership of African American people.

Even the matter of states’ rights, an argument often used by Lost Causers and others in their discussion about the causes of the Civil War was tied to slavery. One way to fully understand that states’ rights in the context of discussing the Civil War lies in reading through the Articles of Secession. In the case of South Carolina, seceders compained that abolitionists in the norther states, through the federal government “assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution”. When South Carolina and other states mention “property”, they explicitly meant the ownership of Black people.

You can also look at the Fugitive Slave Clause in the U.S. Constitution, one of the original passages in the Founding Document, which declares that “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour”. As Albany Law School Professor Paul Finkelman has noted, when states’ rights is mentioned in context of the Civil War, it is purely about the ability of slaveowners to enslave Black people.

Meanwhile there are plenty of original sources that teachers and families can use in helping children understand the compromises made on the question of slavery. This starts again with the federal Constitution. There is the Three-Fifths Clause, under which slaves were considered three-fifths of a person for the purposes of the Census and congressional representation of southern (and northern) states because they weren’t free people by law. Along with original documents from writers of the Constitution such as James Madison (who took notes during the Constitutional Convention of 1787), you can learn how the battle between those opposed to slavery and those who were slaveholders shaped this and other compromises on the evil that ended up in law.

Another key document is the Compromise of 1820, under which Maine was admitted as a state free of slavery in condition for allowing Missouri to be admitted as a slave state. The original document itself, along with Robert Pierce Forbes’ tome on the significance of the law, demonstrates how congressional leaders of the time felt compromise was necessary to keep together the Union even at the expense of the lives of human beings.

John Kelly’s misstatements about the reasons why the Civil War happened isn’t shocking. American public education has done a shoddy job of providing honest and comprehensive history and civics education.

Then there’s the Compromise of 1850, which admitted California into the Union in exchange for allowing slaveowners in southern states to hunt down enslaved Black people who dared to escape to freedom in the North. An entire compendium is available thanks to the Library of Congress. By studying the documents — including the Fugitive Slave Act that would figure in the infamous Dred Scot decision — children can learn how congressional leaders continued bartering the lives of Black people against a backdrop of increasing opposition to slavery.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act passed four years later, which upset the compromise by allowing voters in both new states to decide whether Black people can be enslaved, also illuminates how political leaders in northern states bent over backwards to accommodate slaveowners and their political representatives in the south. The Library of Congress also supplies the original text as well as the records of the congressional debates involved in its passage. Even as abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Charles Sumner convinced many Americans that slavery was evil, politicians such as Stephen Douglas (who authored the act as well as helped pass the Compromise of 1850) thought giving in on slavery was necessary in order to avoid secession. But dissent from Sumner as well as Maine Sen. William Fessenden (who argued that bowing to southern slaveholder demands should no longer be acceptable) foreshadowed the war that was to come.

Meanwhile there are other original documents to consider. There’s Abraham Lincoln’s Peoria Speech in 1854 decrying the Kansas-Nebraska Act; the arguments would eventually be developed by the future president in his debate with Douglas for the U.S. Senate race four years later and in his campaign for the presidency. Douglas’ own first speech in those debates, which would serve as a state’s rights justification for preserving slavery, also deserves to be read. On the side of slaveholders and the south, there are the words of the Staunton Spectator (made available courtesy of the University of Virginia’s Valley of the Shadow project) and James D. B. DeBow, a leading advocate for slavery who justified the Peculiar Institution on the grounds that it preserved the status of white men (including the vast majority who didn’t own Black people for profit).

Then there are Web sites and texts that can be read to fully understand how the defense of slavery (and opposition to it) led to the Civil War. There’s historian Kevin M. Levin’s Civil War Memory, which offers documents and perspectives on slavery and the conflict, and Finkelman’s Defending Slavery, a critical look at the varying rhetoric used to keep the enslavement of Black people status quo ante. The Civil War Trust‘s own Web site provides numerous documents and sources for children, teachers, and families to study, as does Yale University Law School Libary’s compendium of laws. There’s also Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as the Library of Congress and the National Archives, the later two providing online access to original documents for study and understanding. Even Robert E. Lee’s defense of slavery (as well as his mistreatment of them) can be read and considered thanks to the archive operated by his descendants, as well as Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s book about Lee’s writings.

Certainly the original sources won’t change the minds of Kelly, Trump and their allies, or even those defending Confederate monuments. After all, they have become invested in an idea of America that runs counter to the facts in evidence. But this doesn’t mean that future generations of Americans can’t get an honest, comprehensive understanding of how the enslaving of Black people has shaped our nation’s past and present. Reformers should advance this work, and ultimately, help our fellow Americans move towards a more-perfect union for everyone.

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Making History and Civics Personal

The most-important way to learn and appreciate the fullness of American history, to fully understand how we have both lived up to its ideals and yet remain far from making…

The most-important way to learn and appreciate the fullness of American history, to fully understand how we have both lived up to its ideals and yet remain far from making them real, and to comprehend how the past shaped our civics, won’t from simply reading dusty history books. It comes from looking at the graves of people named John and Monica, from visiting the lands owned by women named Eliza and Mary, from reading deeds and Census records that detail their lives, and from understanding how our own family histories intertwine with the nation’s struggles towards progress and liberty for all.

This is a lesson our teachers, school leaders, and school operators must embrace in order to help all children gain the proper civics and history education they need to be the leaders and citizens their communities need them to be, as well as to continue bending the arc of the nation’s history towards progress.

Prompting this discussion was last month’s Dropout Nation essay on one of my ancestors, Sampson Moore, and how learning about the lives of enslaved Africans, as well as the oppression they endured, is critical to improving history, civics, and social studies. More than a few readers thought it would be interesting if children learned about American history through their own genealogies. Which makes sense. The more-relevant we make lessons to the lives of the children in classrooms, the more-likely they will gain the knowledge and understanding needed to be fully part of the great experiment called America in adulthood.

Making history and civics relevant and personal is especially important in a time as turbulent as those of the past. Even as think tanks and pundits such as the Brookings Institution and Chester (Checker) Finn, Jr. bemoan polls showing that some collegians have little understanding about the Bill of Rights and civil liberties (as well as the usual and often overblown complaints about freedom of speech on college campuses), they fail to grasp an important reality: That many adults have little understanding about American history and about the development of civil liberties. This is because they were never properly taught in the first place, and because such exercises such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are mere propaganda exercises that don’t build proper appreciation. Proper teaching of American history – and ultimately, a strong appreciation of its past and present – begins with placing their lives and that of their families in the contexts of those developments.

The best part is that making history personal and relevant doesn’t take that much effort. Thanks to professional and amateur genealogists, the wide array of historic preservation efforts, the digital release of narratives such as those of former slaves recorded by the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s, and even works of scholarship from historians such as Wilma Dunaway, any teacher, school leader, or operator can craft history and civics curricula that make cold facts personal. This can easily be seen in Bowie, a city in Prince George’s County, Md., that is also the home of this publication.

Documents such as the U.S. Census Bureau’s schedules of slave ownership can be used along with other sources to make American history relevant to the lives of children.

A teacher at Samuel Ogle Middle School in Bowie, Md., the home base of this publication, could begin that education just by taking children to one of the many old churches and grave sites in the community. There’s the famed Sacred Heart Catholic Church. There, the teacher can tell children how it played a role in advancing religious freedom, especially as the site of the founding of the nation’s first Roman Catholic diocese in 1789, and the consecration of John Carroll as the nation’s first bishop.

She can also explain how the church and the priests who worked there maintained the institution of slavery that is at the heart of America’s Original Sin, as the centerpiece of the White Marsh plantation that financed Georgetown University and, through a series of sales, breaking up Black families and sending them as far as Louisiana, where they endured even more oppression. Thanks to Georgetown’s project on the slaves owned by the Jesuit order (as well as by the priests personally), the students even see if their ancestors were enslaved on that plantation.

At Sacred Heart’s cemetery, a teacher can go to the grave of John Hawkins, which sits separate from those of White men and women who passed on to the hereafter. She can talk to them about how to research Census data from 1870 into 1910, two years before John died, and they can learn how had a wife named Hannah, had eight children. They can learn why we know so little about his life before 1870 — because Black people enslaved weren’t considered human beings, and thus, unworthy of having their lives recorded for posterity.

They can learn how he started out being illiterate, but ended up being able to read by the 1900 Census. They will also find out that John eventually managed to own his own land. They will also learn that this was a rare thing. Because of Jim Crow segregation laws that emerged amid Reconstruction in the 1870s, most Black people were forced into sharecropping, a system of renting land, equipment and even feed from former masters that often deprived them of the ability to earn a profit.

A teacher can then travel around some of the areas in their communities where people once lived and what used to be there. The Samuel Ogle teacher can take her students to a stretch of Gallant Fox Lane (named after the Triple Crown-winning horse bred on the nearby Belair Plantation), and talk about how it was once owned by Eliza Isaac, who was one of the few women in her time to own property of her own, and about a woman named Mary Brown, who managed to do the same. Back in the classroom, children can look up the acreage on Prince George’s County’s online atlas, then compare the current land to old maps dating back to 1861, and see how the community was mostly plantations and farms.

By researching the U.S. Census slave schedule for 1860, the students can learn that Mrs. Isaac owned 1o human beings as part of her worldly goods — including three little girls aged 4, 5, and 6. Through other books, the class will learn how those little girls had only a 50 percent chance of living beyond age 15 because they were often malnourished by slaveowners, and their mothers were forced to wean them off breastfeeding so they can feed the children of those who enslaved them. The students would then learn that if those little girls made it to adulthood, they were doomed for lives in which they would be passed down by the slave master to their children or worse, sold to another slave owner as if they were common goods. And if not for the Union’s victory in the Civil War, those little girls would have never become free.

A trip to both historic places and land that has never been marked as historically significant such as this tract here can help children understand the development of American history over time.

But teachers and schools don’t even need to always go out in the field to provide children a comprehensive and personal understanding of American history. They can simply have children and youth trace their own genealogy to comprehend how the nation’s past affects their present.

During this exercise, a child may go on Ancestry or Family Search and learn about the life of an ancestor named Jacob. He will learn from the 1870 Census that he was born in Halifax County and lived in nearby Martin County. A search of Civil War records will tell him that Jacob fought for the 37th Colored Infantry, one of the first U.S. Army units that allowed Black people into the ranks, and that he likely fought in the Siege of Petersburg, one of the deadliest and most-important conflicts in the War Between the States. That child and his peers will learn in a personal way how Black men and women fought for their own freedom and for this nation even when it had no interest in making them full citizens.

Another child may research the 1860 Census and learn about an ancestor named Duncan, who was also born in North Carolina, but had arrived in Attala County, Mississippi by the 1850s. She will learn that Duncan was a White man who fought for the Confederate cause to keep Black people in bondage – and later helped enact Jim Crow laws that kept them from being full citizens for another century – even as he had 12 children with one of his slaves. Along with her schoolmates, the young woman will learn how the contorted, hypocritical situations in which more than a few White people owned their own relatives made slavery the peculiar institution. She will also gain an appreciation of how her ancestors (and even herself) benefited from institutions that oppressed enslaved Africans — including people who were also her family.

A third child may go to the passenger lists of immigrants arriving to the United States through New York City and learn about an ancestor named Francis, who arrived in this nation from Ireland during the Great Famine of 1845-to-1852. After learning about the bigoted policies that led to an economic and social catastrophe that included the deaths of one million people, he will learn how the lack of immigration laws allowed Francis and others were able to flee to safety in this country. The child will then learn how Francis and other Irish emigres were discriminated against by Protestant native-born Americans because they were Catholics — even when they volunteered and fought for the nation in the Civil War — and how bigotry towards them, as well as Chinese and Jewish emigres, led to the immigration laws and policies that deny people in situations just like that of Francis the ability to flee oppression and poverty.

Certainly there will be some who will object to such approaches to learning history. Some will say that such lessons are too harsh and traumatic for children to learn. Others will complain that it may paint a negative picture of the nation’s history. What the first group fail to understand is that children are incredibly capable of dealing with harsh knowledge about life. As for the second: The lack of honest knowledge not only contributes to their ignorance of history and civics, it even makes them unable to fully appreciate how far the nation has come (as well as how far it has to go).

What we owe to children as well as to our nation is history and civics instruction and curricula that makes the facts real and relevant to their lives. If we are to keep progressing as a nation, our education must also do better than be dusty and lifeless.

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Telling the Histories of Our Sampsons

There once was a man named Sampson Moore. He was an enslaved African American. He gained freedom after the Confederates, who wanted to keep him a slave, were defeated during…

There once was a man named Sampson Moore. He was an enslaved African American. He gained freedom after the Confederates, who wanted to keep him a slave, were defeated during the Civil War. He lived through Reconstruction and Jim Crow. He was a farmer who lived in what is now Staunton, Va. He was also my great-great-great grandfather.

The facts that we do know about Sampson’s life tell us the uncomfortable facts and truths of American history that often get unmentioned to our children while they are in schools. Which is why we must push for civic and history education that is as honest in tackling the bad and ugly of our nation’s past as it is in celebrating the parts that are good.

As with so many former slaves, there’s a lot about Sampson we will never know about. He died 16 years before the Federal Writers’ Project embarked on its massive collection of first-hand accounts about life in bondage from once-enslaved Black people.

His death certificate states that he was born sometime in 1840. But Census records also record him giving different ages, meaning that he could have been born in 1830 or even 1835. Given that slaves weren’t even considered human, and therefore, unworthy of a proper recording of their birthdays, we will never know when he was truly born.

For many slaveowners, selling slaves to buyers in places as far as Louisiana and Tennessee was a great business. But it led to the breakup of Black families.

If Sampson’s life before the Civil War was like that of the surviving former enslaved Black people who recounted their lives for the Federal Writers Project, it was especially brutal. Chances are that he grew up with little to no clothes (and definitely no shoes) because slaveowners were always looking to reduce the costs of keeping the people they enshackled.

Besides the brutality of the slavemaster, Sampson also likely saw death all around. Particularly in places such as Augusta County, a gateway into Appalachia, slavemasters saved more money (and kept their often lower-than-national average production of corn and other crops for themselves and horses) by ensuring that enslaved Black children were malnourished, often on diets consisting of just a mush of cornmeal and buttermilk. As a result of the undernourishment, 60 percent of enslaved Black children in the nine Southern States in Appalachia died before age 10, according to Wilma Dunaway of Virginia Tech, one of the leading researchers on American slavery. This was higher than even the one-in-two chance of survival for slaves nationally.

Put bluntly: Sampson was a survivor. Probably even outlived his brothers and sisters.

Sampson Moore lived on what is now Arborhill Road in a section of what was unincorporated Augusta County called Beverley Manor. The land is now occupied by several farms, including one called Berry Moore. He could not read or write in 1880, according to the Census taken that year. But he managed to learn how to read by 1910, the second-to-last Census he participated in before he left this earth. Sampson owned his own land, one of the few Black men to do so. That probably made him very happy.

He was married to a woman named Elizabeth, who he also called Lizzie, who was also born in bondage. They first appear as a married couple in 1865, but may have actually been a couple earlier than that. This is because slaveowners often sent over enslaved Black men to other farmers in order to mate with Black women in order to birth more Black children for enslaving. Given her possible year of birth (1835), Elizabeth may have been the 15-year-old girl listed by the Census Bureau in 1850 as one of the enslaved of Archer Moore.

Slaves were never mentioned by name in the U.S. Census. Because no one was supposed to know them.

Elizabeth was unusual. She knew her mother and father, Morris and Lucy (also named Moore) and got to see them for years after the end of bondage. In 1880, they lived next door to her and Sampson, along with their children (including Samuel, my great-great grandfather). Sadly, Morris and Lucy died three years later. But they at least got a chance to experience freedom — and Elizabeth got to see her parents out of bondage.

Sampson wasn’t so lucky — and the same was true for so many other formerly enslaved Black people like him.

Because slavery was a financial enterprise that extended beyond merely owning the lives and liberties of Black people. As Dunaway details in books such as The African-American Family in Slavery and Emancipation, slaveowners in states such as Virginia and Maryland often sold and rented out enslaved Black people to other slaveowners in cotton-planting states such as Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. The slaveowners counted on such revenues, often garnered during spring planting and fall harvesting seasons, to offset the cyclical nature of farming, especially tobacco (whose prices were in decline for most of the 19th century).

Particularly for slave owners working smaller parcels of land in parts of Virginia such as Staunton and Augusta County that are the gateways into Appalachia, selling slaves was more-profitable than working the fields. Dunaway estimates that at least 100,000 enslaved Black people from places such as Augusta County were sold away and left the Appalachian South between 1840 and 1860 alone. This included teenage boys and girls being removed from their families before they turned 15. Two out of every five enslaved Black children were permanently removed from their homes and sold to slaveowners in the Deep South, according to Dunaway.

As they pursued profit, these slaveowners broke up Black families. Broke apart bonds of love between Black men and women formed despite slavemasters having whipped them, raped them, and  exploited them economically. Took children from the arms and love of their mothers formed despite the fact that their mothers often never got to wean their own children because they were breastfeeding the children of slave owners. Removed children from fathers who cared for them despite the degradation of oppression.

Slavery broke Black families apart. Few came back together. The legacy of the deliberate destruction of the building block of society resonates to this day.

Many of these families tried to find each other after the end of the Civil War. Most were often unsuccessful. This was the case with Sampson.

Three years into Reconstruction in January of 1868, Sampson mentioned his plight to an employee of the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, known to us today as the Freedmen’s Bureau. He told the a worker at the Staunton office looking at his case that mentioned that his father died before the end of the war and his mother had been “sold away South”. Sampson also mentioned a son named Andrew, who was 11 years old at the time of the recollection.

It is hard to know what happened to Andrew. But there are no mentions of a boy aged three or younger on Archer Moore’s slave schedule for 1860, and he doesn’t appear on the 1870 Census, the first in which Sampson and his family were no longer enslaved. There is a chance that Andrew may have been with Sampson for a short time, then died before he reached adulthood.

Sampson was one of many formerly enslaved Black men and women who had found themselves seeking help from the Freedmen’s Bureau. Sometimes it was about being owned wages for work done for former slave masters. Other times, it was about disputes they had with White men under which they apprenticed. In many cases, the Freedmen’s Bureau offices set up the very first schools Black children ever attended, settled disputes, even interceded on their behalf in court cases.

White former slaveowners who worked slowly and successfully to bring about Jim Crow hated the presence of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the expansive role the federal government was playing in Southern States. But for Black people like Sampson, as well as for people such as Hiram Revels (the first Black man ever to serve in the United States Senate), the Freedmen’s Bureau was the one tool they needed to ensure that they had a chance to at least have their civil rights and liberties defended and respected.

Reconstruction would end with the emergence of Jim Crow with its brutal segregation and oppression of Black people. Despite this, Sampson would manage to raise 10 children, and see many of them, including my great-grandfather, Samuel, make it into adulthood. Samuel, in turn, would watch his daughter, Florine, leave the South as part of the Great Migration and settle in New York’s Nassau County, where she and her husband, Henry Stone, would raise my grandmother, the first person in our family to go to college. The story carries on today as my family and I live the life Sampson never had the chance to have, and fulfill the dreams he would never have a chance to see.

The least we can do for our Sampson Moores is teach our children about their enslavement and their fights to be free.

Certainly that is all well and good. But there is no way that the realities of Sampson’s life in bondage and oppression, along with those of other formerly enslaved Black people should be obscured with talk of happy endings. Especially since Black people of today, along with other minorities, are still fighting for their liberties and for their children to gain the high-quality education they need and deserve.

If anything, what we need now, more than ever in this time, is an honest discussion of how America’s legacy of slavery, segregation, and oppression continue to shape our politics and society. That begins with providing all children with honest, unflinching knowledge about what people like Sampson went through, from slavery to Reconstruction to Jim Crow.

As your editor pointed out in last month’s essay on Confederate statues, much effort has been dedicated, both by generations of segregationists as well as by academics embracing the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War, to render the lives of enslaved Black people and their descendants invisible, and to forget that their talents and other contributions were to the overwhelming benefit of generations of White people. American public education has been complicit in this erasing of reality, especially through classroom instruction, (as well as curricula and standards, that have wrongly taught generations of children that the Civil War was merely a battle between two equally noble sides, and sidestepped, even minimized, the true brutality of slavery.

The consequences of this failure to fully educate children can now be seen everywhere, including a White House occupied by a historical illiterate embracing the kind of White Supremacy that would have been respectable in the 19th century. Even respectable discourse about matters such as reforming schools are clouded by the inability of some to fully understand why it is critical to transform systems that are living legacies of deliberate decisions by past generations of White people to deny liberty and freedom to enslaved and oppressed Black people.

This is where a strong, comprehensive civics education comes in. When all children are taught the full and honest facts about American history, they can deal thoughtfully with the issues facing the nation today.

The good news is that we now have opportunities to correct that failure to provide children with proper civic and historical education. Common Core’s reading standards allow for teachers to use original texts (including documents from Freedmen’s Bureau offices) as well as more-accurate books on the history of slavery. Thanks to sites such as Family Search and, as well as other resources such as the Library of Congress (which houses the Federal Writers Project’s former slave recollections effort) teachers and even families can get their hands on these sources.

Another step lies in improving how we train teachers, especially those specializing in history, civics, and social studies. This is where organizations such as Teach for America, as well as university schools of education, come in. It is high time that those men and women who teach our children are fully knowledgeable about how America as much perpetuated denial of civil rights as it tried to fulfill the promise of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness espoused by the Founding Fathers.

Our children deserve a more-honest history. The Sampson Moores deserve to have their struggles and roles in American life acknowledged. Now is the opportunity to do both.

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Remember the Monica Queens

Her name was Monica Queen. We know little about her. Because we weren’t supposed to know her. Or the other Black people that came before or after. Rectifying that legacy…

Her name was Monica Queen. We know little about her. Because we weren’t supposed to know her. Or the other Black people that came before or after.

Rectifying that legacy of America’s Original Sin of racialism, which has become the focal point of the debate over the removal of Confederate statues after the terrorism in Charlottesville, is as much a part of reforming American public education as building brighter futures for all children.

Thanks to the U.S. Census done in 1870, we know Monica was Black. We also know she lived in Anne Arundel County, Md., when she was 10-years old.

We know Monica had a mother and father. Their names were William and Susan. Her father was a farmer, probably one of many sharecropping after the end of the Civil War. He was 37 at the time the census was taken. Monica’s mother was two years older than her father.

She had three siblings, two brothers named John and Charles. She also had a sister. Her name was Miranda. All three were younger than her. But we don’t know if Monica was the oldest — and given that mortality rates were even higher for African Americans than for Whites, she may have not been.

Chances are that Monica was born into slavery. But given that the Old Line State had an equal number of freed and enslaved African Americans by the time she was born — a year before the Civil War — it is also possible that she was born free. But we won’t ever likely know.

Both Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel County only have birth and death records going back to 1898, long after Monica’s days on this earth. Records from circuit courts, which date from between 1865 to 1884, don’t account for all births because people weren’t required to report them, and neither do many churches (which did record births in the 19th century).

Sacred Heart Church, the birthplace of Catholicism in America, is also part of the immoral legacy of the nation’s Original Sin, with slaves buried without markers on its grounds.

But that’s only if Monica was free. If she was born a slave (more likely given that she doesn’t appear on the census of freed people taken a decade before), she didn’t even have a birth certificate. This is because enslaved Africans, being considered property and less than human under the laws of the United States and the State of Maryland, weren’t thought  worthy of such accounting.

Sometimes their first names — since they weren’t deemed worthy of having surnames — were accounted for by slave masters in various deeds, wills disposing of them to relatives, and other documents. But much of those bits of evidence have either been lost, burned, or hidden among all the other records in various archives.

The U.S. Census did account for slaves in a separate schedule in order to count at three slaves as one person; after all, each slave was considered three-fifths of a person in order to keep southern states such as Maryland from counting those they enslaved (and denied the right to vote) as people for political power. But those records also provide little other than first names. Because Black people like Monica Queen and her family weren’t considered people under law.

We know nothing about what happened to Monica in the intervening years. We don’t know if she ever fell in love, or had a beau, or even had a chance to have one. We do know that Monica died on October 9,1889, a Wednesday. But we don’t from what disease or ailment or accident she succumbed.

All we know is that after she died, Monica was buried in a far-off corner of Sacred Heart Church in Bowie, Md., far away from the graves of the White families who were its parishioners.

Enslaved Black people were given so little consideration that few recorded their existence. They were never supposed to be known as people.

Monica isn’t the only Black person buried on the Sacred Heart grounds. There are also the unmarked graves of slaves owned by Jesuit priests who ran the church and White Marsh, the Catholic Church plantation that once surrounded it. Even as the clerics heard confessions from the White families who lived in the community, started what is now Georgetown University, and began to build up what became the first diocese in the United States thanks to the elevation of John Carroll as bishop in 1790, they also profited, both personally and as members of the Catholic order, from the labors of enslaved Africans who were human being just like them.

Many of the White Marsh slaves would be sold off in 1838, both to satisfy the demands of Rome (which no longer wanted any part of the immorality) and to keep Georgetown afloat. Those that died before then are buried somewhere on the Sacred Heart grounds. Somewhere because, save for occasional mentions in journals and various records for financial purposes, the Jesuits didn’t think enough of the people they held in bondage to mark their existence on earth.

With 154 of those former plantation acres now being sold by the Jesuits to a developer, Elm Street, to be developed into homes, there is good chance that those graves will disappear.

What we don’t know about Monica or about the former slaves, and why that has come to pass, should be kept in mind by school reformers and others as the nation engages in the debate over the removal of statues to Confederate War dead as well as in dealing with how the legacies of America’s Original Sin perpetuate the public education systems that serve all of our children.

Contrary to the arguments of President Donald Trump and others who want to preserve Confederate statues, these objects were erected solely to erase the dark reality that people were fighting to secede from the union in order to keep people like Monica Queen in bondage. Those hunks of stone and metal were also part of a century-long campaign to render them and their descendants invisible, to declare their achievements unremarkable, and to forget that their talents and other contributions were to the overwhelming benefit of generations of White people.

It is high time for all the Confederate statues, tools of propaganda for covering up the immorality of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, to come down.

Over the decades, that campaign to cover up the evils of slavery (and erase the memories of Black people like Monica Queen) were at least partly successful in seeping into American public education. This includes the 188 schools (as of 2015) named after Confederate leaders that served nearly 200,000 children, many of whom are the descendants of enslaved Africans. It also includes state-approved textbooks influenced by so-called “Lost Cause” historians that conveniently ignored the overwhelming evidence that the Civil War was fought to preserve slavery (and not “states rights”).

Certainly the effort to remove the Confederate statues and names from public schools is part of the long-overdue admission that we have indulged a false narrative about the nation’s past, one that keeps us from bending the arc of history towards progress for every American. It is also an important step in providing all children with a thorough education about their nation that includes the bad and ugly alongside the good and honorable.

At the same time, removing those propaganda tools of racism is a redress to those owed more than can ever be repaid.

The creditors include the descendants of enslaved Africans who live today. They have been forced for far too long to pay for those statues and schools through their tax dollars, as well as deal with the legacies of state-sponsored racism that perpetuate themselves through public education and criminal justice systems.

But it isn’t just about the statues themselves. For far too long, Black people have been forced to accept and expect erasure, and denied knowledge of those who came before them. After all, unless they are descendants of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson’s slave (and likely sister-in-law) Sally Hemmings, few African Americans can trace their Black ancestry beyond the 1870 census or, as in the case of your editor, before 1830, when a man named Samson would appear on the rolls of a slave owner in Virginia.

Removing the statues is just another step towards celebrating those who came before them. The next step includes building statues of heroes such as Nat Turner and religious leader Richard Allen, as well as commemorating the contributions of enslaved Africans and others whose ordinary lives were just as heroic.

The other creditors are the enslaved and oppressed Black people of the past, who cannot collect on the debt, but deserve repayment anyway. Reimbursement for the torture, rape, murder, and denial of liberty done to them during their lives. Refund for being denied the ability to register the births of their children and put memorials on the graves of their loved ones. Payback for the memories they had lost forever to the ages because they weren’t considered human beings.

Restoration of their proper places as builders of the nation is the least we can do.

The final creditors are the Black children of today who are like what Monica Queen was at age 10 — and for whom we want futures better than what Monica had. For reformers, this means the transformation of American public education so that they (as well as all children) are provided high-quality education. It means building upon the implementation of Common Core’s reading and math standards by using original sources (including the records on slavery) to expand the minds of every child. This also includes overhauling the history lessons taught so that they know all that truly happened in this nation, especially to their ancestors.

And yes, it means renaming every school named for those evil Confederate leaders who wanted to keep our Black children in bondage. We would never send Jewish children to schools named after Heinrich Himmler. We shouldn’t be doing the same kind of thing to Black children.

Monica Queen deserved more in life than she ever got. Now we have a chance to make her name — as well as the names of every enslaved Black American — known and properly recorded for history. Even when we know just a little about them.

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Tennessee Needs Common Core

Given all the efforts by movement conservatives and others in Tennessee to halt the implementation of Common Core reading and math standards, you would think that its public education systems…

Given all the efforts by movement conservatives and others in Tennessee to halt the implementation of Common Core reading and math standards, you would think that its public education systems were doing a great job of preparing children for success in adulthood. Certainly the Volunteer State has reduced the percentage of functionally-illiterate children. This includes a seven percentage point decline in the number of eighth-graders reading Below Basic (from 30 percent to 23 percent) between 2011 and 2013 and a 14-percentage point decline in the number of low-income black eighth-graders struggling with literacy (from 57 percent to 43 percent). The state can even claim a six-percentage point increase in the number of eighth-graders overall reading at Proficient and Advanced levels, and a four percentage point increase in the number of black eighth-graders on free- and reduced lunch reading at grade level.

whycommoncoreYet when it comes to the goal of preparing children for success in higher education, the most-critical goal in this second era of systemic reform, Tennessee is doing poorly on this front. This is clear from a Dropout Nation analysis of data submitted by the Volunteer State to the U.S. Department of Education. With far too few kids regardless of background taking college-preparatory courses, Gov. Bill Haslam and state legislators need to recommit to implementing Common Core and helping every child for whom they claim concern gain the learning they need in an increasingly knowledge-based world.

Within the past year, Tennessee has gone from being a promising bellwether for reform to an cautionary tale of what happens when politicians back away from doing the right thing for children.  Some Volunteer State Republicans in the legislature, taking marching orders from movement conservatives generally uninterested in reform and opposed to Common Core (as well as angered by Democrat Kevin Huffman’s hard-charging tenure as Haslam’s education commissioner), began agitating to halt the state’s so-far successful implementation of the standards.

But the effort to stop Common Core implementation gained momentum late last year when Haslam announced that he was convening a review of the standards even though he was assured of winning re-election. This signaled to Common Core foes that they could get their way. With Haslam backing away from the standards and their bete noire, Huffman, departing from the top education job last November, Common Core foes have gotten legislators to introduce legislation to halt the standards.

Now the fighting is less about whether the standards will remain in place than about how will they be eviscerated. With help from a group organized by his former campaign manager, Jeremy Harrell, Haslam is pushing back against the array of proposed legislation, especially House Bill 3 (which comes from State Rep. Billy Spivey). While the state’s district superintendents, along with reformers, are pushing to keep Common Core in place, movement conservatives and the National Education Association affiliate there are looking to put Common Core out to the proverbial pasture.

Yet amid all the effort to eviscerate Common Core, the question remains: Is Tennessee providing the college-preparatory curricula children need to successfully graduate from traditional colleges, technical schools, community colleges, and apprenticeships that make up American higher education. This is a discussion avoided by Haslam and his new education commissioner, Candice McQueen, as well as by Common Core foes in and out of the state legislature. Thanks to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection the most-comprehensive database on college-preparation, Dropout Nation has the answer. It isn’t good at all.

tennessee_collegeprep_2012Few Middle-Schoolers Take Algebra 1: Over the past couple of weeks, Dropout Nation has discussed how taking introductory algebra in middle school (along with strong support and acceleration of math curricula in the early grades) is critical to helping children gain the knowledge they need for success later in high school, in higher ed, and in their careers. Yet few states provide Algebra 1 to all or even half of their seventh- and eighth graders.

Tennessee is an especially atrocious example of states failing their middle-schoolers on this front. Just 6.5 percent of all seventh- and eighth-graders took Algebra 1 in 2011-2012, according to data submitted by the state to the federal government. Put simply, nine out of 10 Volunteer State middle-schoolers missed out on this key college prep course. Those levels are lower than the 29 percent average for California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, which have spent the past two decades mandating middle-school algebra, as well as the 29 percent rate for Maryland, which like Tennessee, has made little effort on that front.

One out of every five Asian and Native Hawaiian children took introductory algebra — levels lower than in the eight states reviewed earlier this month by Dropout Nation. The levels are even worse for black and Latino middle-schoolers; just five percent of black seventh- and eighth-graders along with 4.3 percent of Latino peers took Algebra 1 in 2011-2012. A mere 2.3 percent of middle-schoolers considered burdened by Limited English Proficiency also took introductory algebra. But the levels are not much better for white middle-schoolers; just 6.8 percent of these children took Algebra 1.

Some Common Core foes will try to argue that the levels won’t improve because the standards technically don’t call for introductory algebra to be taught until high school. But as your editor noted earlier this month, none of the five states surveyed in the Algebra 1 implementation report that are executing Common Core’s math standards experienced declines in the percentage of seventh- and eighth-graders taking Algebra 1. In fact, Massachusetts and Washington State adjusted the standards to continue the requirement. The problem in Tennessee on this front has nothing to do with Common Core and all to do with the lack of will among school leaders and politicians to do well by the state’s children.

Advanced Placement Coursework is Rarely Provided: Taking A.P. coursework, especially in math and history, is critical for all children — especially those from poor and minority households, in gaining preparation for success in higher education. Yet in Tennessee, few high school students are likely to be provided those courses.


Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has been cowardly on the school reform front at a time the Volunteer State needs bold action.

Just one out of every 10 Volunteer State high-schoolers took A.P. courses of any kind in 2011-2012, a level half of those for Virginia and Maryland (which have been criticized on these pages for failing to provide our children in those states with college-prep curricula). Thirty-two percent of Asian high school students and one out of every five Native Hawaiian peers took A.P. courses, levels far above the statewide average, but lower than that for peers in the Old Line State and the Old Dominion (and likely lower than the national average).

The kids least likely to take A.P. courses are black and Latino children, who often come from households where families have never attended higher ed, and thus, need even more preparation than white or Asian peers. A mere 5.6 percent of black high-schoolers and nine percent of Latino peers were provided A.P. courses in 2011-2012, both below the statewide average; 5.2 percent of LEP students took A.P. as well. But white children fare little better; only 10.6 percent of white high-schoolers took A.P. coursework during the school year.

Not Enough Kids Are Given Advanced Math Classes: As you already know, trigonometry, statistics and other forms of advanced mathematics are key courses for children in order to take on middle class wage-paying blue- and white-collar jobs such as welding and marketing. But in order to learn those subjects, children must be provided those courses. This isn’t happening in Tennessee.

Only 11.3 percent of Volunteer State high school students were provided advanced math in 2011-2012. This means that nine out of every 10 kids in the late stages of secondary schooling were provided much-needed math instruction and curricula. To put in context, this is lower than the 18 percent average for Maryland and Virginia, the subject of this week’s This is Dropout Nation analysis.

When broken down by subgroup, this becomes clear: Not one subgroup in Tennessee has an advanced math course-taking rate greater than the 20 percent for Asian students. Just one out of every 10 white high-schoolers took advanced math, while a mere 8.2 percent of black counterparts and 7.5 percent of Latino peers took such coursework. No matter how one slices it, the Volunteer State is failing badly on the college-prep front.

Physics Course-Taking Rarely Happens: Careers in science, technology, engineering, and medicine are the gateways into the middle class. So high schoolers should be taking physics and other science courses — especially if they want to be successful in taking those courses when they enter higher ed and begin working toward STEM careers. But as you can already figure out, this doesn’t happen in the Volunteer State in any meaningful way.


For high school students in Memphis and the rest of Tennessee, Common Core implementation means college-prep curricula they haven’t been getting for years.

A mere 3.5 percent of Tennessee’s high-schoolers were provided physics in 2011-2012. This means that 96.5 percent of students in the state didn’t take any kind of physics course. This is far lower than the one-in-10 average for Virginia and Maryland. When broken down by subgroup, the levels are even worse. Only one in 10 Asian high school students were provided physics, the only subgroup which managed to access those courses at that level. Less than one in 20 black, Latino, Native Hawaiian, LEP and white students were provided physics, while 6.9 percent of Native high schoolers accessed the course.

These low levels in physics may not be so bad if there were high levels of course-providing in other subjects. It isn’t. Just one out of every four Volunteer State high-schoolers were provided biology, another key college prep course that is what nearly every student in the nation is expected to take at some point. A mere one-in-five were provided chemistry. Chemistry. Add in the fact that few high-schoolers in Tennessee took A.P. science courses (or any science course at all), and it is clear that the state is committing educational neglect and malpractice.

What is clear from the data is that Tennessee is doing a terrible job in preparing children for higher ed and career success. But this isn’t shocking when you look at other data.

Twenty-one percent of Volunteer State community college students aged 17-to-19 (you know, college freshmen) took remedial math classes — and two out of every five failed to successfully complete them, according to Complete College America in its 2011 report. [Tennessee didn’t provide Complete College America with remediation rates for baccalaureate students.] There’s also the fact that the state’s math standards (before being replaced by Common Core) were rated D by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in its 2010 study; this was better than the F rating given to them by Fordham a decade earlier.

With so many teens (especially those from poor and minority households) struggling to take on college-level work, preparing kids for the demands of higher ed while they are in elementary and secondary schools is of paramount importance. Yet the debate over halting Common Core implementation shows, neither Haslam nor legislators take these matters (or their obligation to children and taxpayers in the state) seriously. The governor, who has plenty of political capital to spend, shouldn’t have even indulged this discussion. Instead,Haslam should stand up strongly for Common Core implementation as counterparts such as Ohio’s John Kasich and Georgia’s Nathan Deal have done.

But Tennessee’s failures on the college prep front are even more embarrassing for the state because its senior U.S. Senator (and former governor), Lamar Alexander, is leading the charge to eviscerate the No Child Left Behind Act’s accountability provisions and has opposed the Obama Administration’s support for implementing Common Core. Given the shameful numbers in his home state (as well as the damage he is doing to his once-laudable legacy on advancing reform as governor and U.S. Secretary of Education), Alexander should be supporting implementation of the standards in his state as well as leading the charge for a stronger federal role in holding states accountable for preparing kids for future success.

Halting Common Core implementation now will do nothing more than stop the gains children in the early and middle grades are likely starting to make. So the state should continue putting the standards into place. At the same time, Tennessee needs to take other serious steps on the college prep front. This includes partnering with the National Math and Science Initiative on expanding A.P. courses to all students, as well as working with districts on accelerating math instruction with support (including providing Algebra 1 to middle-schoolers).

For reformers in the Volunteer State, as well as their counterparts in the rest of the nation, it is time to remind Haslam and the state legislature of their obligation to our children. This means continue implementing Common Core — or be held accountable for damaging the futures of kids who deserve better.

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Jindal’s Anti-Common Core Fantasy

Your editor could opine about some of the amazing aspects of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal move yesterday to file a federal suit in his ambition-driven jihad against Common Core reading…

Your editor could opine about some of the amazing aspects of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal move yesterday to file a federal suit in his ambition-driven jihad against Common Core reading and math standards. Start with the fact that Jindal, along with other movement conservative Common Core foes such as FreedomWorks and the Pioneer Institute (which harrumphed about the suit in a press release) are demanding the kind of judicial activism they often oppose. In fact, FreedomWorks complained that last week’s ruling by a state court judge against Jindal’s effort to halt Common Core implementation (a clear violation of state law) was such even when it wasn’t so.

whycommoncoreThere’s also the fact that Jindal’s suit rails against the Obama Administration’s support for states voluntarily implementing Common Core when he championed that very help for the Bayou State’s reform efforts four years ago. Jindal’s flip-flop was laid out in great detail last week by Louisiana Nineteenth Judicial District Judge Todd Hernandez in his ruling against Jindal’s executive order attempting to halt the standards, as well as by your editor back in June. It is hard for Jindal to square his proclamation that he is against any federal support for systemic reform against declarations five years ago that Louisiana was in “great position” to win federal Race to the Top funding.

But none of this is surprising. As Dropout Nation has pointed out since June,, the Louisiana governor’s effort to kibosh Common Core implementation, both within his state and now on a national level, is driven less by either ideology and principle than by a desire to bolster support for his likely run for the Republican presidential nomination among movement conservatives. None of this has worked out in Jindal’s favor at the polls. But in filing this latest suit (along with earlier, unsuccessful litigation at the state level), Jindal believes he can still get a heads-up against other Republican aspirants by saying that he was the only one who took legal action against Common Core implementation. But what do Common Core foes get out of this? For them, Jindal’s 29 pages of fury and fantasy allows them to further their incredible narrative of implementation as some sort of federal coercion.

But in the process, both Jindal and his fellow-travelers against Common Core have ensured themselves of embarrassment on a national stage in the one place they can’t win the day: Courts of law where facts count.

But let’s get to the gist of Jindal’s suit. In it, Jindal and his allies are asking a federal district court judge to invalidate the rules governing Race to the Top because the entire effort supposedly violates federal law — including the General Education Provisions Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the law authorizing the creation of the Department of Education itself. How? Because in Jindal’s mind, Race to the Top has put the Obama Administration in the position of controlling Louisiana’s curricula and that of other states. How? By awarding funding to those states who voluntarily implemented Common Core along with other reforms such as eliminating caps on charter school growth.

That Race to the Top also included a round that funded the work of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia developing Common Core-aligned tests makes the federal coercion even stronger than one would realize. How? According to Jindal’s attorneys, the fact that PARCC and Smarter Balanced detail their work on developing the tests means that it is explicitly developing curricular materials. Since the Obama Administration granted Race to the Top money for that purpose, this means that it is directly controlling curricula in violation of federal law.

As mentioned, Jindal’s argument isn’t a new one. Pioneer has argued that line since 2012, when it recruited former Bush Administration lawyers Kent Talbert and Robert Eitel (along with Stanford University’s resident anti-Common Core activist, Bill Evers) to pull out a report questioning the legality of federal support for Common Core implementation. More importantly, Jindal’s narrative is based on that of Pioneer and its fellow Common Core foes, most-notably Neal McCluskey of the libertarian Cato Institute, all of whom view any federal support for the standards as coercion.

Yet Jindal (along with his allies) leaves out a few inconvenient facts — and not just that he led Louisiana’s successful effort to gain $17.5 million in Race to the Top (including Common Core implementation) before he decided he was against it.

There’s the fact that Race to the Top is a voluntary effort under which states can win federal funding so long as they implement a set of reforms they have chosen on their own. The fact that a mere 18 states ended up receiving Race to the Top funding (out of 50) since 2010 and that most of those states only garnered funding for teacher evaluation, school data system, and charter school expansion efforts (and not simply for Common Core implementation) makes lie of Jindal’s coercion argument (and that of his fellow Common Core allies). Because no aspect of Race to the Top involved the Obama Administration actually blessing any curricula — and since states could refuse to either implement Common Core or develop their own form of college and career-ready standards as part of their grant proposal — Jindal can’t prove that the administration’s actions violate GEPA or any federal statute. [That the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which governs Race to the Top, likely supersedes any other education laws on the books, is also a consideration that Jindal has ignored.]

If anything, the federal government has proven far too willing to accommodate states that haven’t fully met their promises. New York, for example, hasn’t returned any of its $696 million in Race to the Top funding even though it still hasn’t fully implemented the teacher evaluation system at the heart of its successful grant request. Only Hawaii was considered at high risk of losing its $75 million grant — and even the Aloha State has managed to keep its funding in spite of struggles on implementing its promised teacher evaluation system. Put simply, the Obama Administration could easily prove in court that it hasn’t engaged in any coercion, much less any control over state policymaking.

Then there’s the fact that Jindal fails to admit that states were on the path to developing Common Core’s long before the Obama Administration came into the picture. Starting in 2004, Achieve Inc., through its American Diploma Project, worked with 35 states (including Louisiana) to help them develop curricula requirements for obtaining high school diplomas. By 2008, a year before the formal development of Common Core, Achieve released Benchmarking for Success, a report which laid out much of the framework for how Common Core’s standards would be crafted as well as offered guidance to states in revamping standards on their own.

A year later, the work on developing common standards came to fruition when governors and chief state school officers through their two policymaking groups — the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers — began developing what are now Common Core reading and math standards. The two groups gleaned the lessons from Achieve’s efforts, along with the lessons gleaned from earlier standards development efforts by reform-minded governors and standards-and-accountability activists. Especially given Jindal’s role in Louisiana’s successful move to approve Common Core (including passage of his school reform package in 2012 that makes implementation of the standards one of its centerpieces), Jindal can’t prove coercion.

Meanwhile the argument that the Obama Administration is coercing states into implementing Common Core is laughable. In fact, they actually requested federal support for the effort. More importantly, federal support for reforms at the state level is nothing new or illegal. From the passage of the Morrill Land Grant in 1863 to the National Defense Education Act of 1958, administrations Republican and Democrat have encouraged systemic reforms such as providing comprehensive college-preparatory curricula.

The Reagan Administration’s release of A Nation at Risk in 1983 led to the launch of some 25o commissions and panels working on developing curricula standards and other matters. A decade later, the Clinton Administration’s passage of Goals 2000 as well as the reauthorization of the Improving America’s Schools Act, the immediate predecessor of the No Child Left Behind Act, furthered reforms already beginning in states. Then came No Child in 2001, which gave reform-minded governors the tools they needed to advance reforms and overcome opposition from traditionalists within their states. No Child also supported what would be the coming together of states on developing common curricula.

This federal support for state-level reforms extends to the development of standardized testing regimes such as those provided by PARCC and Smarter Balanced. It was the passage of the National Defense Education Act that led to the first wave of standardized testing regimes. Four decades later, the Improving America’s Schools Act and then No Child, would support state level testing efforts. For Jindal and Common Core foes to prove that the Obama Administration acted illegally, they would have to argue against what can only be called settled law.

Simply put, Jindal has no case. Even worse for Common Core foes, the Obama Administration, along with supporters of the standards, could make mincemeat of their entire argument. The facts fail to support the narrative conjured up out of thin air by Common Core foes. Luckily for most of Jindal’s fellow-travelers against the standards, they don’t work in institutions of higher education; as is, particularly for once-sensible reformers, their fanciful federal coercion narrative, along with their willingness to associate with demagogues such as once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch, radio talk show host Glenn Beck, and pundit Michelle Malkin, hasn’t covered themselves in any glory.

[Let’s also note that the case can be made that the federal government hasn’t done enough to hold states accountable for meeting their promises under Race to the Top. This need for accountability, by the way, would also make it hard for Oklahoma to sue the Obama Administration over its move today to end its No Child waiver; the state voluntarily implemented Common Core a year before applying for a waiver, and had promised to have college-and-career ready standards of some kind in place in exchange for being allowed to ignore federal law. Your editor will elaborate more on that tomorrow.]

If anything, Jindal’s lawsuit will end up backfiring on Common Core foes by allowing supporters of the standards to jujitsu their fanciful narrative on the national legal stage.

Meanwhile Jindal’s lawsuit also gives Common Core supporters a new opportunity to make some key points. The first? That the Obama Administration’s support for Common Core is no different than what earlier presidents — including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — have done for other state-level reform efforts: Provide much-needed (and as Ilya Somin of the Cato Institute would likely note, much-desired) cover for reform-minded governors and school leaders to undertake critical efforts opposed by traditionalists entrenched in American public education’s super-clusters of failure.

The second: That Common Core implementation is a key step in addressing the reality that far too many kids, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, are not getting the comprehensive college-preparatory curricula they need and deserve in an increasingly knowledge-based economy and society. Given that the federal government is charged under the U.S. Constitution and by laws such as No Child with defending the civil rights of black, Latino, Asian, and poor white children, the case can be made that not enough is being done by the Obama Administration to support implementation.

And finally, by so fervently opposing Common Core implementation, especially with conspiracy-theorizing that is intellectually senseless, the motley crew of movement conservatives, hardcore progressive traditionalists, and even once-sensible reformers have essentially revealed themselves to be far more concerned with comforting their ideologies (and in the case of traditionalists and some school choice activists, their financial interests) than with building brighter futures for kids. Especially in light of the data on how few of our most-vulnerable kids are being provided college-preparatory learning from the moment they enter school, opposing Common Core implementation is morally indefensible. Common Core foes cannot claim to be concerned about the futures of children when the consequences of their opposition harm them the most.

By the time Jindal’s lawsuit gets tossed out of court, the governor will have destroyed what’s left of his future political prospects as well as ruined what was once a respectable legacy on the school reform front. But for Common Core foes, the damage may be even worse than that. The good news for supporters of the standards is that once again their opponents are their own worse enemy.


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