Sochi Olympics = CCSS

A lot has been made this week of the problems surrounding the Olympics in Sochi.  Hotels are incomplete, rooms do not have light bulbs, journalists are bathing without shower curtains, stray dogs roam the city, and athletes have to take care of business in really close quarters. Bf0CHQqCQAAXMFr.jpg_large

Many of these problems are pretty funny from the outside but for the athletes, families, journalists and fans that are dealing with them on a daily basis, they really aren’t funny at all.  If you’ve ever been many miles from home without a place to stay then you know it can be quite unsettling, and its certainly much worse when you are getting ready to go in front of millions to compete and be judged.

But are these problems really all that surprising?  Russia is one of the most corrupt nations in the world and while they spent about $50 billion on preparing for Sochi, it has been reported that $20-30 billion of that went to “embezzlement and kickbacks”.  And the Olympic site selection process reeks of backroom politics, as Sochi is a former Soviet resort town that the Russians hope to revitalize.  What better way to do that then to bring the world for a couple of weeks?

So, it could be argued that the Sochi Olympics are essentially the product of a small group of powerful bureaucrats (the IOC), who created a situation in which a lot of money was going to be made behind the scenes by organizations (Russian Mafia), for the benefit of politicians (Putin) at the expense of those people who actually have to perform (athletes).

Since it’s the Olympics, we laugh, tune in and shake our head at the morons who decided this would be a good idea, the ridiculous lack of planning, the hastily constructed infrastructure, and the collusion between the Russian government and the organizations making money hand over fist.

What’s not so funny is that we have a very similar and distinctly AMERICAN situation happening here at home with the CCSS.  Stay with me here for a minute and I’ll explain.

The CCSS came about when a small group of powerful politicians, bureaucrats and benefactors (the NGA and CCSSO) got together and decided that it would be a good idea to create common national “state” standards.  Working alongside the federal government, this small and powerful group greased the wheels of adoption through bribes to organizations such as AFT and NEA and contributions to politicians.  In Russia they call this corruption, in America we all it “philanthropy”.

And much like Sochi, the CCSS were adopted very quickly, without any field-testing, with a pathetic base of “research” to support them, and really NO IDEA what was going to happen when they were put into practice.

As a result, our American educational system looks a lot like the city of Sochi.  Something was created from nothing at warp speed, no infrastructure existed to actually put the standards (which are really a national curriculum) into place, and the means by which students and teachers were going to be evaluated (new PARCC and SBA national tests) DON’T EVEN EXIST YET.

Here's your new National Curriculum!
Here’s your new National Curriculum!

Meanwhile, the creation of a quasi-national market for educational testing products, curriculum and instructional materials has opened up a $500 Billion dollar “Education Services Sector” that has drawn the attention of “Edupreneurs” who have rushed in to fill the void left by the hasty implementation of CCSS.  These shysters are ready to provide their products and services – for a cost –  to school districts around the country to help them figure out how to actually teach the CCSS and prepare for the test that doesn’t exist.  Take a look around almost any local classroom and you’ll see brand new books, curricula, test-prep materials and other assorted programs that schools have purchased from this Testing Mafia.  Attend a few professional development sessions and you’ll see consultants who are flown in, paid upwards of $10,000 per day, and present the newest “program” or “system” designed to raise test scores.  And the people responsible for creating the standards, now create the materials, are working to create the test, and are making a ton of money in all phases of the process.

Meanwhile, President Obama, our American version of Vladimir Putin minus the gay bashing, stands in front of the nation at the State of the Union and takes credit for this disaster by distracting us with cherry-picked “research” and empty claims of “taking big strides in preparing students with the skills for the new economy” despite the fact that his $5 billion Race to the Top program has been an unmitigated disaster.  President Obama, like President Putin, is all fireworks show and opening ceremony.  Behind the flamboyant distraction is a corrupt and incomplete system of bribery, collusion, and profiteering at the expense of the American taxpayer.

Keep your eyes on the pretty lights please.
Keep your eyes on the pretty lights please.

And who really suffers the most from this situation?  Time will tell what the full effect on our students will be.  Despite the lousy hand they have been dealt, many schools and districts are making the most out of the CCSS, much like the athletes who will still earn gold in Sochi.  These are the schools and teachers the politicians and shysters like Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee will hold up as examples that their racket is “working”.   What they won’t show you are the millions of other students who are suffering because the CCSS has standardized teaching in their classrooms and myopic administrators have kept teachers from meeting individualized needs.  They won’t show you the interminable professional development sessions in which members of the Testing Mafia stand in front of groups of highly educated professionals and present a “system” for raising test scores.  They won’t tell you about the teachers who fear for their jobs because they are going to be evaluated by the test scores of their students – on a test that doesn’t actually exist yet.  They won’t mention the fact that focusing only on test scores means that our kids are pretty much receiving an education in how to take Math and ELA tests at the expense of pretty much everything else.  Perhaps worst of all, they will look at you with a totally straight face when they tell you this is the best way to evaluate our teachers.

So if you find yourself feeling a little superior the next time you are watching the incompetence and corruption of Russia at the Sochi Olympics, try to remember that at least the Russian people are smart enough to recognize the rampant corruption and skullduggery* going on behind the opening ceremony.  When it comes to the Common Core State Standards, most Americans are content to just stare at the fireworks and believe their own hype.

*I have always wanted to use the word “skullduggery” in proper context in my writing.  Mission Accomplished.


  1. To add a little color to this debate, I would point out that this level of corporate interference can really happen regardless of how curriculum goes. In England we have long had a national curriculum, which was much beloved, but has all but been scrapped by our current government. Enter a thousand companies trying to sell their ‘exclusive’ curriuculum wares. What we once got for free, we are now having to shell out for. Where once teachers all across the country could work together and develop activities that worked in every place, we are now divided down and unable to easily share these copyrighted materials.

    So, you know, I don’t think it’s necessarily the idea of a common core that has brought the money machines into play. They will find ways to spin it however things go.

    1. Funny how neoliberals hate government interference… unless it is solely responsible for creation and maintenance of the market they wish to exploit.