The Push For H-1B Visas And The Common Core Math FAIL

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The debate rages about whether the H-1B visa system brings in too many or too few skilled foreign workers. But the discussion overlooks a critical fact: Regardless of the current answer to that question, the national Common Core standards will most assuredly lower the number of qualified American workers.

The stated purpose of H-1B visas is to allow American employers to employ foreign workers who have education or skills unavailable in sufficient supply in the local workforce.  The idea is that a worker-deficient employer petitions the federal government for a visa on behalf of a specific individual.  Currently, Congress caps the program at 65,000 H-1B visas per year.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) businesses and the trade associations that carry their water are among the most vigorous proponents of the visa.  Microsoft founder Bill Gates, for instance, has repeatedly argued that the cap should be increased (see, e.g., here and here).  Likewise, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that the cap slows economic growth and should be relaxed.

But the irony of their arguments is that the national Common Core standards — the educational scheme advocated by Bill Gates and the Chamber of Commerce — do not prepare children for STEM studies.  Common Core will, therefore, contribute to a reduction in the number of American STEM workers.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into propagating the Common Core.  See, e.g., here and here (estimates of $150 million as of 2013).  It has lavishly funded the Chamber to that end.  It provided $3.7 million in 2015 “to support Common Core implementation,” and $1.9 million in 2013 for that purpose.  In 2008, as private groups were preparing to launch the Common Core initiative, it paid the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, an affiliate of the Chamber, $2.6 million “to engage the business community around key college ready goals, including better data and rigorous college ready academic standards”; and $650,000 in 2009 to support a Common Core coalition effort.  It has also made several grants to Chamber affiliates to promote the standards.  And the Chamber and its affiliates have vigorously advocated for the Common Core.  See, here and here.

The case against the Common Core’s effect on student readiness for STEM studies is damning.  Jason Zimba, the chief architect of the Common Core math standards, admitted in testimony before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the aim of Common Core math is to prepare students for nonselective colleges — not STEM programs and not any programs at a selective university.  Common Core is, he said:

Not only not for STEM, it’s also not for selective colleges. For example, for UC Berkeley, whether you are going to be an engineer or not, you’d better have precalculus to get into UC Berkeley.

Speaking of Cal-Berkeley, Marina Ratner is professor emerita of mathematics there.  She is also one of the top mathematicians in the world. Last year, she wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in.”

Common Core math has many qualitative defects including, but not limited to, standards that put American children at least a year behind their peers in high-performing countries by eighth grade; that stop with an incomplete Algebra II course; that deny children a proper foundation in Euclidean geometry; and that deny children a pathway to pre-calculus and calculus.  See here and here.

Yet, throughout the years of the Common Core controversy, the proponents have assiduously avoided discussing the quality of the standards.  They throw around terms such as “rigorous” and “higher standards” without ever defining them. (Jeb Bush has now imposed a moratorium on the phrase “Common Core,” claiming merely to support “higher standards.”) They never address the issue that many states, such as Massachusetts, had demonstrably better standards before the federal government, at the behest of Gates-funded private entities, bribed and coerced them into ditching those standards for the Common Core.

Sadly, the students who will be disadvantaged the most under this scheme are those from low-income families. That’s because affluent parents can pay for a work-around of the Common Core.  They can retain a private tutor, enroll their children in extra-curricular courses, or send them to private schools that don’t teach according to the Common Core.  Thus, math standards expert Ze’ev Wurman comments:

[T]he cruelest irony of the Common Core mathematics is in the huge negative impact it is bound to have on the achievement of minority and disadvantaged students. Those are precisely the students who need rigorous expectations from early elementary grades within their regular curriculum, as they are less likely to get family or paid extra-curricular support . . . Yet despite its soaring rhetoric of college-readiness for all, the Common Core has abandoned precisely these students.

Likewise, as stated by James Milgram, professor of mathematics emeritus at Stanford University, and Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform emerita at University of Arkansas, “a gigantic fraud has been perpetrated on this country, in particular on parents in this country, by those developing, promoting, or endorsing Common Core’s standards.”

We have a clear breakdown in our system of governance.  It is one that has cut parents and legislators out of decision-making and that has hurt children with poor products like the Common Core.  The question for presidential candidates is: Do you acknowledge that the government’s systemic breakdown resulted in these poor standards being pushed into classrooms, and, if so, what are you going to do about it?

Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APIA Education.