Glenn Beck takes to the theaters to attack Common Core

This story has been updated.

Conservative media commentator Glenn Beck led a national strategy session to kill the Common Core State Standards on Tuesday night, using a two-hour simulcast into movie theaters across the country as a way to embolden critics of the standards and recruit foot soldiers to the cause.

“This one is being won,” Beck said from a soundstage in Texas, his image broadcast to audience members who paid $20 a ticket. “It’s being won and these are your allies in the fight. You’ve felt alone, but we have lots of allies.”

The 17 people gathered at the Regal 13 Cinema in Rockville, Md., might be forgiven for feeling alone. The audience was sprinkled throughout the rows of the darkened theater, and when Beck implored his viewers to turn to their neighbors and introduce themselves, most people faced empty seats.

Ryan Miner, 28, traveled to Rockville from Hagerstown and sat in the middle of the theater with his girlfriend, Kim Euler, who was eating popcorn.

Miner is running for the board of education in Washington County, Md., on an anti-Common Core platform. “I wanted to be able to talk more intelligently about it,” he said, explaining why he came.

Euler has two children in elementary school in Montgomery County, and she blamed Common Core for the fact that her son, an advanced math learner, is bored in class. “The teachers are so busy trying to learn the standards, they can’t offer him anything advanced,” Euler said. “There’s nothing to challenge him.”

Laura Ford, 60, of Silver Spring bought a ticket after getting an e-mail reminder earlier in the day from Beck. None of her seven grandchildren attend schools that use Common Core, but Ford said she still is concerned. “I know how bad it is,” she said, holding a large soda.

At the end of the event, a man stood up and suggested that audience members might want to join the Montgomery County Conservatives, before quickly leaving.

Spokesmen for Beck and Fathom Events declined to say how many tickets were sold for the simulcast, which had showings in about 700 theaters nationwide.

“The fan experience in theaters was truly interactive and engaging,” said John Rubey, Fathom’s CEO.

During the program, Beck said the fight against Common Core transcends politics and ideology, but his program featured conservatives such as David Barton, a prominent Republican who is an evangelical minister and historian, and Michelle Malkin, a right-wing pundit.

They shared tips on how to fight Common Core, from political strategies to talking points, borrowing ideas from Saul Alinsky, the community organizer who inspired countercultural radicals of the 1960s.

Becky Gerritson, president of the Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama, suggested that people fighting Common Core avoid using the term “Obamacore” — a play on “Obamacare” — because it is too inflammatory and might alienate the public.

Emmett McGroarty of the American Principles Project, a right-wing think tank, said parents need to tell state lawmakers and governors to fight Common Core. “This is a litmus test,” he said. “A litmus test of whether they’re fit for office.”

The Common Core State Standards spell out the skills and knowledge students should possess at the end of each school year, from kindergarten through 12th grade. The standards are not curriculum; decisions about what is taught and how are left to states and school districts.

The standards were created by a bipartisan group of governors and chief state school officers as a way to inject some consistency into academic standards, which vary widely from state to state. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation largely funded the effort to write Common Core, as well as the process to get the standards adopted and implemented.

Although the federal government had no official role in developing the standards, the Obama administration has supported them, giving $360 million to groups of states that are writing new Common Core tests. It also used Race to the Top, its competitive grant program, as an inducement, saying that states adopting “college- and career-ready” standards had a better chance of winning federal dollars under the program. Most states understood that phrase to mean Common Core.

Maryland adopted the standards in 2010, along with 44 other states and the District of Columbia. As states have been implementing them, criticism has been building on the right and the left. Conservatives say the standards represent federal overreach, while teachers unions and progressives are concerned about new standardized tests. Parents have been complaining about poorly-designed classroom materials.

This year, lawmakers in Indiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma repealed the Common Core State Standards, while the legislature in North Carolina ordered a review. In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) wants to pull out of the standards and has been warring with his state board of education and state school superintendent, both Common Core backers.

Beck titled his event “We Will Not Conform,” similar to the title of a book he has published about Common Core, a copy of which he waved for the cameras, called: “Conform: Exposing the Truth About Common Core and Public Education.” He said families should boycott the new standardized tests being developed to align with Common Core.

“The day we’re all willing to peacefully go to jail for our children, like Martin Luther King did, is the day we win,” Beck said.

The Common Core standards do not mean additional testing. Since 2002, federal law has required public schools to test students in math and reading once a year in grades three through eight and once in high school. As states change from their old standards to Common Core, they are replacing old tests with new ones aligned to the new standards.

The event was co-hosted by FreedomWorks, the tea party umbrella organization, and Liberty University, the Christian university founded by Jerry Falwell. A segment of the program — labeled by Beck as alternatives to the Common Core — suggested that viewers could home-school their children and buy online curricula from Liberty University, which has a K-12 division.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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