Common Core: The Facts of the Matter
Common core is an evil bureaucratic takeover of classrooms or an educational upgrade of school standards depending on who you talk to. Countless articles, news reports, and radio talk show hosts are confident it's monstrous. State standards coupled with high stakes testing adds up to complete consternation of the public. Conservatives cry big brother flexed its muscle and wrestled local control from school districts across the country. While progressives whine, the educational bar is set so high that academic achievement is seemingly impossible. Who's right?
Big bad Bush started this party with his educational program No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The 2002 law instituted standardized testing as a way to mandate student proficiency with the threat of school closure for those who failed the test. President Obama jumped on board with his own initiative called Race to the Top (2008) dangling a huge economic carrot ($5 billion) in the form of grants to the states. Like any federal program, the requirements were overwhelming.
By accepting the money, states committed to evaluating teachers mostly based on test score (because poverty has no influence on students), an increase in the number of charter schools, and to turnaround low performing sites by way of firing principals and teachers or shuttering doors forever. There was one more important demand. States accepted "college and career ready standards," with the understanding that the developing Common Core principles would rule.
So what ensued? The education-industrial complex saw the near equivalent of a Chinese consumer market ripe for sales. Testing companies, for-profit (not inherently wrong) charter school franchises, textbook publishers, educational consultants, and of course, technology corporations all seek to exploit this latest federal fad. Educators, on their heels for years due to student academic performance, were told by the founding father of The Core that their instruction sucks and the continuing use of students' poverty amount to one giant excuse.
Articles detailing how the world's only super power no longer wins gold metals in the academic Olympics provided the public and politicians plentiful reasons to do something, anything. This is nothing new. For the past couple of decades, teachers and students have been subjected to a dizzying array of mandates that no other country in the world comes close to equaling. In the era of the NSA snooping revelations, it's no wonder that we must label, rate, rank, and monitor students from kindergarten to college. How useful are current methodologies if they only reveal what we already know.
Researchers know that the current system is flawed, unreliable, inaccurate and unstable. The highest standardized scores will go to affluent children and failing grades will be assigned to poor, ESL, and disabled kids. This tells us nothing about the quality of instruction or more importantly how to improve it. The results are just numbers on the academic scoreboard that reveal little about how well the coach taught a player.
Pot Holes and Policy
With the public pronouncements of politicians, major corporations, thought leaders, and the Department of Education, schools were declared dead. The solution coalesced behind the idea that national standards, school choice (charter schools/vouchers), and the use of as much technology as robotically possible were the Schools' only chance at resurrection. The Gates Foundation and both political parties declared passionate faith in standardized testing and Big Data as the only reliable measure educational employees and their charges can be sure to be accurate. The perfect storm loomed over the states and was about to hit their shores.
In 2009 behind closed doors, Common Core's development group led by Student Achievement Partners, consisting of 27 people very few who were educators but a significant number of testing corporations, got under way. From the beginning, the meetings lacked transparency, public input, and teachers. Lacking these important parts, people were ready to pounce on prepared goals that affect everyone. Democratic societies should not operate in this manner.
Another obstacle for the Department of Education needed to overcome is the fact that legally they are not to force curriculum down the throat of state government. Bill Gates and his deep pockets stepped up to the plate and swung for a national standards homerun. He gave a total $200,000,000 to help develop, implement, and promote The Common Core. Some states accepted immediately without even seeing the completed product. Others bowed to the educational elites as well. All told 42 states relinquished their standards to the feds.
An essential component of The Core is that testing will be done on computers which means enormous expenditures by school districts on new technology. The LA Times reported Los Angeles Unified took a multi-billion dollar school bond earmarked for building improvement and dropped a billion of it on ipads. It has been a bonanza for technology companies who look forward to equipping the entire nation for online testing. Textbook publishers and others are next in line.
A Cry in the Wind
The ubiquitous belief the dismal test scores of American students is indicative of the failure in public school instruction is greatly exaggerated. Diane Ravitch PH.D. research proves this hyperbole is mistaken by using data right from The Department of Education's own website. She states, "test scores were the highest they had ever been in our history for whites, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians; that graduation rates for all groups were the highest in our history; and that the dropout rate was the lowest ever in our history."
The testing committee declared by fiat that a passing grade would be aligned with the National Association of Educational Progress high standard of proficiency. Many adult educated Americans could find themselves hard pressed to achieve this high bar. With this criteria, results hit rock bottom. In New York State just 30% of all students passed, 3% English language learners, 5% disabled, and 20% African-American/Hispanic.
When townhall meetings were held, parents were outraged. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan dismissive comment, "white suburban moms" were disappointed to discover that a budding Albert Einstein didn't live in their home exemplifies the educational elite's attitude toward the lowly laymen. No Arne, parents don't believe their kids are brilliant just that they aren't flunkies.
Standards in Stone
The attractive feature standardized tests possess is the ability to assess areas in need of improvement for individual students. Common Core gets it wrong again. The problem lies in that students who are tested and given the results pass from teacher to teacher as they move up a grade. The new instructor can be completely unaware of the valuable information that would help inform instruction and better equip the student for standardized success. Improvement is the objective.
The argument for the rigorous standards of The Core is it will be a change agent for improved academic performance. The theme of change is an interesting one because there isn't anyone in a position to fix the de facto national test or the standards that make it up. Examples abound. Kindergarten teachers complain that all the emphasis on academic skill leaves little time for imaginative play vital to the cognitive development of kids. On top of that, these children are subjected to testing to ensure they are "college and career ready." Not sure there are any elementary school kids who are thinking about college. Kindergartners through third grade usually want to grow up to be comic book heroes, cowboys, or astronauts. Too bad The Common Core founders don't live on mars today.
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© 2016 Michael Wnek