Thursday, November 28, 2013

What is Common Core?

Editor’s Note: This is the second in an eight part series about Common Core

When I was an elementary school student in the 1980s the anxiety and urgency that teachers and administrators had for the California Achievement Tests were palpable.  Even as a child I could sense that the exams were make-or-break not just for the students but also for the school district’s workforce. The same observations held true a few years later when my classmates and I were being prepared for New York State Regents Examinations.

Looking back on those experiences, it’s obvious that the tests had a deleterious effect on educators and students alike.

Teachers and schools were being graded as much as their pupils were on the test grades, so they were being forced – either directly or indirectly – to teach to the test, rather than to the mastery of the subject matter. In order to conform, creative, engaging, and effective teachers saw their potential stifled and in turn, had to dictate rote material and administer an endless series of practice exams. It wasn’t the career they wanted or expected.

It’s not coincidental that as standardized testing has becoming more commonplace, even pervasive, at all grade levels and in all states since the advent of the US Department of Education in 1980, the outcomes have suffered. America, once one of the world’s leaders in student performance, now sports only a middling showing; according to the Program for International Student Assessment, of 65 countries featured in their study, we rank 23rd in science and 31st in math.  It’s no wonder that most high school graduates are ill-prepared for the rigors of higher education, let alone employment.

It’s obvious that the American educational system is in crisis. It’s in need of a significant transformation, one with both immediate and long-term positive results. Status quo will only cause our country’s brilliance to lose some of its shine in the coming decades as the more-learned people of other lands begin to dominate in our or ever-shrinking world.

Unfortunately, the latest attempt to right the ship will sink it further, because the Common Core State Standards (simply known as “Common Core”) are only a continuation of the status quo. American students and educators will be besieged by more standardized tests and, in essence, more standardized classrooms and more standardized students. Common Core will be the catalyst for mediocrity.

Common Core is supposed to redefine education through providing “…a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn” while providing measurable results that are “…robust and relevant to the real world.”

Simply -- and more realistically put -- it’s a series of standards in English and math that will alter the landscape of education dramatically, dumbing down curriculum in order to accommodate and satisfy the relentless testing and tracking associated with the administration of Common Core. For example, classic literature will be replaced with manuals and articles while creative thinking will be unacceptable in English classes and the number of math topics covered per grade level will be reduced dramatically so students can learn the subjects more slowly, decreasing their knowledge base.          

Such foolishness was blindly implemented because Common Core is widely – and wrongly -- promoted as being a response by the states, working together, to address our educational needs. It can be sold that way to the people in power, as well as the citizenry, because an organization calling itself the National Governors Association (NGA) was one of the main progenitors of Common Core and most responsible for its integration into 45 states.   

Despite its moniker, governors are not directly involved with the NGA, nor were they involved with or even consulted about the development Common Core standards -- something that can be attributed to yet another mysterious outfit which calls itself Achieve, Inc. (which we will discuss in next week’s column). The NGA is not a fraternal organization. It is instead a trade group that serves as a public policy liaison between state and federal governments.

That last sentence is all you really need to know about Common Core. It further proves that it is an effort by the federal government to assume total control over education (the absolute worst thing that could happen), something that was already made evident by the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program and its $4 billion carrot to states that adopted Common Core.          

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