Common Core will ultimately fail to raise national standards for math and science. At the conceptual core of this failure is the fallacy that one size fits all. While this feels great and sells well in the halls of the politically elite in the District of Columbia, translating this into effective educational policy across a broad and throughout a diverse nation from Secaucus to Seattle is a primer for failure. The ultimate recipient of the failing grade will be the American student in the ever intensifying fight for global dominance.
At the heart of its conceptualization, Common Core and similar initiatives like George Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) seem like basically good ideas. Standardization is simply an agreed set of rules or scholastic expectations that apply across the entire body of American student class. It makes it easier to plan (and sell) curricula when everyone agrees that the typical third grader should be able to solve an agreed upon level of math or science problem. The ultimate goal of a making sure that a black kid in an inner city school of Atlanta masters the same math problem as a white kid in a suburban Seattle school seems like a fair and auspicious directive. In reality, implementing a federally mandated program that can monitor and truly insure achievement of this goal has always been where things go south.
No one who has traversed through the hallowed halls of American scholastics has avoided some version of achievement testing for the past several decades. Using a number two pencil to fill in tiny circles of test cards with the timer running is part of the grade school lore. Yet, when a school ties funding and teacher salaries to test scores and evaluations, a school runs the risk of having teachers worry more about scoring than teaching. Recently, several teachers were arrested and received jail time in Atlanta for cheating and fudging the test scores of students. This skewed educational priority and ultimately cheats the student out of balanced learning. It ignores the unique nature and needs of each individual student in lieu of federalized standards. The priority becomes the evaluation and not the education. After all, tests are really about finding out how well one is doing, not teaching.
If Common Core does indeed fail to raise math and science standards across the country, its ultimate failure might lie more in its implementation than its conceptualization. Standards have been around for decades in most schools and in all U.S. schools with the implementation of Bush’s NCLB. Like NCLB, Common Core standards are a checklist of what K-12 students are supposed to know at each grade level in each of their respective areas of study. The developers of the Common Core embraced the mantra of “internationally benchmarked” in their defense of these standards. According to some experts, in reality, Common Core withers in comparison with the standards of other high-achieving countries.
These new standards were not advanced after any careful evaluation or beta testing in actual school milieus. Instead, funding incentives from the Obama-minded Department of Education promoted a hurried adoption of the program across the country. As part of the American Recovery and Restoration Act in 2009, schools could compete for their portion of the $4.35 billion “Race To The Top” campaign by meeting certain program goals. To qualify, schools had to adopt “college- and career ready” standards. Of course, the simplest way to meet that qualification was to adopt Common Core Standards and to use its federally funded materials. By the end of 2011, 44 states with more than 40 million students had signed onto Common Core. Activists rebuked critics who complained of increased federalization of education by saying that the concern should be more about China “kicking our butts” in education. However, when the real task of implementation across the country manifested, the platitudes rang hollow.
The true efficacy of any testing standard lies in its ability to make a systemic change in what is tested. These effective standards direct how curriculum is developed, how the teachers present and teach it, and ultimately how a student will learn it. This takes into account the capacity of the system as a whole but respects the ability of the individual within the system. Without this consideration, the incentive becomes a race to the bottom.
Common Core needs to go back to the chalk board. Educational standards should be enhanced by federal support, not mandated in exchange for federal support. Heavy-handed federalization will leave the most auspicious mandate of educating the American student rotten at the core. Ultimately, when implemented without due diligence and consideration, Common Core will not only fail to raise national math and science standards, it will fail our most precious commodity – our students.
Opinion by Chris Marion
Photo by Corey Leopold – Flickr License