Monday, August 19, 2013

The Common Core Follies

You know it's late August because the school stories are coming fast and furious. And speaking of furious, how about the reaction to the Common Core standards that are supposed to prepare our schoolchildren for work and college? In New York, where the scores declined in the debut year for the standards, the knives came out to excise the Common Core and implement...well, that wasn't clear. Teachers, parents and administrators from both sides of the political spectrum were worried about what the test scores said about what students learned, and a few were so angry that they threatened charges.

This points to the problem inherent in using test scores to evaluate...anybody. Teachers didn't have the time, or the training, to fully implement the standards into their lessons. Students didn't have time to learn the material and were tested on material they didn't learn in a format that was alien to many of them. It was also the first year of the tests, and in most first years, scores drop.

The assumption, though, is that the Common Core standards are testable, or at least worthy of teaching. Why is it that every student has to go to college, or be college-ready? Clearly, and it is crystal clear to educators, not all students will go to college, and many who are there won't finish because higher education is not for them. I understand that this is educational heresy and that I am swimming in dangerous waters. After all, the classes that I teach are considered college preparatory. My standards are based on the assumption that students should be analytical learners who can write coherently and synthesize what they've learned. In that sense, the Common Core has caught up to me. But unlike the Core, I understand that not all students will reach readiness by the time they graduate from high school and that many of them will not succeed in an institution of higher learning. So, in a sense, I am preparing them for something they will not use. That's a waste of time and resources.

In addition, the tests will be administered on computers and only computers, the assumption being that all students have the same competency with technology. What of students who don't (and I know of plenty of them)? What happens when it is the technology itself, and not the student's knowledge, that is the problem? And what happens when it is the school district's inability to purchase technology equipment or schedule adequate rooms or provide quiet places for testing that is part of the problem? These concerns have been waved off by some states, including New Jersey where I have been the wavee. How does that help evaluate students and teachers.

The Common Core Standards, like other previous attempts at measuring student growth, are devoted to the essential education problem: that of trying to have every student master the same material by the same date and to be evaluated in the same way at the same time. When are we going to realize that this has not worked and will not work adequately in the future? It's even more vital that we get this right now, because teachers' jobs are on the line. Politicians don't understand this. Teachers do, but unfortunately, we are being shut out of the system for reasons that have nothing to do with pedagogy and everything to do with union politics and the unending search for those terrible teachers we keep hearing about.

There will be more about the Common Core in the school year to come, but keep in mind that any lockstep program is going to have problems. We are experience the latest one.

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