Pundits and popular opinion alike agree on one facet of the education debate in the United States -- our educational system failing. The Common Core has been the much politicized solution to the failings and inequities of our educational system, and this New York City educator has a bone to pick with the state's newly adopted testing regime.
Here are the top five reasons the Common Core isn't the common sense solution:
1. The Common Core wasn't really pioneered by educators.
Standards are great. We need to have benchmarks for students to promote educational success.
But standards work even better when educators are able to gauge the needs of students and determine the best measures to assess their performance. According to the official Common Core website, educational practitioners were involved in the development of standards but they didn't spearhead the development. Rather, the site reveals that, "the nation's governors and education, through their representative organizations, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), led the development of the Common Core State Standards and continue to lead the initiative." While the Common Core may have relied on teachers' voices for feedback on incremental development, it didn't allow teachers to sculpt the standards from a leadership vantage.
Essentially, the Common Core was largely a political initiative, and the effort was buttressed by numerous corporate supporters. While the latter's business acumen cannot be refuted, does that group really possess the expertise needed to implement a federal initiative aimed at overhauling national educational standards?
You tell me -- I wouldn't want a cardiovascular surgeon fixing my leaky faucet. Teachers know the needs of their students best -- we cannot expect an accurate predictor of students' academic performance from an assessment in which educators had the least input.
2. Lack of federal support in state and school implementation.
This is a big one. Many teachers and schools were at a loss when it came to interpreting the Common Core guidelines and what was needed to have their students meet the standards. The Common Core wasn't pioneered by people who were in the classroom teaching and interacting with students. Thus, the developers were far removed from the realities that many educators contend with daily, such as lack of resources and socio-environmental factors that often impede academic success.
To compound matters, educators were once again tasked with creating curriculum around a regime they had little physical or fiscal support to implement. Schools were disconnected from states and states were disconnected from the federal government. The implementation of the Common Core, the curriculum, as well how the standards should be taught, and the materials needed were matters delegated to the state and local levels, according to the Common Core. This educational fragmentation makes it arduous to not only implement standards in the classroom, but it makes it increasingly difficult for students to reach those standards.
Let's just say that decentralization might be a problem when it comes to the implementation of the Common Core.
3. The Common Core's rollout was messy.
I can't attest to the rollout of the Common Core nationally, but I do know that in New York City schools the standards were subject to interpretation. I work with over 80 high school students from public and parochial schools. Some of my students had to contend with the Common Core this year and some did not. Needless to say, how much useful evidence about student performance can be gleaned from standards that are subject to interpretation by each state, the schools within that state, and the educators who teach the standards? If you want to apply standards, they need to be unified and universal. You can't get cohesive empirical results if the standards are subject to interpretation.
4. Parents and students had no voice in the creation or implementation of the Common Core.
Parent and student voices have long been marginalized in the educational reform debates. This pattern of silence has extended itself to the Common Core with noxious results. The students of mine who did have to contend with Common Core exams were simultaneously accosted with New York State regents exams and school finals. Many of my students complained of not knowing what material to study, not caring how they performed as a result, and pure exhaustion. Organizations such as NYCORE have long warned of the deleterious effects of "drill and kill testing" on youth's creativity and critical thinking skills. Why are we exacerbating this issue, and why aren't we talking to the primary educational consumers -- parents and their children -- about how to improve our measures of assessment.
5. Common Core implements standards without acknowledging the insidious effects of socio-environmental factors on school performance for low-income students and students of color.
Like its standardization predecessors, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and No Child Left Behind of 2001, the Common Core deemphasizes the impact of what political scientist Jeffrey Henig calls, "non-school factors," on academic performance.
Non-school factors include socioeconomic status (SES), institutionalized racism and inequality, inadequate healthcare, parental educational attainment, high rates of child poverty, and residential instability. Research suggests that these factors adversely affect scholastic success for low-income students and students of color. The National Center for Education reports that while the achievement gap between white students and students of color has narrowed, it is nowhere near closed. SES also has adverse effects on academic achievement, with according to Stanford scholar Sean Reardon, with "The achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born twenty-five years earlier."
Standards alone cannot combat non-school factors. We need larger scale social policy reform coupled with educational reform if we truly want to have all of our children "college and career ready."