From an idealogical perspective, the differences that divide Americans are also what make the nation unique and great. When it comes to education, however, there seems to be a competing theory that differences should be dismissed in favor of finding a standardized way to teach all K-12 students. Time and again when it comes to national policy on education, stringent sets of benchmarks are consistently put in place that are accompanied with funding incentives. The latest example of this one-size-fits-all approach to education policy is Common Core standards and the testing that goes with them.
In this series, I've already written about the way politics and parents will contribute to the end of days for Common Core and today I'd like to add in exactly how the logistics will too. Hopefully, the major backers of Common Core will read this series and respond to my constructive criticism before it is too late.
American students really are multi-faceted.
It seems everywhere you look, we celebrate diversity in this country. From skin color, to language spoken, to sexual preferences, the national message seems to be "Be you. Whatever that looks like." Except when it comes to measuring a "good" education. It's widely accepted that students learn in different ways and customized learning initiatives are a trend fueled by in-classroom technology. HOW students learn is varied, but WHAT they are learning is somehow expected to fall into some neat, standardized package. Laying down countrywide rules of sorts for learning, and attaching those to funding, is an easy way to check off boxes on a spreadsheet but not an effective way to teach each student exactly what he or she needs to know based on career paths, interests and life circumstances.
It's true that the world is becoming smaller and that the differences that once divided K-12 students by geography are shrinking. Still, there are some learning standards that just make more sense in one area over another. The benefits of learning a foreign language should be shared on a national level, but the specifics of those benchmarks should be considered. A state like Arizona or Texas, for example, with a high percentage of Spanish-speakers could benefit from more curriculum customized to that population, and in a much more effective way than a state like Iowa or Maine. Common Core is not a curriculum set, of course, but I use the language example as a way to show the difference between students and how where they live really does impact what they really should know. Industry specific learning is also a consideration when it comes to what should be taught more heavily, not as a way to pigeon-hole students but as a way to set them up for the best chance at career success. Considerations for subject areas that have been weak in a particular region should also be thought about and given priority.
There is not one model student.
The idea that all U.S. K-12 students should know exactly the same things, and graduate from high school with the same shared learning experiences is flawed. Of course no one expects any two students to be identical in their learning outcomes, but the implication of Common Core standards are that there should be a cookie-cutter which every district and every teacher uses. Such an educational model goes against every other American ideal - like innovation, creativity and individuality - yet is prevalent throughout the public school system. If there were one leading flaw in Common Core requirements, it would be this: it allows no wiggle room for letting students be the people they were meant to be.
Common Core has experienced a few setbacks, but with some minor tweaks it can be just what the doctor ordered for the US education system. What do you think? How can we save Common Core?