They're at it again. Many of the people who brought us the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2001 are back. Prepare yourself for the nightmare of the Common Core Standards. American schools have witnessed an 11 year federal takeover of education and mandatory standardized testing with "drill and kill" test preparation. Drop-out rates for at-risk students remained high as school became more and more meaningless to these students who usually live in our poorest communities. Reading levels remained stagnant, and comparable to pre-NCLB years. Racial and socio-economic achievement gaps barely budged, despite promises to the contrary. This debacle cost tax payers billions of dollars. We were duped. We are about to be duped again.
As the Obama administration recently rolled out the requirements for school districts to attain "Race to the Top" funding, it came with a condition; adopt the national Common Core Standards (CCS). No CCS means no money. The Common Core Standards are common "skills" that every state is being pressured to implement to hold students "accountable." As I write, publishers are chomping at the bit to develop the lucrative standardized tests for the CCS. Gone are the days of inspiring or challenging students with new ideas or evoking curiosity in math, English, science, or social science. Now these time-tested liberal arts disciplines are simply a conduit to build skills that are tedious, lifeless, and wildly boring to most students.
One teacher from New York was "trained" by one of the many CCS institutes sweeping the nation on how to help students do a "cold reading" of the Gettysburg Address. This teacher recounts how the trainer forbade them from giving an introduction or background context surrounding this document to the students. No asking if students have ever been to a funeral. No going outside the text and discussing the Civil War prior to the reading, or even the battle at Gettysburg. And certainly no dramatic interpretation of these classic lines! The trainer explained that the purpose is to mimic a standardized testing situation. I don't know about other teachers, but in my college training partaking in such professional neglect is considered poor teaching and borders on malpractice.
Where is this all coming from? Follow the money. Business Roundtables are major proponents. Bill Gates has donated millions to create and promote the CCS. General Electric gave eighteen million dollars to create common skills standards.
Teachers obey and teach the CCS. Students obey the teachers. Good little workers emerge. Critiquing the status quo, curiosity, inspiration, and choice are now moot. Middle class kids comply but are largely disengaged. At-risk students drop out. The cycle continues.
We drink this kool-aid because the media legitimizes these celebrity philanthropists and corporations, and high profile pontificators like Arne Duncan (Secretary of Education) who believes he knows how to fix schools. We cower to organizations with names like "The Council of Great City Schools," which just gave a scathing report of Fresno Unified School District for not having, among other things, national common core standards.
Can we step back for a second? America is the most diverse nation in the world. Fresno itself is extremely diverse. Teachers spend hundreds of hours with their students every year, yet the Common Core Standards will hinder them from making individualized curriculum or pedagogical decisions for their students. Democratically elected school boards know their community much better than the federal government. These local stakeholders should be granted much more autonomy with a lot less external influence in deciding local school policy.
Very soon, local school boards, administration, and teachers will simply be de facto employees of the feds responsible for carrying out their education mandates. Will our generation be the one that witnesses the death of local education decision making at the hands of the federal government?
- Derek Boucher