The image above is taken from a scene in a pro Common Core Washington D.C. schools video (see video below) in which people are confused because there are no nationwide standards by which to judge the performance of students. To millions of parents and educators nationwide, the implementation of Common Core still fits that image of confused people with measuring sticks because Common Core and the high stakes tests that have come along with it have created more anxiety and confusion for students and teachers alike than ever before.
On its surface, the Common Core State Standards sound straightforward enough: children in all 50 states should have a set of standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math which will create benchmarks which each child will be expected to achieve at each grade level from K to 12. These standards will ensure that students are college and career ready, and will eliminate the confusion inherent in comparing the education children receive in one state versus another, and will ensure that students who move across state lines will be achieving at the same grade level standards everywhere. The Common Core was also sold as a voluntary initiative which states would agree to: it was agreed to state by state with the promise of federal funding from Race to the Top grants, not imposed through federal legislation, and was said to be designed by and for educators.
Like anything involving education policy, though, the lived reality in schools is extremely different when it comes to Common Core. Here in a nutshell is why progressive teachers, parents, activists and students are fighting to Opt Out of Common Core and the testing regime that comes with it:
- The standards were designed without meaningful teacher input. When the standards were being written, the names of the individuals crafting them was kept confidential. Now the list is out, and it includes mostly university-level academics and very few classroom teachers who will actually have to implement the new requirements at the K-12 level. The standards were not given any field test before implementation, meaning that they are in effect an experiment on our nation’s children.
- Common Core has resulted in a massive giveaway to testing companies. Pearson, the largest test making company in the world, has continually won multi billion dollar contracts to design and implement Common Core aligned standardized tests despite massive criticism of the quality and appropriateness of their exams and questions about the draconian measures they take on test security, including spying on kids’ twitter accounts. These billions of federal dollars could instead be used to upgrade school computer systems, fund after school programs or anything else directly relevant to the classroom. States signed on to Common Core to receive extra funding, and the massive giveaway to Pearson diverts this funding away from classroom teachers who know how to design assessments to measure their own students’ growth.
- Common Core takes autonomy away from classroom teachers. The most brilliant, inspiring lesson ever created will now be rejected by supervisors and educational bureaucrats because it is “not Common Core” and “lacks rigor.” Rigor has become the new buzzword in education, and if you look that word up you’ll see that it means harsh, inflexible and rigid. I always thought creativity, innovation and critical thinking were what we’re trying to inspire in our students, but Common Core as implemented does not have this effect.
- Teachers are being evaluated based on student test scores, often in subjects they don’t teach. In NY state, 40% of a teacher’s yearly rating is based on standardized test scores from their students. Since the one size fits all system requires that all teachers be rated this way, music, art and physical education teachers are rated based on student performance on English exams. Even when teachers are rated based on tests in a subject they do teach, the point system that determines the teacher’s rating is based on a formula that no one understands. The whole evaluation system is an attempt to impose a model from the business world meant for evaluating sales or corporate management on classroom teachers whose job is inherently different in ways few politicians or right wing pundits understand.
- Common Core standards are uniform. Children are not. The idea of all kids learning the same information at each grade level sounds great until you consider that students with special needs, ELLs (English Language Learners) and really every single child does not learn in the same way or at the same pace. Inevitably, teachers with students whose reading and writing levels are below grade level and teachers in high poverty schools whose students have deficits will need to re-teach concepts or move at a different pace from their colleagues. The idea that all classrooms in all districts in all 50 states can move at the same pace is an illusion, and a dangerous one that gets in the way of addressing the real needs of children.
- Common Core emphasizes English and Math only, which inherently causes less emphasis everything else that rounds out a student’s education. NY state’s teacher’s union, NYSUT, has voted no confidence in the rigid testing based system that narrows the focus of a child’s education. Gym teachers are now giving out writing assignments on the history of badminton instead of letting their kids play, and art and music teachers waste time explaining complicated rubrics instead of guiding their students to create. Ever since Common Core’s implementation, social studies teachers have been forced to modify their lessons to include as much Common Core English literacy as possible even though their students still must pass specific fact-based history exams to graduate. Social studies teachers have always used documents and essay writing to build literacy skills and science teachers have always taught math skills. Good teachers know how to build these skills already, and the rigid Common Core framework just means teachers must jump through extra hoops to document that they’re doing what they already knew how to do.
- Common Core will not help us compete with European and Asian students. The propagandists for Common Core, including in the video below, claim that all states must teach to uniform standards so that American kids can “compete” with students around the world. Educational experts have proven time and again that children learn best when they are exploring ideas, using their creativity and truly engaged in what they are learning, not when they are drilled for standardized exams in a rigid system and pitted against each other and their peers around the world in a race to score the highest on standardized exams. Some of the most brilliant minds in our history, the Einsteins of the world, would not necessarily score well on standardized tests because these tests to not measure anything of real substance. If we are going to educate our children for a technological age we must do it through encouraging critical thinking and innovation, not through rigid adherence to testing. As a nation that claim to value individualism, we must be wary of the claim that our schools should be more like China’s in order to compete.
As citizens we must educate ourselves to look beyond the rhetoric of politicians who go on about “excellence” and “accountability” but implement policies that show no understanding of the real human beings they affect. Turning our nation’s schools into factories for Common Core test prep is beneficial to those making money on creating the tests and to those who can call themselves bold reformers by demanding “rigor” and “higher standards,” but to the real students in our classrooms these are hollow and empty words. To really fix education in this country we need to address poverty and eliminate our antiquated method of funding schools based on local property taxes. We must respect our teachers and treat them as professionals, not micromanage them and impose top down standards. States are rolling back Common Core and parents across the country are opting their children out of high stakes tests. It is time to get rid of Common Core and No Child Left Behind and address the root causes of educational problems.