A System Rotten to its Common Core

Since its inception in 2010, the Common Core standards have been shown to be failing America’s children. The sentiment behind the policy was admirable; a standardized curriculum to be rolled out nationwide. Whether you lived in the most affluent part of Maryland or the poorest section of Mississippi, your child would receive the same education; an education that would prepare him or her for the rigors of college. However, as complaints came in about wholly inappropriate homework, and slipping standards, even those who first championed Common Core began to question the wisdom of the policy. In part, it has been an accident of timing.  Originally a response to the “teach to the test” culture that arose from the No Child Left Behind policy, Common Core was going to ensure that schools could not cheat their way to top test scores. Then came the banking crisis.
Back when $5 billion was a lot of money
Partly as a response to this, Obama launched the “Race to the Top” program, dangling a $5 billion carrot in front of the state legislators. Anyone wanting a bite out of the carrot had to agree to certain criteria, including adopting the Common Core. They also had to agree to evaluate their teaching staff by the results the students achieved. Poor grades were deemed to be the fault of poor teaching, so staff had to do their best with a new curriculum, yet more new standards, and with the threat of being fired hanging perilously over their heads. Even if the Common Core had been perfect in every other detail, the effect on staff morale would still have been catastrophic, and it is far, far removed from perfect. No wonder previously loyal, experienced teachers walked out of the profession in disgust, to be replaced by newly qualified teachers who were thrown in at the deep end to take the place of their erstwhile colleagues.
Kids set up to fail
If the Common Core had been about raising standards, the government might have spent a little more effort in setting them by asking those in the education sector for advice and help. They did not. Instead, they concentrated their efforts on evaluating the tests. Deciding that a high bar would encourage everyone to jump, the standards were set so that a staggering 70% of children were expected to fail. Children were being branded as failures from an early age, while their furious parents were dismissed as being overly neurotic. We are a nation in crisis. A recent government report found that over 8% of American had used illegal drugs in the past month, which a shocking enough fact. Schools are meant to be protecting our children against the effect of illegal substances and anti-social behavior, yet failure so early on in life can lead to a life of drug abuse and the total rejection of normal social interaction. It is precisely the opposite of what is needed. Reports came in of children becoming traumatized by the testing experience. There was no point in government saying that children should not be put under undue pressure — if the results determine whether your teacher has a job next year or not, you can be sure that teacher is going to throw everything in their arsenal at those kids to make them pass.
Unfit for purpose
Even if all this was acceptable, and the Common Core was a universal, standardized curriculum that actually worked as promised, it would still be a failure. It was sold to the American public as a leveler, something that would ensure that, no matter where you live, no matter how great or how measly your pay check, your child would get the same education as everyone else. There would be no barrier to a college education, because all children across the nation would be on the same page. Except, that is not the case. As early as 2010, Jason Zimba, one of the math standards writers, admitted that the math content was insufficient preparation for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) college courses. Now what has happened has been that those schools who traditionally do well — those with the more affluent students and the academically gifted — recognize the shortfall and take action to correct it with extra-curricular classes, supported by the anxious parents. Those schools that have traditionally struggled — in disadvantaged areas, often with a high percentage of language challenges — have more than enough to do delivering the Common Core content and cannot do any more. The result is actually a worsening of the very problem the Common Core was meant to deliver us from; educational division between rich and poor. Even those 30% of children who manage to pass the tests will find the gates to a college STEM education locked against them, due to the inadequacies of the curriculum.
Last November saw a protest, “Don’t Send Your Child To School” day, against the Common Core policy. Expect more of the same to follow.