No Common Ground With Common Core

By Kristi Mexia

June 2, 2014 5 min read

There isn't much that is common about the Common Core State Standards. A system developed under George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act and Barack Obama's Race to the Top program, the Common Core State Standards Initiative, in theory, was created as an education equalizer, helping to ensure students are ready for college or a career after high school. However, these academic guidelines, launched in 2009, are polarizing students, parents, teachers and administrators across the nation as everyone is quickly finding out exactly just how uncommon the Common Core State Standards have turned out to be.

Perhaps the biggest divider with the Common Core lies in its creation. According to Diane Ravitch, an education historian and educational policy analyst, Common Core was hatched in boardrooms by organizations and written mostly by representatives of the testing industry, involving few educators. Thus, today we are left with a system that over-tests. We have "the most over-tested (students) in the world," says Ravitch, with educational standards that value big data simplifications attached to remote standards of learning. Common Core has "nothing to do with improving education or creating equality of opportunity," Ravitch says, "but everything to do with cutting costs, standardizing education (and) shifting ... from high-cost teachers to low-cost technology."

It's no wonder, then, that the system based on high-stakes testing to vet American teachers and students' aptitude still is being rebuked by educational powerhouse states, such as Massachusetts and Florida, five years after it began. "Our system isn't ready to deliver a college-ready education to all our students off the bat. I don't want to get there by having students punished by not meeting that bar," said Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts commissioner of education, to Education Week last year.

However, what are administrators such as Chester exactly afraid of? Receiving a poor grade on a standardized test has happened to many before; high-school students are often encouraged to take standardized tests, such as the SAT, multiple times to achieve a better score. The Common Core is different; it has set its standards higher. According to David Hickok, a high-school English teacher in Massachusetts, each school district must create a series of exams that track progress -- and not just the students'. Eventually, the score a student achieves on a test will be used to help evaluate a teacher's performance. The teach-to-the-test mentality that is propagated by such a requirement helps to dissipate whatever creative freedom was left in the American education system.

The Common Core was not meant to foster a passion for knowledge, though. It was developed to raise the educational bar for students in the U.S. The Common Core website states that the program was designed to "promote equity by ensuring all students are well prepared to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad." But Common Core hasn't prepared students to compete abroad any more than the academic standards in place before it arrived. The Program for International Student Assessment comes out with educational rankings for countries every three years. The latest results, from 2012, show that "29 nations and other jurisdictions outperformed the United States by a statistically significant margin, up from 23 (four) years ago," reports Education Week, but the real issue at hand is that the overall results for American test takers hasn't changed since 2003. "We are in a race in the global economy. The problem is not that we're slowing down. The problem is that the other runners are getting faster," says Jan Rivkin, a Harvard professor who co-chairs a project on U.S. competitiveness.

In order to compete both at home and abroad, the need for change is obvious in the American educational system. What many have to come to realize, however, is that Common Core -- despite its good intentions -- is not the answer. Seattle, Chicago and New York, reports The Washington Post, have teachers refusing to administer tests, criticizing Common Core publicly. Other cities and states continue to delay the exams. It seems it's time to re-evaluate the Common Core State Standards.

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