I rarely find myself agreeing with anything my conservative counterpart here at The Explorer, Richard Brinkley, has to say. The two of us are usually miles apart on the issues – centuries apart sometimes. But every once in awhile, the stars and planets align in strange ways, creating odd alliances, and this is one of those moments. Brinkley and I agree that there’s something very wrong with the latest national educational directive, the Common Core Curriculum.
Don’t expect to see lions and lambs lying down together any time soon. Brinkley and I disagree on what’s wrong with the Common Core. But it’s important that a significant number of people on the right and the left are mobilizing against the implementation of this new educational “cure-all” which is supported by President Obama along with Republican and Democratic governors from 45 states.
I won’t go into Brinkley’s problems with the Common Core; you can read them online. Here are my concerns.
Basically, the Common Core is No Child Left Behind (NCLB) on steroids, a state-based system gone national. NCLB has a 10 year record of harming, not helping public education. The Common Core could be even worse.
Basically, NCLB said, if each state sets standards for student achievement, then tests the students to see how they’re doing, the results will make teachers teach harder and students study more, and achievement will soar. The problem is, that’s not what has happened. Instead, student achievement has stayed flat during the height of the testing craze. The one reliable national test we have, the NAEP which has been around since the mid-1970s, has seen reading and math achievement grow slowly but steadily until 2008. Since then, nothing.
Our fixation with testing instead of education has caught up with us. These days, when students aren’t taking pre-tests and sample tests and the actual state tests, they’re being test-prepped within an inch of their young lives. Education no longer focuses on children as developing human beings while also teaching necessary academic skills. That’s been replaced by a drill-and-kill focus on “what’s really important,” meaning “what’s on the test.” With so much class time devoted to relentless drudgery and mind-numbing tests, it’s no wonder the current crop of students aren’t showing the kind of academic growth we saw in the pre-NCLB days.
Our decade-long experiment with statewide standards and statewide testing has been a failure. So what sense does it make to replace it with national Common Core standards and national tests? That’s ridiculous. If it didn’t work the first time around, it makes no sense to double down and do more of the same on a grander scale.
NCLB didn’t raise student achievement, but it did a great job of pointing fingers at “failing schools,” and the Common Core will do an even better job. But really, we didn’t need the tests to tell us which schools would be “successful” and which would be labeled “failures.” Everyone who studies education knows, schools with high income students have high test scores, and students with low income students have low test scores. That’s true all over the world. It’s certainly true in Arizona, where you can make an accurate prediction of a school’s state grade just by knowing how many students receive free or reduced lunches.
National standards and national testing don’t result in better educated students. Neither does opening more charter schools; students in Arizona’s charters actually perform worse on standardized tests than similar students in traditional public schools. Neither does spending taxpayer money on vouchers for private schools. If we want to improve education for our lowest achieving students (our top students compare well with their peers in other countries), more testing isn’t the answer. We need to do the hard work of dealing with the root causes of poverty at the same time we fund efforts to improve the quality of education in our lowest performing schools.
(Editor’s Note: Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.)