Education Opinion

Your Teacher Said WHAT?

By Nancy Flanagan — September 05, 2011 3 min read
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If I were a betting woman, I’d put serious money on the Common Core Everything--not just standards, but assessments and a curriculum package that can be delivered on-line--soon becoming the mandated norm for nearly all public schools in America. In the politicized process of making the tools of schooling “common,” the nation will be continuously subjected to a lot of blah-blah about the absolute necessity of all states having identical “goalposts,” the scientific accuracy of value-added / student growth profile measurement and the vital importance of “rigorous” curricula.

In the end, not much will have changed. Good schools will still be good schools, terrible schools in poor neighborhoods will still be failing--and “delivering content” via technology will still be promoted as the Next Big Thing, an exciting option to make education for the masses more “personalized” and “efficient” (read: cost-effective). No bang, for really big bucks.

It’s a devilishly clever game plan: Positioning the standards as a “state” initiative led by governors, painting the new standardized assessments as more “authentic” and funding their development “competitively"--and then simply letting “the marketplace” produce aligned curricular resources.

Nothing national about it, no sir! It was practically spontaneous, this sudden, coordinated interest in national common standards, re-created by someone other than teachers, and aligned with new tests and the materials necessary to standardize learning for all children in publicly funded schools. (Sarcasm alert.)

I’m more or less agnostic about the Common Core standards. I can see modest value in a voluntary standards framework, a thin set of content goals--suggesting that 5th grade would be a good time to teach multiplying and dividing fractions, for example. I was on a team of teachers who created model curriculum units last summer, cross-walking the current Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations with the Common Core standards. There wasn’t a great deal of substantive difference between the two--certainly not enough to dangle considerable RTTT money as inducement for states to abandon their existing standards and adopt the Common Core.

Besides, any teacher who’s spent a couple years in the classroom knows that standards, benchmarks, content expectations--whatever they’re called, and however they’re structured--are concepts that are perfectly aligned only on paper. Teaching children to multiply fractions is inevitably a messy, irregular business, no matter how old they are. The only important thing is whether students eventually develop competency and understanding. Still, I can’t see harm in a general template for organizing and sequencing key content standards.

It’s the national assessments, the data they yield and the one-size national curriculum that scare me. But not as much as they terrify the Alabama Federation of Republican Women, evidently.

If the Common Core train has left the station, the only thing that might stop the juggernaut would be a national campaign like theirs. A sampling:

SHOULD ALABAMA HAVE THE SAME CURRICULUM AS OTHER STATES? When Common Core Curriculum is written, it will apply to all states which adopt them. Alabama will not be able to control curriculum. Alabamians will roll the dice as to what our children learn.
Some States Emphasize Values Alabamians Oppose. Examples:
Promote gays and lesbians De-emphasize gender roles Criticize capitalism and free markets Praise unions and Big Labor Teach redistribution of wealth Push the "green" agenda Glorify Islam and denigrate Christianity
What is Social Justice? "... contrary to traditional American notions of justice based on individual rights, "Social Justice" teaches children that America is an unjust and oppressive society that should be changed. Social justice materials typically include far left proposals such as acceptance of homosexuality, alternate lifestyles, radical feminism, abortion, illegal immigration, cultural relativism, and the redistribution of wealth."

The Republican ladies in Alabama go on to explain how the Common Core will teach innocent kids to think critically about the Iraq War, question the efficacy of fencing off the entire U.S. border, and even--gasp!--re-interpret “The Three Little Pigs.”

And there--in a crazy-pants nutshell--is the problem: nobody in Policy World is talking about the real issues in national standardization of the core work of schools. The USDOE is looking for big political wins (and using our tax dollars to inveigle state adoption). And their opposition is claiming that a mandated curriculum will turn dewy-eyed first graders into raving liberals.

Here’s what we should be asking, about the Common Core Everything:

• Is this a good use of scarce resources, right now? Could the money be better spent?
• Will this massive expenditure lead to increased equity for underserved children?
• Might children who live in rural Wyoming have different curricular needs than those who live in Manhattan? Whose job is it to discern and address those needs?
• What is the real purpose of national tests? Who will benefit most from the creation and administration of national tests and curricula?

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.