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No Common Ground on Common Core

December 28, 2013

I’ve written several blog posts on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) trying to strip away the contentiousness in an effort to find a common ground… but I have come to the same conclusion as blogger Bill Boyle whose recent post title, “The Myth of Neutrality and the Common Core”, describes the state of mind on the issue.

For those of us who worked in public education over the past four decades the debate over the common core echoes debates that go back to Dewey and Terman. The fundamental question is whether there are a set of facts that all children need to know by a certain point in their schooling or if schools should provide children with the tools they need to seek out information on their own. Terman, the father of standardized testing, believed there was a core set of measurable content that all  children should know at a certain point in their life and he designed metrics to determine if the children were making sufficient progress. Dewey, on the other hand, felt that children had a natural inclination to learn and, given the time and opportunity and coaching, would ultimately develop the skills needed to gain the knowledge necessary to succeed in life. As noted in earlier posts, Terman’s ideology clearly won out over Dewey’s, in large measure because it mirrors the beliefs in our country that standardization and efficiency are more important than diversity and creativity.

Boyle asserts that the the CCSS was written by corporatists: people who want to privatize public education and who intend to use the inability of students to pass normative tests to buttress the claim that students are attending  “failing public schools” that can only be fixed by introducing the efficiencies that exist in the private sector. And Boyle has evidence to support this contention. The folks who want to make a profit from public schools, though, are shrewd. they have got the endorsement of some professional organizations and some college professors and DID engage SOME teachers in row development and review of the standards. Moreover, the profiteers have done an outstanding job of public relations, not long because they have outright control of some media outlets but also because they are free to spend money on promotion. Public education must scrupulously account for every dollar they spend, and there isn’t a public school system in America who could budget 1% of what Exxon Mobil and the Chamber of Commerce spent to place advertisements for the Common Core in major media outlets.

What annoys Boyle, me, and the other writers whose articles are linked in his post is that there is no evidence whatsoever that the creation of a Common Core curriculum will address the greatest problems facing schools, which is the difficulties faced by the children raised in poverty. Worse, the institution of the Common Core and the testing regimen that accompanies it will only reinforce the outdated and outmoded model of schooling in place today: the model based on Terman’s premise that all children develop intellectually at the same rate and in the same fashion. This premise has been proven false for decades and is clearly wrongheaded based on the self-evident differences among children in terms of their physical growth. Instead of spending millions to reinforce the status quo it would be better to use those funds to develop a truly individualized system of education, a system that is possible now more than ever.

Here’s the irony of the effort to make education profitable by introducing more tests: we will evolve into a two or three tiered system whereby some students will attend expensive private schools, other students will be stuck in the factory model we’ve had in place for decades, but an ever expanding number of students will drop out of schooling altogether and enroll in home schooling collectives rather than have their kids subjected to the testing regimen or go needlessly into debt to pay for K-12 schooling.

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