Is the Common Core good for New Jersey? Or, for that matter, any state?
One thing that strikes me about Common Core defenders is how absolutely certain they are that these new standards are just so freakin' awesome. They'll tell you our students are behind the rest of the world (even though they're not), and that we have an "achievement gap" (which they should properly call a "testing gap"), and that 21st Century jobs require "critical thinking" (which is an absurdly oversimplified description of how our economy interacts with education).
They'll tell you that the Common Core will force schools to make their students "college and career ready" (a useless, phony phrase), and that they emphasize "authentic learning" (depending on how you define "authentic"), and that Common Core is great because teachers were closely involved in its development (rubbish).
To be fair: there are some very well-informed and intelligent people who are promoting the Common Core. They have a serious case to make for the standards. I am happy to listen to them and consider their arguments.
But most of the defenders of the Common Core in the media seem to live at the top of Mount Stupid:
The reason yours truly has not engaged much in much discussion of the Common Core is that I have been teaching long enough and have enough high-quality training to know that I'm not the guy to lead the discussion.
Granted, I have my doubts. I think the single-year grade bands are a bad idea: they wouldn't work in arts education, and they probably won't work in math and language arts, particularly in the early years, when children vary wildly in their cognitive abilities (let alone their actual chronological ages).
I also question some specifics: why is pi introduced in Grade 7? Seems late to me: our school used to have "Pi Day" every March 14 (3/14 -- get it?), and Grade 5 seems like the perfect time to introduce the concepts of irrationality and infinity, which are closely tied to pi.
But again: if you want an expert opinion, I'm not the guy to ask. Unfortunately, we are surrounded by self-impressed ninnies who have planted their flags atop the summit of Mount Stupid. They appear to believe that just because Bill Gates gave them money to write a blog, or because they run the op-ed page of a newspaper, that somehow they are perfectly well qualified to tell the rest of us slobs that the Common Core is going to save America from certain doom at the hands of Singapore.
To be clear: this ignorance is not, by any means, confined to CCSS defenders. Core-spiracy nonsense has become an integral part of right-wing rhetoric leading into the next election. But only foolish editorial writers would think that the legitimate criticisms of the Common Core were similarly driven by left-wing politics.
There are some very serious, very knowledgable people who think the CCSS is developmentally inappropriate. As a non-expert who still has a better-than-average understanding of math and language arts curriculum, I tend to side with these people. But I do not dismiss the serious proponents of CCSS out-of-turn as a bunch of whatever-wing hacks. I am ready and willing to listen to a meaningful, substantive debate...
And then remark -- as someone who does have considerable expertise in education policy -- that the debate about the Common Core is, at this time, largely pointless.
Folks, here's what I can tell you I know for sure:
- Our schools are highly segregated, by both race and socio-economic status. This negatively affects educational outcomes.
- Providing adequate funding to schools will likely not completely close the testing gap, but it can go a long way toward helping to equalize educational outcomes.
I don't want to completely dismiss the debate about CCSS, or any learning standards, or the importance of curriculum development. The goals we set for students are important. How we teach makes a difference, and we can improve the quality of teaching.
But let's get real: if you had to make a list of the things that need to be done to improve the educational outcomes of students, rewriting the standards would be near the bottom.
Does anyone really believe that the most pressing need for a child living in food insecurity and attending an inadequately funded school is to make sure her state's standards are aligned with those in other states? That it's critically important to make sure her state's old standards are replaced with the CCSS, even if her school building is crumbling around her? That, if she has a special education need, the sequence of standards that may be developmentally inappropriate for her anyway is as urgent an issue as whether or not she gets critical services in a timely manner?
What does a new set of standards do to ameliorate the segregation that is growing worse in our urban schools, thanks to "choice" policies that are often promoted by the same folks who tout the CCSS? How does Common Core help to reduce the narrowing of the curriculum that has followed from a decade of high-stakes testing (and, likely, inadequate funding)? Where is any evidence that Common Core makes the teaching profession more attractive -- especially for young, talented people of color, who are desperately needed in our schools?
Again: I'm not saying standards aren't relevant. But the inordinate attention we've given to this debate is like worrying about tire pressure when the engine's on fire. Yes, the pressure's important... but there are more immediate concerns.
The mandarins of our media who are obsessed with Common Core clearly don't understand the serious debate over the standards. But even worse: they substitute a shallow focus on the CCSS for a meaningful exploration of the impacts of segregation, poverty, and inadequate funding on our nation's schools.
They need to get off of Mount Stupid and get their priorities straight.
"Poorly aligned standards" is not on one of the backpacks here.