Stan Crader

Author & Lecturer on Writing About Rural America

Common Core: Why?

Common Core Standards now control the majority of testing and curriculum of America’s public schools. The architects of common core claim the goal is to increase the career and college readiness of America’s primary school students. Having spent considerable time researching common core, I’m now more perplexed than when I began. Common Core is very vague, which makes the specifics difficult to debate.

The primary reason I’m not a fan of common core has little to do with what’s called for in common core. It’s the common part that has me vexed. Who wants to be common? Education should be controlled at the local level. The high schools from which the brightest and best prepared students matriculate aren’t those with the most money or those with the tightest federal or state oversight. In fact, there’s very little correlation between dollars spent per student and educational results. Central planning is not the answer. Common core is central planning. At best it isn’t necessary, at worst; it will reduce the quality of education to a common core, hence possibly the name.

I’ve learned to be very suspicious of people who get defensive when asked a simple question. Ask a local school administrator about common core and they’ll quickly assure you that the local school, all of the way down to the individual teacher, will keep complete control with regards to the curriculum and what is taught. If this is true, then what is common core? And how will our students be more college and career ready if no change is made to the curriculum? And the answer will be, “Well, there are certain standards with which we’ll need to comply.” And there you have it, the reason they started squirming the moment you mentioned common core. Listen closely and you’ll eventually learn that adoption of common core standards is about federal funding. Common will require change.

And you’ll probably hear some statistics about how America’s students rank well below the average of students in other countries. Remember, statistics always support the case of the person making the presentation. It’s true that when students of all types are compared, America doesn’t always score the highest. The problem is that most countries don’t include all types. Do other countries ‘mainstream’ the way we do in America? And if so, are those students in other countries with an impaired ability to learn included in the ‘standard’ metric? Aha! And what about those countries where the college capable students and career likely students are separated early on, one given a college prep curriculum and the other vocational. Are both categories included in the peer metrics. Hmmm.

Ever hear of a significant discovery being made by a person from the University of anywhere other than an American school? Rare.

There’s an old Zen saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” What makes a student ready? To know the answer study the schools at which emerge the brightest students. There are examples in wealthy gated communities as well as remote rural villages. Or study the brightest students from any school. Within each public school there will be a pool of students who excel. In many cases their aptitude has more to do with their attitude. They came to get an education and got one while students sitting only a few feet away did not. It’s not  about the curriculum.

So, one must ask a couple of questions. If in fact our schools, in their present state, are producing stellar students alongside those who are barely functionally literate, will a change in curriculum make any difference? What change will cause more students to see the teacher? And who is best to identify and implement the needed change, the local school board or the federal government?

Don’t make the mistake of trying to debate the obtuse elements of Common Core, simply debate who is best qualified to determine the local school curriculum. And be willing to lose federal subsidy in order to maintain the destiny of the education of America’s future.

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