*For the past two weeks, parents throughout New York have been keeping their kids out of school in protest of the new Common Core exams. The actions of these parents is a bad idea based on the wrong perspective.
The Common Core is an educational philosophy that all students in the country should get the same basic education. This philosophy led the federal government to create national standards.
The positives of the Common Core are that the standards are generally higher than what states had before. Even in my state of New York, which had a reputation for producing high level students, the Common Core has changed things enough that students, teachers, and parents were all a bit intimidated. But ultimately once everyone adapts to the different and higher standards, all states that operate according to the Common Core will be sending better prepared young people to college and/or into the workforce.
But looking at the Common Core from the wrong point of view yields the opting out phenomenon sweeping New York.
First there is the tension between educators and the public at large regarding tests. Most people took standardized tests at some point in their life and see them as a necessary part of schooling. Teachers on the other hand, tend to look at standardized tests as a nuisance that hinders them because they lose instruction time to test prep. Teachers like to proclaim that they know their students and can assess them better than a general exam. And while this is probably true, each teacher would be subjectively assessing students on the parts they emphasized of a curriculum they may have helped to create. When each class has a slightly different criteria for excellence, the commonality is minimized.
Of course educators would gripe about the Common Core a lot less if two things changed. The difficulty of the standardized assessment and the fact that teacher effectiveness is tied to how students fare on these tests. Once teachers realized that student performance could reflect poorly on them, the protests got a lot louder than times past with other changes.
Teachers do have a point in this case. Teachers are only one of three ingredients that go into student achievement. If a student is unmotivated and/or they don’t have lots of parental support, event the best teacher would struggle to produce a high achieving student. Conversely teachers with highly motivated students that come from supportive families generally look brilliant regardless of their ability. Increasing the difficulty of standardized tests only exacerbates this problem.
Nevertheless I still believe the Common Core is a good idea and that parents should allow their children to participate. If for no other reason parents should encourage their children to take the tests because sometimes they will be challenged in life. But because of the very vocal and visible protests of the tests and the Common Core in general, the two positives are being lost: number 1: having a national standard for K-12 is a reasonable goal. There is plenty of room in the high school curriculum for literature classes that are based on traditional texts, and social studies classes that focus on specialty topics (neither of which would be covered in the Common Core). But if we believe the country is falling behind other developed countries educationally, steps should be taken to reverse that trend. Yes this means the federal government having a larger role in an area that traditionally was the purview of individual states. But I don’t believe states and local school districts are completely shut out of the process. Furthermore if international trends are correct than the states as a whole have been doing a poor job.
Number 2: students will adapt. All of the issues I highlighted are real but many of the issues will go away as time goes on and students are introduced to the Common Core earlier in their academic career and teacher are forced to aim for the higher standards year in and year out. As students adapt and test scores increase the Common Core will magically seem like a good idea and the right path for the country educationally.
Hardly any educational program will look great in 2-3 years. I just hope we make it to years 4-5.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.