Common Core: Why Standards of Education are Paramount

Earlier today, Trevor LaFauci published an article presenting the view that the national Common Core standards - which Indiana recently opted out of - are detrimental to public school education. Somewhat controversially, I want to present the opposing view.

For a long time, American public education has proceeded on two paths: one for the rich, wealthy communities with large property tax revenues and affluent parents to fund schools and afford every opportunity to their children at home, and the other for poor and middle class communities often starved of tax revenue and overworked parents who can barely put food on the table, let alone get involved in their children's schools.

And for nearly as long a time, the debate on education in this country has remained familiar and stale: the Right has sought to capitalize on its agenda of declawing teachers' unions in the name of "reforms" that stole resources from schools, and the Left has been so content to protect the teachers' unions that it has been often hostile to any reform ideas that could mess with establishment teacher tenure.

I think most everyone of good conscience agrees that learning should be about students, that learning should provide students with critical thinking and creative skills, and that evaluation should measure not only the student's mastery of material but that evaluation should also serve the purpose of identifying which students need additional help so that it can be provided. And personally, I have never liked fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests.

But as American students have suffered in the world stage in math, reading and sciences in the age of technology, it is perhaps time to consider different approaches, including testing. India, which is providing a whole lot of the engineers and software developers today, has a rigorous, nationwide testing regime. And having come from that regime, I can tell you categorically that students are taught to the test. Test prep takes nearly all of what we consider high school here. Even the textbooks are sanctioned by the state or national school boards and are universal throughout a state or an alternate national system. Testing in and of itself may not be the devil that some believe. But on the other hand, we shouldn't just be chasing test scores either, lest we end up stealing childhood from our children.

Still, standards need to be set. Not all students learn alike, and not all students come from the same backgrounds, but all students can learn, and all teachers and schools need to be held accountable for children learning. In order to do that though, they need resources first and foremost. At the same time, the resources need to be tied to a demand to improve student performance. President Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan has been criticized for tying Race to The Top grants to Common Core, but isn't that a way of providing resources to schools committed to improving standards?

In many ways, Common Core is actually a fix to No Child Left Behind's absurd testing criteria that essentially caused states to lower standards in order to maintain funding. Common Core does not allow that. But exactly how learning will be assessed seems to be a particular concern, and a legitimate one. It's important to note though that currently two sets of assessment methods are in development, precisely in order to provide the kind of flexibility meany teachers, parents, schools and students are looking for.

I have yet to see any direct opposition to the actual standards that are set by Common Core. There are complains about testing and evaluation, accusations of trying to make one size fit all, but I have yet to read a well thought out case that the actual standards outlined by Common Core - that students be proficient enough in math and language arts that they are skillful communicators and ready for the working world or college by the time they graduate and the actual grade-by-grade standards to get there - are bad.

If that's the case - if all of us believe that standards are needed, and there is no case to be made against the actual standards set by Common Core, then perhaps the debate needs to move into a different direction. Just because the Tea Party agrees on the Left on something doesn't mean it needs to be scrapped. Let's talk about how to improve testing, or even methods of evaluation alternative to testing. Let's talk about how to evaluate the tests, who evaluates the tests, and how to root out cultural bias from both writing and evaluating those tests.

But let's recognize that the people who have pushed the standards included in Common Core have done valuable work. Let's build on it. If resource is required, let's put it where it belongs - as sidebar, give poor working parents a raise by raising the minimum wage and allow them to enroll in Medicaid so that they can spend more time focusing on their children's education instead of working "uniquely American" 3 jobs. But let's resist the temptation to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let's resist throwing out good standards just because we don't like the testing.

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