Education Problems and Solutions: Part 1

In this review of the climate of education in the United States, I plan to discuss the issue on several fronts: the creation and implementation of Common Core; the darker side of its implementation; and solutions that would place an emphasis on age-appropriate child learning and de-emphasize child assessment.

I. Common Core

The most recent attempt at the Federal level to improve education in the United States is best known as Common Core. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are actually a part of President Obama's "Race to the Top" education program. Supporters of Common Core call this a state-led initiative to establish "rigorous" standards that can serve as guidelines for education all across the United States. They believe opposition to CCSS is fueled by misunderstanding.

The myths and facts presented there are subject to scrutiny, as important details are ommitted. The section on testing is especially weak. Most importantly, the article fails to address any of the deeper issues surrounding CCSS and Race to the Top. I will now address these issues. Problems with CCSS are apparent right from the beginning of its creation.

II. Creation of Common Core The National Governors' Association (NGA) was in charge of determining who had the final say in creating CCSS. Here is the list of writing teams (work groups) and feedback groups for each subject: Notice there are exactly zero K-12 teachers on the "Work Group" list, and only one in the "Feedback Group". These groups were comprised almost exclusively by representatives of testing corporations (like Achieve and ACT), hand-picked college professors, and education administrators. I came across the NGA website article thanks to this website: Diane Ravitch is one of the most well-known opponents of CCSS and I have learned much from reading her blog--as well as the comments by actual teachers.

III. Implementation of Common Core The implementation process of Common Core has been poorly executed. Results have been destructive to teachers, parents, students, and learning in general. The responsibility of implementing these standards in K-12 classrooms ultimately falls on K-12 teachers. The testing companies, administrators, and college professors who drew up CCSS will never have to sit in a room full of kids and implement what they've created. Looking back on the creation of CCSS, it is clear that the input from teachers was negligible.

The notion that CCSS was exclusively a state-led initiative is false. Former chief of staff to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Joanne Weiss, describes how the Feds ensured quick implementation of CCSS.

Basically, $4 billion in Federal grants was upfor grabs. One of the goals of Race to the Top was to pay special attention to the most struggling school districts, but fostering that kind of competition for huge amounts of grant money blurred the lines of that goal. Attorney Jane Robbins, a senior fellow with the group American Principles in Action, says this, and I believe it's worth repeating: “The former director of the Race to the Top program has admitted a remarkable level of coercion in ‘persuading’ states to adopt federally preferred education policies — Common Core standards, aligned assessments, accountability systems, and personnel policies...” “Not only did the states have to toe the line in all these areas to have a shot at the much-coveted federal money, but they had to alter their own decision-making structures to comply with federal dictates.”

Robbins believes this is a clear violation to the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.

Another comment from this article is synonymous to what I feel about CCSS, and is a prelude to what is about to be discussed. "You have used our children as your guinea pigs, testing out common standards, and data driven instruction. You have changed laws to allow the taking and sharing of children’s personal data and have been backed by billions of edtech dollars, because they stand to make even more money from our children’s data and from the business that is now education…"

Even children themselves realize they are being used as guinea pigs. A sixth-grader at a public school in Ipswitch, MA, rightfully believes he deserves compensation for being forced to take a standardized test as part of a trial run. The state of Massachusetts selected the schools at random, and the testing company Pearson, Inc. profited from the experience. A letter was sent to the testing company and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan himself. When asked about the matter, they responded that they'd "look into it".

The test mentioned in the article is known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC test. This test is a product of the afforementioned Pearson, a giant in the testing industry based out of the United Kingdom. The next section will focus on these types of standardized tests.

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