Why I am worried about the Common Core Standards

In case you haven’t heard, the Common Core standards in ELA and Math are up for public comment.  According to the website:

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a joint effort by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in partnership with Achieve, ACT and the College Board.

My first point of contention is that the standards are so closely aligned with what the ACT and College Board already have designated as “important” for students to know and learn.  As a teacher who was certified the year that No Child Left Behind was enacted, I have witnessed first-hand the destruction of the innovation of the American education system.  Don’t get me wrong: I recognize that the American education system has problems.   We don’t meet the needs of our learners, we don’t equitable distribute our resources, we don’t utilize teaching methods that have been proven to succeed.  However, the narrowing of the curriculum to focus entirely on a high-stakes test has not addressed these issues.  This has been especially true in what I have witnessed in countless schools across Michigan and has been more articulately described by many writers other than myself (see Yong Zhao’s recent ASCD book: Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization).  In the end, the ACT and the College Board’s high-stakes tests are merely an assessment tool: not the starting point for the Nation’s discussions on what should and should not be taught in our schools.

It concerns me that we are holding up standardized tests, with their history of racial discrimination, and the testing companies as the experts in this most fundamental of discussions.  The content of the standards are vague, narrow, and barely consider the changing nature of writing as more and more content moves into the digital realm.  This is because it is not easy to test for creativity, innovation, satire, humor, or any of the myriad ways that a piece of writing gains resonance in a larger culture.  Why are changing our nation’s students into excellent test takers?   One of the first ideas I was taught as a test prep tutor is that standardized tests measure how well one takes a standardized tests.  Enacting these standards as they are written will ensure that the testing companies will not have to alter their current, and biased, products one bit.

I have more than just a practitioner’s interest in these new standards: I am also a mother.  I worry about what our American educational landscape will look like once the testing companies are allowed to dictate what happens in our community schools.  I have seen bright and talented students fail in the realm of standardized testing.  I don’t know if I could bear to send my children to an institution that cares more about “meeting a standard” than educating my children.

As Mark Twain famously stated, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”  With the Common Core standards as they are, this will be even more true for my children.  I have added more specific comments to the Common Core website: you have until October 21st to read and respond in your own way.