Thursday, January 16, 2014

Should We Be Shaken To The Common Core? Not Really, But . . . Well . . .As A Friend Puts It: At Least It's Not No Child Left Behind

    The latest--some would say lamest--effort at objectifying and standardizing student outcomes in the nation's public schools makes its entry into South Dakota this year.  The state's legislature is about to debate the Common Core standards that are about to be imposed on South Dakota's schools by the program that was created by a national consensus of states (45 of them) and their respective educators, all under the approving nod of the U.S. Department of Education.  You can review the Common Core agenda here and decide for yourself how intrusive a national presence that CC will be on our state's classrooms.  How this thing got politicized I'll never know, as the whole point of these efforts is to create a population of high-school graduates in this country that has a widely accepted set of skills that are necessary to get out and work or advance their educations.  To me the debate should be focused on whether or not Common Core has a shot at achieving that goal.
     The political class doesn't see it that way, though, and it looks like the conservatives and liberals are going at it over CC's implementation.  Last Thursday, in full conservative dudgeon, George Will said, “What begins with mere national standards must breed ineluctable pressure to standardize educational content."  Don't know where he comes up with that "must" part, but you get the gist of the conservative reaction.  Meanwhile, one of its most ardent supporters from the liberal camp, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said last November, per Bloomberg Online:  "Resistance to it comes mainly from white suburban moms" who are worried about their kids not testing so well.  Never mind that Duncan came up with about as dumb a remark from a public official as I've ever heard--the point is that the political divide has found Common Core to be a useful clarion with which to call and consolidate money and support.
     I went through CC's standards at the site I posted above and don't have much of a problem with them.  Looks to me like the program is skill-, not content-oriented, and despite conservative paranoia about the prospects of some central force that's about to use the program as a way of insidiously indoctrinating our children with official propaganda, I can't see that coming to fruition.  In the first place, the math part doesn't lend itself to it, unless somebody has figured out a way to politicize arithmetic.  In the English part, the only content mandate is the percentages of reading that should be allocated to fiction and non-fiction.  It looks to me like individual schools and teachers can assign reading materials at their discretion.  So what else is new?
     Though I don't have children in Rapid City schools anymore, if I did, I'd feel okay about Common Core.  If I have a reservation about the program, it's more in the fact that a national set of standards is being imposed on our states and their schools, which will more or less uniformly adopt them and the methods needed to measure up to the program's expectations.  I don't like that.  Localities should be allowed to have some flexibility when it comes to creating and implementing educational strategies and techniques, as well as outcomes.  For that reason, unless federal purse strings are inextricably attached to the implementation of Common Core, I'd prefer it if South Dakota would take a "no thank you, we have our own ideas here" approach and have our legislature reject the program this year.  

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