According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term standard means, “something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example” (Merriam-Webster). Recently, 45 states have chosen to adopt standards known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which are, according to the Common Core website, meant to “establish what students need to learn, but they do not dictate how teachers should teach” (Common Core). The website continues by stating that educators “will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms” and that “no state in the country was asked to lower their standards for their students in adopting the Common Core” (Common Core).
Sounds good, right? The idea of having students in our nation’s schools be able to move from state to state both while in school and after graduation and having learned basically the same content at relatively the same pace as one another would level the playing field a great deal. After all, having taught in Florida, I recall having honors students who moved to states such as Wisconsin communicate with me that they were 2-3 years behind their classmates after they moved. A set of national standards might have leveled that playing field and eased the transition.The implementation of a national set of standards is a noble idea. However, like anything else politicians and corporations get their hands on; it has surfaced as something far more sinister and damaging to our nation’s students.
Corporations bent on making more money have taken the standards and turned them into a profit machine as they churn out textbooks they feel are aligned with the standards as well as scripted lessons that many teachers are now being forced to use rather than being able to “continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms” (Common Core). These same companies have also received contracts to produce the tests for these standards. They have taken a great idea and are making millions off it at the cost of the education of our children. The standards were not created to be moneymakers, but education changers.
Politicians, especially those bent on cutting money from education and who stand to profit from donations they receive from the corporations as well as charter schools run by corporations, have also jumped onto the bastardization of the Common Core State Standards by making certain they are tied to high stakes testing which, in turn, is tied to both education funding and teacher salaries and even their jobs. Many states are creating legislation that penalizes a teacher if his or her students do not pass these tests, some even to the point of the teacher being rated ineffective and losing his or her job. These politicians are advocating more charter schools, which are businesses in school’s clothing, that are either not subject to the same standards or testing as the public schools are as well as being free to choose which students attend them and which do not. Many of these charter schools are staffed by people who have had only 5 days training prior to their entering a classroom and being granted the title of teacher. Many do not even teach a subject where they have any prior knowledge of it.
Is this what we want for our children? Is this actually going to help our children to learn and retain knowledge that will train them for productive lives after high school? It is going to help us close the perceived education gap between the United States and the world? Sadly, it is not. By tying the standards to high stakes tests that penalize teachers and demoralize students, it is more of the same for our education system. We are training test takers rather than thinkers. We are mapping curriculum so that what our students are supposed to be learning is covered rather than learned. Teaching is an art form. Teaching is a vocation. People who become teachers are not the same as those who choose to become business people because teaching is not a business and should not be treated as such.
An additional problem with the Common Core State Standards is that they were implemented too early and without enough input from teachers from all grade levels. Yes, there were select groups of teachers and administrators who had input on the standards. Unfortunately, many of those teachers were the same ones who implemented the individual state tests that have beleaguered students in the past. There are standards that are inadequate as well as some that are simply too high for students at the grade level to reach from a developmental standpoint. They need fixed, but can only be fixed appropriately with teacher input from a wide range of teachers.
Another issue with the implementation of the CCSS is that, rather than being used as models or examples of what is expected, they are being seen as hard and fast rules for educating our students. In doing so, this leaves our nation’s special education and English learner student populations at a great disadvantage. It also works on a principle that is inhumane as it assumes that every student learns at the same pace and in the same way. Students are human as we all are. Even more, they are developmentally at different stages even if they share the same chronological age as their peers. To have the standards enforced with such rigidity is completely against education. It is unfair to students and to teachers. It cannot be expected that a student who is able to read at the sixth grade level as a tenth grader can be able to suddenly read at the tenth grade level just because the standards say he or she should be at the tenth grade level.
Is there a solution? Yes. The CCSS need to be rethought and reworked by teachers at every level and from schools that model the true economic disparity of our country. Once they are re-worked, they need to be brought out as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. They should never be tied to high stakes standardized testing. There is a good chance if that were to happen, then they would be more beneficial to our children.
If there are any real crises in education, they stem from larger societal problems that no amount of education reform or standards can repair. What needs repaired are the widespread issues with poverty, drugs, lack of affordable housing, parental involvement, and lack of good jobs. If those were fixed, then there is a good chance that what is a perceived crisis in education would also become outdated.