Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Federal Gun To Our Heads

I've been writing about the Common Core and all the things that accompany it. I've talked about how the Common Core and increased testing are killing my daughters' education. I've explained how teacher review based on the increased testing (APPR) is sucking the life out of teachers. And I've written of how this is a money grab by corporations and a show put on by politicians.

I've got friends in the National Writing Project who wonder what all the fuss is about. The standards seem to them good ideas. They raise expectations for students, have teachers rethinking their teaching, and at least in ELA they are broad enough as to not really get in the way. I see their point. Looked at on its own, the Common Core isn't that big of a deal.

But the Common Core doesn't stand alone.

Standards require standardization. Schools are hustling to standardize instruction to suit standardized testing on which students, teachers, administrators, and whole schools are being measured.

We hear in New York that scores are likely to be low as we implement the standards. Don't worry, says the commissioner, everyone's scores will drop and no one will be too hurt by this. Yet I have to hit my numbers or be put on a teacher improvement plan. Teachers who were in the 99th percentile worry there is nowhere to go but down.

At my first staff development day this year, we recognized an award winning teacher among us even though he was also, at the same time, put on a teacher improvement plan because of test scores.

An improvement plan sounds like a good thing but is usually the first step firing. I'm curious if our award-winning teacher returns next year.

Remember that a Common Core can be best administered through common textbooks, instructional plans, and standardized tests. Those tests will need to be graded by a neutral party so teachers don't skew their results. The best such party is of course the company that designed the test. And they're happy to do the grading for a fee.

Often forgotten in all of the discussion is how much money the Common Core costs. I'll give you a hint: it's a lot.

But it can't be all that bad because so many states signed on to the Common Core voluntarily, right?

Sure, except that if the states refused, they also refused federal education money. Race to the Top distributed $4.35 billion dollars based on whether or not states signed onto the Common Core. If you call that voluntary, we will just have to differ on what that word means because President Obama and Secretary Duncan held a loaded gun to our collective head and then asked if we wanted to sign on to the Common Core. In other words, we got mugged.

If that sounds fair, I propose we do the same with gun legislation. Any state agreeing to outlaw all protections under the Second Amendment will be eligible for a slice of the $4.35 billion. Those who take the money will have voluntarily signing on to something that they so obviously believe in and support.

I know that it's not enough to point out the flaws of the Common Core, but is is the first step. We must, as Thomas Jefferson says in the musical 1776, “place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent.” The Common Core is bad news for education and it is the root from which a poisoned tree grows.

I have a lot more to say about this and will, as always, write on.