The Common Core

February 6, 2014

Dr. Dustin Swanger

There is a lot of chatter about The Common Core. From community meetings with school officials, to the media, to elected officials, The Common Core is being bantered around the airwaves and hallways. I’m certainly no expert on The Common Core but I, too, have my opinions.

The Common Core comes on the heels of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation that was, overall, a failure. Although launched with the best of intentions and a premise that every student can learn, graduate, and become a productive citizen, the details of the roll-out failed. The standards for NCLB essentially lowered the level of education provided to our students. The system also encouraged teachers (rightly or wrongly) to “teach to the tests” because districts where students did not do well were punished fiscally. Teachers and administrators were frustrated. We see the results of NCLB at Fulton-Montgomery Community College through the remedial courses that we need to offer and the number of recent high school graduates enrolled in them.

The Common Core is designed to increase the standards for all levels of education. Not a bad thing; and, I’m sure that many of our professional educators agree. I’ve attended a few meetings with local educators and have heard things like, “The standards aren’t bad, but we need time to prepare.” I have also heard that many of our local educators are embracing The Common Core standards and developing creative lesson plans to address them. These dedicated teachers know that our children are capable of learning.

When I listen to discussions about The Common Core, little is said about the standards. A few parents express concerns about the age appropriateness of some standards. I’ve also heard concerns about those with learning challenges and their ability to meet the standards. However, mostly I’ve heard issues about the roll-out of The Common Core. Education needs to change; I believe this to be true. However, a poor roll-out of a new standard can jeopardize the potential positive impact as people’s defenses surface.

So what is wrong with the roll-out? I think there are a few particular issues that detract from meaningful discussion about The Common Core: over-testing students and linking students’ test scores to teacher evaluations. These two issues have derailed The Common Core roll-out. Teachers are threatened and they pass that fear onto students. Too much state testing is causing students anxiety and may not be necessary.

What is the purpose of state-wide testing and linking them to teacher evaluations? Accountability. Rightly or wrongly, there is a growing mistrust of education, including higher education. There is a growing political belief, that our education system is outdated, stagnate, expensive and ineffective, and the government is determined to fix it. The problem is, the more the government gets involved, the worse it gets. And each level of government is providing its own direction.

There are a LOT of great teachers and administrators who really care about the education of our children. I believe that if we asked those teachers how to improve education, we would get very good answers. Perhaps we should let educators tell us how to improve education instead of each wave of political leadership trying to be the hero that fixed education.

The Common Core standards are good. We need time to implement them, and we need to implement them without threatening school districts or teachers. Our children are smart; let’s give them the chance to show us.

Dr. Swanger is President of FM.

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