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Across educational settings, there has been a major push to standardize.  Local interests complain that such efforts rob local decision-makers and educational institutions from making decisions that are relevant and appropriate for their constituency.  Arguably, the most significant undertaking of this type has been the advent of the Common Core Standards.  41 US states have approved the use of these standards for their K-12 students.  However, this effort has been fraught with political land mines.  In fact, several states have even abandoned Common Core in recent months.  Here are a few things that I would like you to consider.

There is an irony, and perhaps a mystery, in modern U.S. education today. It is often said that teachers and schools are chasing scores and dollars. However, I can’t help but notice how every year in the United States, nearly 60% of first-year college students are not ready for postsecondary studies (Butrymowicz, 2017). So if high schools are hitting their scores but the students are still not prepared for college, then we must admit that something is amiss. Clearly the results are not matching the need. Unfortunately, some have suggested that the answer to this problem is more Common Core (Chen, 2010). Well, I couldn’t disagree more. 

Thirty years ago, the United States was ranked number one in education. In 2009, it was ranked 18th. The downward trend continued because we currently rank at 24th by some measurements (WPR, 2019). I’m sure that there are plenty of reasons for this, but many are often brushed under the rug and simply not examined. Regardless, the alarms have been sounded. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said “This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students. Two out of three of our nation’s children aren’t proficient readers. In fact, fourth-grade reading declined in 17 states, and eighth-grade reading declined in 31 (DOE, 2019) .”

Like any addict, we must admit to ourselves that we have a problem if we truly want to get better. Furthermore, we must also acknowledge that the solutions provided thus far are simply not working. I am aware that some would like to suggest that we need to give Common Core more time. However, consider the fact that ACT has released a report showing that the high school class of 2019’s college preparedness in English and math is at seniors’ lowest levels in 15 years (ACT, 2019). The thing I want to emphasize here is that these students are the first to have completed all four high school years under Common Core. In my opinion, the states that are abandoning this initiative are heroes. The continuation of anything that wasn’t well-researched originally and clearly not working now, would be idiotic. 

This brings us to the funding issue. Allow me to be blunt. What good are the funds for an education system that provides your community ignorance and mediocrity? More money doesn’t fix the problem, and neither does more teachers. All of the money in the world and all the teachers you want to pack into a building won’t fix a broken curriculum that ensures mediocrity. It’s a simple cause and effect scenario. And while Common Core didn’t start this problem, it is clearly making things worse. 

Don’t worry about the wasted money on this initiative. Instead, we need to remember that these students will one day become leaders themselves. If what they “learned” is of no value, then they will be of little value as leaders. As current leaders, we must remain the keepers of the vision. So let’s start by asking ourselves what kind of future can be had when future leaders are ignorant of the things they need to know?

Those who insist that it’s a money issue often bring up how private schools tend to do so well. I appreciate that, and I agree that they usually do. However, from my point of view, private sources of funding simply equate to more freedom and flexibility in curriculum and pace. It’s not really the money doing it; it’s the freedom. This is evidenced throughout education. This freedom provides the ability to exceed lower standards or confines, and private schools are free to set and enforce the institutional culture that works best for them. It’s a perfect storm of success.  

Who wants to read? I don’t understand people who get mad at people who don’t read. Like, who wants to read? All your information could be spoken to you.

Pete Davidson “Comedian”

Speaking of culture, let us not forget the counterproductive elements that we too often tolerate and/or condone. As a society, we tend to frown upon the “nerd” and elevate the ignorant icons that can barely speak… and when they do, they bad-mouth things like reading. What did we think would happen? Our own vocabulary often reflects this in subtle ways. Many of us can relate to when we said idiotic things like I “have” to go to school instead of I “get” to. Teachers likely could overcome some of this if they weren’t forced to walk on egg-shells. But even then, only a few teachers seem to remember how it’s done and I’m sure many of them are disillusioned and close to retirement anyway.

This brings us to the issue of the blind leading the blind. The fact is that much of what is being taught in many schools today is either watered-down or flat out inaccurate. This is done for many reasons, but political correctness is a big part of it and division is the result. The irony is that if we taught the truth, many of our problems would likely go away. Unfortunately, this didn’t get bad overnight so it likely will not get fixed quickly. Of course, many wouldn’t recognize what I’m suggesting anyway because they were taught in the systems I have described. It has become a cycle that is only broken by the brave and enlightened. 

Something we need to admit to ourselves is that there is a big difference between education and facilities of learning. One can learn from a book or the oration of a mentor. The fancy auditoriums, computers, and a fancy campus are a plus, but they are not a necessity. A good teacher doesn’t need anything other than something to talk about. These are uncomfortable truths for many because it demonstrates a reality that many of us don’t want to face. Additionally, it’s probably human nature to want to shy away from glimpsing either our ignorance or complicity to the problem. However, avoidance only perpetuates and perhaps even exacerbates the problem. Pick your pain. 

Education is supposed to be an enlightening experience. Enlightenment does not require a special room or gadget, and this is especially true if teachers are striving for the transfer of knowledge over the achievement of scores. But alas, we again find ourselves in a bind. This is because, in order to be enlightened, we must be willing to think critically. If we want our students to do this, then we must be willing to do this first. Unfortunately, many of us were never given a chance to do it ourselves, so we too struggle with the concept. In this nation, too many have simply forgotten how. A simple demonstration of this might be in how even a teacher might struggle to tell you what form of government we are SUPPOSED to have… if the Founders really DIDN’T like the idea of direct democracy (Huntzinger, 2018). And even if they could, they likely couldn’t define the difference. 

So with this in mind, let’s bring this back to standardization. Wouldn’t it be counterproductive to standardize education on verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence alone when there are several other types of intelligence to consider (Armstrong, N.D.)? It reminds me of the cartoon of the teacher failing the student fish for the inability to climb a tree. It seems to me that if we are in the business of thought, then we must first be willing to think ourselves. If we want our children to become thinkers, we must show them how to think instead of forcing them to conform to a thought. In leadership, we know that growth and prosperity have a strong innovation component. Innovation comes from thought and exploration; not standardization and status quo. 

Common Core isn’t entirely useless though. In fact, I sort of appreciate it. That’s because while Common Core CLEARLY isn’t the answer, it has definitely helped us better define the problem.


RESOURCES:

  • Armstrong, T. (n.d.). Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved from https://www.institute4learning.com/resources/articles/multiple-intelligences/.
  • Butrymowicz, S. (2017, January 30). Most colleges enroll students who aren’t prepared for higher education. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/colleges-enroll-students-arent-prepared-higher-education.
  • Chen, G. (2010, February 18). Why Do 60% of Community College Students Need Remedial Coursework? Retrieved from https://www.communitycollegereview.com/blog/why-do-60-of-community-college-students-need-remedial-coursework.
  • DOE. (2019, October 30). Statement from Secretary DeVos on 2019 NAEP Results. Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/statement-secretary-devos-2019-naep-results.
  • Huntzinger, J. (2018, December 7). Why The Founding Fathers Despised Democracy. Retrieved from https://finance.townhall.com/columnists/jimhuntzinger/2018/12/07/why-the-founding-fathers-despised-democracy-n2537155.
  • ACT. (2019, October 30). Retrieved from www.act.org/condition2019
  • WPR. (2019, October 24). Education Rankings By Country 2019. Retrieved from http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/education-rankings-by-country/.
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