Here is another compelling and passionate piece from Pelham City, Ga., school chief Jim Arnold. (You can search the blog for other Arnold essays.)
Arnold takes on the new Common Core Standards, in which former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue played a pivotal leadership role through the National Governor’s Association.
By Jim Arnold
I must state from the outset that I am innately suspicious of the underlying motives or educational benefits of any initiative – Common Core included — supported by the Georgia governor who instituted austerity cuts in 2003, led Georgia to be one of the only states to use teacher furloughs to balance the state budget and consistently under funded public education in order to promote quality fishing.
Common Core is a standardized national curriculum. Why is this problematic? From an historical context, a centralized school curriculum serves the goals of totalitarian states. Jefferson warned us about that.
There are additional issues:
1) There are few interdisciplinary connections between subjects. Research for many years has shown the positive effects of interdisciplinary connections on student learning and achievement;
2) Citizenship, personal development and the promotion of democratic values is ignored.
The rationale given by the GADOE behind this mandated implementation of Common Core was threefold:
1) An answer to the problem of student mobility;
2) An opportunity to create an economy of scale, and;
3) An opportunity to compare “apples to apples” when ranking schools, systems or students between and among states.
Student achievement seems to be missing from that particular continuum. Adopting a curriculum to solve societal mobility issues is like measuring flour with a yardstick. There are easier solutions. “Economies of scale” mean little when our Legislature continues to under fund public education. When you can’t afford textbooks the opportunity to not buy new ones at a cheaper price is hardly an advantage. It is rather troubling to note the number of educational “reforms” that ignore educational research, as if invoking the magic word “reform” is enough to allow any imposition however implausible.
With adoption of the Common Core standards, you can rest assured that Common Core standardized testing is not far behind. How can we expect a single, nationwide standardized “pick-a-bubble” machine scored test to effectively measure what is taught in practically every school system in the United States? The documented testing issues we already see with state assessments will increase exponentially.
The June state Board of Education minutes listed over $25 million in state contracts for testing and test development for 2013. Whether these investments are educationally justifiable or wise never seems to be the question.
Standardized tests were designed, once upon a time, to serve as prescriptive tools to help teachers help students. Presently, they serve as autopsy reports that include first time test taker results whose primary purpose is not to assist teachers in improving student achievement but to rank schools and systems. Teachers cannot effectively use data provided at the end of the school year to assist students that leave their class two weeks later. If we were serious about using these tests to measure achievement – and there’s a mighty big “if” about whether they do – we would give them at the beginning of the year to provide substantive data for teachers.
In a time when parents –and, as an extension – the public – are demanding more and more personalization for their child’s education, Federal and state educational agencies continue to insist upon more and more standardization – falling once again into the fallacy of “what’s good for one child is good for all children.”
The Common Core standards will ultimately serve not to improve student achievement but to increase the profits of standardized testing companies. The effects of poverty, family and socio-economic factors on education will continue to be largely ignored in our infatuation with the misguided belief that student achievement will improve through intensified measurement.
The “teach the test” and “test prep” and “testing pep rallies” environment will grow stronger through the implementation of annual growth measurements (annual growth = 100% – 2011 proficiency rate of first time test takers divided by six) for schools and flawed teacher evaluation models tying teacher ratings and salary to student scores that together will serve as almost insurmountable incentives for teachers to teach to the test, by the test and for the test.
The United States has, since the 1950’s, been rated in the bottom 25% of every educational rating system imaginable. The fact that our country has set the economic standard for the rest of the world, that our creativity, achievements and scientific progress far overshadow the nearest competitors would seem to lead us toward the beginnings of a discussion about the efficacy and reliability of the ranking systems we seem to trust as infallible measurements.
Sooner or later, even legislators must see it’s not about race, it’s about poverty; it’s not about a test score, it’s about student achievement; it’s not about a standardized curriculum, it’s about good teaching; it’s not about the business model, it’s about personalization; it’s not about competition, it’s about cooperation. Until that time, we will continue to get the kind of Legislature and public education system we vote for.
Relevant content and applications of knowledge through critical thinking, problem solving, modeling and higher order thinking skills should be the focus and goal of our educational process. Education is not supposed to be about determining or defining a specific amount or trove of material that must be learned in order to advance to the next level, but a matter of cultivating and growing inquisitiveness and curiosity in students that eventually grow into life skills. None of these skills or processes can be measured with any degree of reliability, accuracy or validity by a multiple choice machine scored test.
My suggestion is that we trust teachers enough to give them the freedom to do what they do best – teach children on a personal and individualized level. Micromanagement is an egregious sin and an almost irresistible temptation for state and Federal officials.
I predict a period of extensive frustration on the part of teachers before they get to the point they must eventually reach to decide that if anything is to be done to effectively implement the Common Core curriculum they must do it themselves at the local school level. Teachers, in this case as in so many others, are not the problem, they are our unrecognized salvation. Just as with Georgia Performance Standards, the efforts of teachers will eventually – in spite of everything politicians can do to make them look like scapegoats for what are truly societal issues – be the salvation of Common Core implementation in spite of state and Federal mandates and implementation schemes and not because of them – until, of course, the next big reform comes around the corner.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog