The Dunce Is Us: The Real Problem with the Common Core Standards

kitten dunce capOh, come on. Sometimes it is just plain embarrassing to be American:

….fewer than half of Americans have heard a “fair amount” or “great deal” about the Common Core. Despite that lack of familiarity with the standards, 60 percent of the poll respondents say they oppose the Common Core being used in their own local schools by teachers to guide instruction.

Italics mine. Is this really the default American mindset? Well, I don’t know anything about [the Common Core, bilingual education, affirmative action, global warming, environmental preservation efforts, [insert issue, cause, matter for concern or possible solution here], but I’m against it.

I propose that perhaps we’d see fewer ridiculous polling results if more of these self-proclaimed opponents of the Common Core Standards had actually mastered some of skills identified in the standards, e.g.,

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.


But that’s not all. These polling results lend the impression that the American perspective on testing is a schizophrenic Frankenstein of uninformed opinion.

On one hand, 54% percent of Americans believe that standardized testing is not helpful. Forgive me for asking, but do these Americans even know what the term “standardized testing” means? I ask because of how even though they believe standardized testing is not helpful, a majority of the Americans polled say that they do indeed support a variety of standardized tests: the majority of Americans support the use of the SAT (a standardized test), the ACT (a standardized test), tests used for grade-level promotion (almost always standardized tests), and high school exit exams (always standardized tests). The only test that is not supported by the majority is the Advanced Placement exam (a standardized test).

Doesn’t it seem a little strange that the lone little redheaded stepchild of a standardized test is the AP exam: a test that is, unlike the others, voluntary (the SAT and ACT are mandatory for students applying to the preponderance of colleges in the United States); a test that, also unlike the others, confers a financial benefit on successful test-takers (students who achieve a score of 3 or better may receive college credit for their scores); a test that has the potential to level the playing field for high-achieving minority students.

Quite frankly, I’m mystified. Maybe people hate it because the name Advanced Placement makes it sound elitist, and we all know how Americans, and especially Americans who themselves are elitist intellectuals (if by “elitist intellectual” we mean someone whose accident of birth granted him or her access to the best education that money could buy) hate elitist intellectuals.

It is perhaps heartening that  a lack of financial support is deemed the biggest problem in American schools. Yes, indeed, I wholeheartedly agree. And yet? Then Americans refuse to pass legislation that will increase funding for education and hesitate to elect representatives who are committed to that goal.

There is so much wrong with standardized testing, and what is wrong is deeply entwined with what is so wrong with the way we live now: when the rights of corporations not only infringe on but supersede the rights of the individual, when corporations receive government subsidies in the form of tax breaks the amounts of which exceed my limited imagination, when corporations cut salaries and benefits of employees while inflating the salaries and bonuses of CEOs, there is injustice in the land and that injustice weakens all of us except those who by that serendipitous accident of birth landed in the  1%. Why do I say this? Because more and more, America is writing checks to corporations that provide education services: textbooks, curricula, tests (standardized and not standardized), and test scoring and data.

As reported at Wired:

The biggest publishers today are education publishers.

These publishers are corporations, and these corporations are primarily concerned with profit, not with whether and how the materials and services they provide will help American students. And why should the CEOs and other profit-pushers be concerned? Their kids go to private schools. Consider that

Sandy Kress, one of the key architects of No Child Left Behind—and now a lobbyist for Pearson— sends his son to a private Latin school that doesn’t give the tests.

Are the Common Core Standards perfect? No, but what is most imperfect about them isn’t really the content of the standards, nor the skills and knowledge they require of the students–shouldn’t we all be reading more critically? Why, yes, we should, but the worst of the Common Core Standards is how it shows that the foxes are frolicking in the henhouse: new standards mean new tests mean big jackpot for the test publishing companies.

fox raiding henhouseThis is what we really need to think about and object to:

When educational policy is just coincidentally falling in line with something that very directly creates large corporate profits, it’s time to stop and consider whether maybe the policy is being driven more by profit than by actual results.

How do these corporations drive government policy? They shake down lean on lobby politicians. Let’s take a peek at how much money these test publishing companies spend lobbying public officials:

McGraw-Hill Companies: millions!

Pearson Education: millions!

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: not as much, but it adds up over time!

And for individuals, we could start with David Coleman who, this flattering piece aside (Good Lord, was the writer his mom? Brother? Girlfriend? Not-so-secret admirer?), was one of the original framers of the Common Core Standards (even though he has no K-12 teaching experience) and for whom that effort was merely a stepping stone to his current job as president of the College Board, where he earns a base salary of $500,000 and incentives that bring his annual compensation to $750,000 (although it’s probably higher now, as I bet he has stock options like you would not believe).

superhero fox

The truth, as ugly as it may be, is that education publishing in general (have you cracked a textbook recently? I. Cannot. Believe. The. Garbage. Published. Therein.) and standardized testing in particular, is a for-profit racket. This is what we need to oppose, this is what we need to reform, and engaging in bickering about these standards is just a distraction. Perhaps intentional. Who knows.

UPDATE: Does anyone else find it mildly creepy how the corporation Pearson appears personified in this press release?

Pearson today joined President and Mrs. Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and leaders from across higher education to share best practices and explore additional ways to support more low-income students in achieving college readiness and success. As part of today’s summit, Pearson has committed, over three years, to help 50 higher education institutions analyze how low-income and remedial students learn and where they struggle.

“Pearson’s mission is to help students of all ages to make progress in their lives through learning. We are honored to join President and Mrs. Obama, and Secretary Duncan….

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