Brave New Schools
Guest post by California English teacher Cherie Zaslawsky
The much touted Common Core Standards (CCS) Initiative that is being pushed as a silver bullet to improve our schools is not simply the latest fad in education: CCS is actually an unprecedented program that would radically alter our entire K-12 educational system, affecting content (i.e. curriculum), delivery (largely via computer), testing (also via computer), teacher evaluations (connected to test scores), as well as creating an intrusive database of sensitive information from student “assessments.” This program, for all the protestations to the contrary, represents the nationalization of education in America, extinguishing any semblance of local control. Furthermore, it was essentially developed at the behest of billionaire Bill Gates, who also funded it to the tune of some $150 million, and who clearly thinks he knows what’s best for everybody else’s children. (His own are safely ensconced in private schools).
California adopted the Common Core Standards (CCS) Initiative on August 2, 2010, only two months after the standards were released. Nor has this multi-billion dollar program ever been piloted anywhere! It’s a nationwide experiment—with our children as the subjects. Nor was CCS ever internationally benchmarked. In California, as in most states, there was no time to devote to studying the intricacies of the program, vetting it, or introducing it to the public. Instead, Race to the Top money was dangled in front of state legislatures, and 45 states sprang for it, but 16 of these states at last count are already seeking to withdraw from the program.
Parents need to understand the implications of the Common Core Standards. These standards, which amount to a national curriculum via bundled tests, texts and teacher evaluations, would severely degrade our local schools. How? By lowering the standards of high-performing schools to make them “equal” with low-performing schools, in a misguided attempt to reach what its proponents call “equity” or “fairness” by mandating the lowest common denominator for all schools. True, this would close the muchballyhooed “achievement gap”—but only by dumbing down the education of the best and brightest to better match that of the unmotivated and/or less academically gifted.
The idea that all students should perform identically sounds eerily like something out of Mao’s China. What happened to our relishing of individual talents and uniqueness? Would we lower the standards for the best athletes to put them on a par with mediocre athletes to close the “performance gap” in, say, high school football?
How do a few of the experts view this program? Dr. James Milgrim of Stanford University, the only mathematician on the Common Core validation team, refused to sign off on the math standards because he discovered that by the end of 8th grade, CCS will leave our students two years behind in math compared to those in high-performing countries. And according to Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the respected expert who developed the Massachusetts standards, widely regarded as the best in the nation, “Common Core’s ‘college readiness’ standards for ELA are chiefly empty skill sets and cannot lead to even a meaningful high school diploma. Only a literature-rich curriculum can. College readiness has always depended on the complexity of the literary texts teachers teach and a coherent literature curriculum.”
As English teacher Christel Swasey notes: “We become compassionate humans by receiving and passing on classic stories. Souls are enlarged by exposure to the characters, the imagery, the rich vocabulary, the poetic language and the endless forms of the battle between good and evil, that live in classic literature.” Instead, students will swim in the murky waters of relativism where all things are equal and no moral compass exists. We should not be surprised if they are also encouraged to view history along the lines of multiculturalism, “social equity,” and the Communitarian glorification of the collectivist “global village.”
Consider how drastically literature is being marginalized (30%) in favor of “informational” texts (70%) in the 12th grade, with a maximum of only 50% literature ever, throughout middle and high school English classes. The switch to a steady diet of “informational” texts virtually ensures that students won’t be learning to think critically or to write probing, analytical essays, let alone to develop the love of reading and appreciation for the literary masterpieces of Western culture. Put in practical terms, it means that instead of reading Hamlet, Great Expectations and Pride and Prejudice, your child will be reading computer manuals and tracts on “climate change,” “environmental justice,” and the virtues of recycling.
And the price of mediocrity? In California, implementation cost is estimated at $2.1 billion, with $1.4 billion as upfront costs—mainly for computers (every child needs one—along with special apps—could that be one reason Bill Gates poured a cool $150 million into this program? Perhaps giving new meaning to the word “philanthropist”…) along with training teachers to navigate the complicated new programs. Even though it’s been proven—as if we needed proof—that children learn better from real live teachers than from staring at LCD screens.
In addition, tests and “assessments” will be taken on computers—resulting in the harvesting of personal data that amounts to a dossier on every child, including choice tidbits about Mommy and Daddy. And what is to stop the powers-that-be from using these assessments and test results to “re-educate” “politically incorrect” students who show too much independence?
Clearly Common Core is a disaster in the making. So what can we do? The simplest solution is to insist that our school boards turn down the carrot of federal funding and reject Common Core in order to preserve the integrity of our local schools through local control and to continue to allow our teachers to use their creativity in the classroom. The price of compliance with Common Core, however tempting monetarily speaking, is just too high— the mortgaging of our children’s future.
Thanks to Cherie Zaslawsky for permission to publish her essay here.