Because it is so despised by right-wingers, there’s a temptation to defend Common Core education standards. But as with so much of the education reformers’ agenda, in practice it is deeply problematic, although not usually for the reasons wingnuts have. One of the major problems is the combined issue of testing and privatization. Unfortunately, and I think this might be about to change to some extent, education this century has become about an endless cycle of testing and test-prep, to the detriment of independent thinking, real education, and fun. But who is going to grade all of these tests. Often this is contracted out to private education companies like Pearson. But do you think a corporation wants to employ a bunch of humans to do this grading? Of course not. So how are they grading writing? Through computer program. But computers are a terrible way to evaluate writing.
Here, Pearson appears to be suggesting that the robust marketplace in data-mining computer apps supplied with artificial intelligence will lead to a proliferation of jobs for ed tech entrepreneurs and computer coders, to make up for the proportional loss of jobs for teachers. This seems to be further evidence that their ultimate goal — as well of that of their allies in the foundation and corporate worlds — is to maximize the mechanization of education and minimize the personal interaction between teachers and students, as well as students with each other, in classrooms throughout the United States and abroad.
Well, the ultimate goal is profit, both personal and corporate. This is just a means to that end. But while a computer program can count big words or key words or whatever, it can’t evaluate for meaning, subtlety, originality, argument, or much of anything that actually makes up good writing. Terrible idea.
Another problem with Common Core is that it undermines good education programs that already existed in the country. Take for example Common Core and Massachusetts literature standards.
Until recently, classic literature and poetry saturated the commonwealth’s K-12 English standards. Between 2005 and 2013, Massachusetts bested every other state on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, called “the nation’s report card.” Great fiction and poetry contributed to Massachusetts’ success on virtually every K-12 reading test known to the English-speaking world.
But in 2010, Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration succumbed to the temptation of $250 million in one-time federal grant money, killing off our edifying English standards in favor of inferior nationalized benchmarks known as Common Core. These national standards – an educational gooney bird – cut enduring fiction and poetry by 60 percent and replaced it with “informational texts.”
“We could find no research to support the assertion that substituting informational texts for literature will improve students’ college readiness,” scholars Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky said in 2012. “In fact, experience suggests that exactly the opposite is likely to happen.”
By 2015, the commonwealth tied for second in the country on the eighth-grade NAEP reading test, and SAT scores were down 20 points, especially in the writing portion. Students don’t learn to write well by reading Common Core’s soul-deadening “informational texts.”
This is an irresponsible descent from established academic excellence.
“For much of the 20th century, British literature held the center of high school English and … college courses in composition, English, history, (and) linguistics …,” Bauerlein and Stotsky continue. “We find no explanation for Common Core dispensing with it.”
But again, the pushback is on the way:
For Massachusetts students, the Patrick administration and Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s legacy of shooting down better English standards in favor of Common Core has been an albatross around everyone’s necks.
Recent WBZ News-UMass polling finds that Bay State voters, by a margin of 53 percent to 22 percent, support a statewide ballot initiative to restore our previous, higher-quality K-12 academic standards.
Nationally, Common Core backer and failed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called the standards “poisonous,” while Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton recently said Common Core’s implementation has been “disastrous.”
As Common Core has seeped into America’s classrooms, Brookings Institution researcher Tom Loveless observed last month, “The dominance of fiction is waning. … Teachers in 2015 were less likely to embrace the superiority of fiction in reading instruction than in the past, and the change is evident in both fourth and eighth grades after 2011.”
I suppose the argument is that all states aren’t Massachusetts and so the Bay State can sacrifice some while the standards helps Alabama students achieve more. But the standards are largely terrible, corporate, and designed not for students but to serve an ideological and financial agenda. Unfortunately, politicians of both parties, especially Barack Obama, are really susceptible to this line of thinking. As I’ve said many times, the single worst part of Obama’s legacy is his awful education policy.