Tuesday, August 19, 2014

National standards and Common Core

Common Core, the heavily-promoted set of national educational standards are designed in a way that harms students, teacher and school quality, protects poor quality teachers and schools, and reduces or eliminates the ability of teachers and communities to evaluate the quality of schools.

One of the deepest flaws flaws of Common Core is shared with Whole Word Recognition (WWR). WWR leaves students functionally illiterate, but able to pass standardized reading tests. Likewise, Common Core Math (CCM), has both it’s testing and teaching practices designed to maximize the rate of official student performance while decreasing the actual rate of knowledge and mastery of the material.

CCM, like WWR, directly teaches students the shortcuts that naturally develop as proficiency of the material develops and step-intensive methods that make the math more difficult. This would be uncontroversial if taught alongside the base material, but one of the reasons CCM is taught this way is to give more opportunities to grant students partial points or passing grades for demonstrating the CCM-specific material. In effect, it allows teachers to debase the value of hard math alongside the debasement of the more subjective material.

This boosts apparent teacher performance by giving students credit for wrong answers. It makes evaluation less reliable and gives students and parents a false sense of accomplishment. Depending on how the test is weighted, it may even be possible to get every answer wrong but still pass an exam by using the CCM solution system.

CCM also teaches children to hate math by making difficult concepts even harder by adding unnecessary and convoluted procedures. Not only does this leaves students without *actual* math skills, it also discourages students who do acquire them from pursuing higher-level math and math-dependent professions, because they've developed a hatred for the fake difficulty Common Core gives math.

National standards generally have substantial downsides outside of the specific issues of Common Core. They insulate teachers and administrators from parent and student concerns. Negative and even destructive programs can be defended by attribution to national standards. In a recent case, a *preschool* cancelled a school play in order to further their goals of making students “college and career ready” - the motto of Common Core.

National standards also reduce the ability of local school to innovate or adapt to changing conditions in the local community because schools are held to the inertia-heavy national standards. Not only will local schools not be able to innovate, but the inertia will force the standards themselves to lag even changes on a national level.

National standards issued from one regulatory body are also extremely vulnerable to agency capture. Suppliers and creators of standardized material have a billion-dollar incentive to lobby and control the agency charged with education. They will push the decision process to outcomes that are beneficial to them, not students, much in the same way that teachers’ unions today do. Once the standards are implemented this way, local schools, teacher parents and students will have to accept them.

For these reasons, as well as others I have overlooked, Common Core specifically, and national standards generally, are a mistake.

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