Letter to the Editor:
Regarding the letter about Common Core standards in the June 12 edition of the Chester County Press, I think it's time to get the facts straight about Common Core and the role that standards, and standardized testing, plays in our public education system.
First, the Common Core standards are not a federal mandate or represent "federal control of education." They are not even a product of the federal government. They were developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers in response to concerns about U.S. student performance on international tests and to address the wide variance in standards across states. Some states had high standards, others didn't. Is it a good idea to ensure that states set a high bar for our students? Of course. And that's what 45 states have done by adopting Common Core.
Second, standards have been in place for over a decade in most states, and since the late 1990s here in Pennsylvania. Standards define the skills and knowledge students need to be successful in college and careers. They were originally created because too many schools didn't do a good job of preparing students, and parents had no way of knowing that until it was too late (this was the rationale behind the No Child Left Behind legislation). By creating a standard yardstick, parents could begin to compare schools and determine school quality. This shouldn't be a radical or negative concept to anyone who cares about education.
Third, standards do not determine how subjects are taught. Local school districts determine how to teach the standards, and teachers can use any books or materials they feel best fit their teaching styles and methods. If a teacher believes that Shakespeare best conveys a literary concept like imagery, then that's what the teacher will use. University education departments and local school district policies have far more influence over teachers than state standards.
Fourth, we have been debating standardized testing in this country since the 1840s, when Horace Mann first introduced them in Massachusetts as an alternative to the end-of-year "pageants" staged by local schools to show off so-called learning. (What he found was that many students were great memorizers but didn't understand the words or concepts they were reciting.) What we've learned since then is that if parents and local communities are to ensure quality education, we must have an agreed-upon means to measure quality. Standardized tests aren't perfect or complete; but they are an important component in determining how well schools are teaching and how well our kids are learning. Our efforts should be spent on how to ensure standards and testing can best be implemented, not on whether we should use them.
I've read the Common Core standards, the current Pennsylvania state standards, and the proposed Pennsylvania Common Core. By adopting Common Core, Pennsylvania is clearly raising the bar for its students. It is also implementing the standards intelligently, and ensuring that no aspect of education is diminished. Before passing judgment on Common Core or standards in general, I encourage all parents and local school board members to read the standards and understand the role they play in education. Talk to your teachers and administrators. Perhaps then we could have an intelligent debate.
Unfortunately, Jane Brown's letter is representative of the same misinformation and unfounded paranoia that so many anti-Common Core partisans embrace. Having standards doesn't "standardize" or pigeon-hole our children. That's like saying all high school students who can run a six-minute mile will be long-distance runners; perhaps they will be football or basketball players, or won't play sports at all. In addition to misrepresenting the standards, she also offers no viable alternative. Letting each district determine standards would result in a chaotic and ineffective public education system, and would set our nation back decades. Without some type of standards, we can forget about our students being competitive in the global marketplace. If a district sets low standards, those students won't even be competitive in their own state.
Finally, let's not demonize the federal government simply because of political partisanship. Remember, it wasn't the federal government that segregated schools, denied girls the same opportunities as boys to play sports, and let students with disabilities languish in inferior conditions. It was state and local governments. The federal government's role in education has almost entirely been to ensure that "no child is left behind" and ensuring equal access to quality education. Instead of playing the "states' rights" card, perhaps we should realize that all levels of government have a stake in education. Quality education should be a priority for all of us.