Standards, systems and Common Core
07/10/2013 09:08AM ● Published by ACL
Letter to the Editor:
Standards are, by and large, good for all of us and allow for some level of objective goal-setting. So, when we buy a product made to standards, we usually know what to expect in its performance. That is, if the company producing the product abides fully by the standards and requires subcontractors to do the same.
The minds and spirits of children, and people, in general, do not conform to very detailed standards. For this reason, human beings learn and perform at an infinite variety of levels. Starting in childhood, human beings also have unique sets of likes, dislikes, and desires. We are not automatons that can be programmed as computers can be. We are, in fact, our own expert programmers. So, how can one set of standards meet the needs of such an infinitely diverse set of individuals?
Educators in the Avon Grove School District have, over decades, put together a highly sophisticated and exceptional learning environment for this district’s infinitely diverse set of children. This has resulted in developing students who are in the top tier of all school districts in Pennsylvania and well-placed nationally. Children have been prepared by Avon Grove’s well educated, highly motivated, and competent teachers to pursue their life goals in fields they have chosen. This system has worked well and is worth copying by other districts.
So, then, the question becomes, how to make it better? Usually this means fixing what is broken, thereby improving areas not fully contributing to a high quality educational outcome. Total replacement of well-functioning educational methods with the untested Common Core system that has not been shown to significantly improve any already excellent schools makes no sense! Common Core has not been proven to make non-functioning schools perform at acceptable levels. Common Core has not been proven, overall, to make the U.S. more competitive worldwide. So why should we pursue such an unproven course in the Common Core initiative? That question vexes me deeply, and has for some time.
You may ask why the educators who developed and improved the excellent existing system are not standing up and asking for proof of the efficacy of Common Core before allowing it to be forced on to the parents and students of Avon Grove? The unfortunate short answer is…they really have no choice! While the education of children constitutionally rests in the hands of state and local governments, states have been asked by the Federal Department of Education to sign on to Common Core in exchange for receiving federal money grants for education. In effect, Common Core has taken the decision-making power away from teachers and parents in our school districts rendering them unable to affect school improvement through conversations with state and local policy makers.
Our nation, with all its foibles, is still one of the most innovative and productive in the world. This was not accomplished by some “common set of standards” but by locally trained administrators and gifted teachers of all types. Yes, in some areas of higher education, the United States is not in the top ranks. To improve this status, let us, as a nation, and in each individual school system, perform remedial action focused on areas needing upgrading and avoid wholesale replacement using Common Core. All actions have reactions and, to a large extent, undesirable consequences. I support reasonable modification of our Avon Grove school system using proven techniques and curricula. Fix what is broken through evolutionary steps. We cannot waste children’s lives, teachers’ energies, and taxpayer dollars by using untested methodology to fix what is so clearly not broken.
I urge all affected parents, teachers, and taxpayers who live in the Avon Grove School District to look into the Common Core issue and develop their own opinions. Ask who promoted the adoption of Common Core and for what purpose. Ask how many educators were involved in reviewing and accepting the standards. Ask if school districts such as Avon Grove have been given the opportunity to provide input at all. Ask if there is justification for wholesale replacement of programs that are already very successful. These questions should spur powerful conversations that lead to transparent and healthy school governments that work with their constituents for the continued improvement and success of our children.
Bruce E Dobsch