Sunday, December 28, 2014

Common Core Backlash: Is It Just About Testing?

Today, the New York Times published an op-ed entitled Rage Against the Common Core, by David L. Kirp, a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. Kirp ties the backlash against the Common Core to the Obama administrations push for testing and accountability. The op-ed is a fairly balanced piece with much to like in it. But Kirp makes the mistake that I see over and over again in these op-eds from non-educators - that the Common Core is a good thing and that only the testing is a bad thing.

I couldn't let that stand, so here is the response I wrote for the comments section of the Times. They limited me to 1500 characters, so this is an expanded version.

To the editor:

Professor Kirp offers a reasonably balanced assessment of the backlash against the Common Core, but in doing so he makes a fundamental error that I have read from many others. That error is the assumption that the Common Core State Standards are in themselves a "good thing." While it is true that the draconian testing scheme has driven the backlash against the standards, it is simply not true that the standards are an unqualified good.

It is also an error to imply that the Common Core is somehow separate from the tests. From the outset, the Common Core was to be tied to a testing regime. One thing that makes this clear is that the panel that developed the Comon Core was dominated by people with close ties to the standardized testing community. The Common Core was written with testing in mind, not student learning. This is a fundamental flaw; what can be easily measured is very different from what students need to learn.

There are also serious questions about the developmental appropriateness of the standards for young children grades kindergarten through third grade. This is also not surprising, since not one elementary edcuator was involved in developing the standards at the ground level. A joint statement by a consortium of health and education officials cited "grave concerns about the core standards for young children…. "

Professor Kirp goes on to state that many teachers favor the standards because "instead of memorization, the Common Core emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving." Here Kirp simply repeats a well-worn Common Core advocate talking point. I have been a teacher for 45 years; I have never experienced a time in my teaching where memorization was valued over critical thinking. Good teachers have known for a very long time that the goal of education was to create thoughtful, engaged citizens, not parrots. The Common Core did not invent critical thinking as a goal of learning. In fact, by being so inextricably tied to testing, the Common Core will likely limit the time children spend in critical thinking and increase the push for rote learning.

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