Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Teaching -- Common Core Backlash
In a previous posting I stated that if I were teaching today, I would leave the profession.  One of my reasons is the imposition of Common Core upon public schools.
I have read that Common Core is a compilation of national standards designed by “education experts” -- the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve, and Student Achievement Partners: all non-governmental groups paid for by the Gates Foundation -- to generate high student achievement in math and language arts.   It is part of President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program, which provides financial assistance to states willing to accept specific requirements such as annual standardized testing to be used to measure teacher effectiveness, the closure of failing public schools, and the expansion of charter schools.  43 states currently have signed on to Race to the Top and Common Core, including my home state Oregon. 
Advocates of Common Core declare that elementary and secondary school students will be required to develop a deeper knowledge of math, reading, and written expression, to think more critically, and to apply their enhanced knowledge and skills to real world problems.  This year every state that has accepted Common Core will subject its public school students to as much as 10 hours of rigorous testing to determine how many of them meet the Core standards. 
Critics of Race to the Top and Common Core are spokespeople of a growing public backlash.  Teachers' unions and educators state that standardized tests are an inaccurate way to measure teacher effectiveness.  Too many factors inside and outside the school are beyond an individual teacher’s ability to address.  This reality has been ignored.  High-stakes testing, which invite teaching to the test, is by its nature unreliable.  Such education reforms -- pushed by corporate foundations headed most notably by Bill Gates, the Walton family, and the Board family – are agenda-driven, critics say, and unproven.  Political motivation wafts.  ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council] has been ghostwriting bills and passing them out to astroturf organizations around the country to put forward legislation that undermines teachers' unions and helps in this effort to restructure education based on test scores,” Jesse Hagopian, a teacher and union activist in Seattle, Washington, has declared (Blaskey and Horn 1).   
As many as 70 percent of Oregon students taking this year’s rigorous Common Core-based tests (for the first time) are expected to fail.  One critic, University of Oregon education professor Jerry Rosiek, whose third-grade daughter is in the Eugene School District, states that standardized tests exacerbate a culture of teaching to the test.  “The tests detract from the quality of education she’s getting.  They require resources and time, and they narrow the curriculum” (Woolington A10).  Moreover, the Eugene school district hasn’t been provided enough time for its instructors to teach the more rigorous curriculum.  Rosiek believes students shouldn’t have to struggle for hours taking a test for which they are not prepared and which will cause them unnecessary anxiety.  The primary beneficiary of high-stakes, mandatory standardized tests, Rosiek maintains, is publishing companies that sell books to prepare students for the tests.  These tests also allow politicians to divert public attention away from the real causes of poor student academic achievement: poverty, the destruction of the core family, and the underfunding of public education.
More and more parents across the country are choosing to have their children opt out of taking the Core tests.  States allow parents to do this on religious grounds or to protect their learning disabled children.  Eugene parent Heather Kliever has stated that opting out is the only effective way to challenge the tests because district leaders and school board members, she believes, have not looked critically at the tests.  Her eleven-year-old sixth grade son Alden qualified for the state’s Talented and Gifted programs.  He will be opting out of the Common Core tests.  He has his own views on the matter.  Many of his peers will try to avoid going to school on the day of the tests.  He doesn’t understand the point of them.  His teachers give him frequent quizzes or exams to evaluate what he knows.  “Regular tests are fine.  But just having tests on a computer that takes multiple hours and days, I think it’s a waste of money” (Woolington A10).
Diane Ravitch, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and Research Professor of Education at New York University, agrees.  Frankly, the idea of subjecting third graders to an eight-hour exam is repugnant, as is the prospect of a 10-hour exam for high school students, as is the absurd [projected] idea of testing children in kindergarten, first, and second grades. All of these tests will be accompanied by test prep and interim exams and periodic exams. This is testing run amok, and the biggest beneficiary will be the testing industry, certainly not students.
“Students don't become smarter or wiser or more creative because of testing. Instead, all this testing will deduct as much as a month of instruction for testing and preparation for testing. In addition, states will spend tens of millions, hundreds of millions, or even more, to buy the technology and bandwidth necessary for the Common Core testing … The money spent for Common Core testing means there will be less money to reduce class sizes, to hire arts teachers, to repair crumbling buildings, to hire school nurses, to keep libraries open and staffed, and to meet other basic needs.  States are cutting the budget for schools at the same time that the Common Core is diverting huge sums for new technology, new textbooks, new professional development, and other requirements to prepare for the Common Core.”
The sooner Common Core testing dies, “the sooner schools and teachers will be freed of the Giant Federal Accountability Plan hatched in secret and foisted upon our nation's schools. And when it does die, teachers will have more time to do their job and to use their professional judgment to do what is best for each student” (Ravitch 1).
Meanwhile, many veteran teachers, like I would, will leave the profession.
Sources cited:
Blaskey, Sarah and Horn, Steven.  “The Other ALECs’ K12 Education Agenda Exposed.”  Truthout.  July 25, 2012.   Web.  November 8, 2014.
Ravitch, Diane.  “Good Riddance to Common Core Testing.”  The Blog: Huff Post Education.  July 3, 2014.  Web.  November 8, 2014  
Woolington, Josephine.  “Core Meltdown.” The Register-Guard.  October 26, 2014: A1.  Print.