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Warning – Very Long, Potentially Soap Boxy Post Ahead!
When I woke up this morning, I didn’t have a plan to sit at the computer, for more much more time than I had today, and write about the Common Core Standards and public education. But the juxtaposition of two things compelled me to start writing. It started out as me writing a comment on someone’s Facebook post , but that comment quickly got so long that it grew out of control. Then I started thinking about the fact that today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. When I put the two together, I started to write about the things I am most passionate about other than my family: education and social justice. And while what I am writing about today isn’t specifically about School4Boys, the issues surrounding public education are at the heart of my family’s decision to homeschool, and are a part of my heart as well.
Dr. King fought for the equality of all people, for all of his adult life. He gave his life to and for the fight. He knew that one of the keys to equality was access to educational opportunities for all children. He also knew that the United States didn’t fund education appropriately or fairly. Here in 2014, I don’t think that as a society we either spend enough money on education, or direct it to the places where it will do the most good in educating all children equally. This honestly keeps me up at night thinking about ways to make it better. Sometimes, I think I should get a hobby, but back to Dr. King…
In March of 1964, Dr. King gave a speech to The American Federation of Teachers in acceptance of the John Dewey Award. He said many important things about education, but two statements that resonate deeply with me are these:
“The walling off of Negroes from equal education is part of the historical design to submerge him in second-class status. Therefore as Negroes have struggled to be free they have had to fight for the opportunity for a decent education….
“…The richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige our work justifies. We squander funds on highways, on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on the overabundance of overkill armament, but we pauperize education.”
In 1964, when Dr. King gave that speech there was great inequity in the U.S. educational system both in terms of racial access and appropriate school funding. In 2014, things are different, but our educational system is still troubled and underfunded. How do we work now to help all children achieve, and access education equally? Well, the Federal Government, as well as most state governments have pinned their best hopes on the implementation of The Common Core State Standards, and the assessment of the achievement of those standards, through standardized testing in judging the success and achievement of students, schools, and teachers across the country. This is the first time there have been educational standards set for all students in all states. These English and mathematics standards have now been voluntarily adopted by 45 states and The District of Columbia. I am adding links to the Common Core State Standards website, and to an insightful article about the standards, entitled Everything You Need to Know About the Common Core, featured on the Washington Post website, written by Diane Ravitch. Dr. Ravitch is a highly respected educational historian, professor, and activist. I encourage you to read the article by Dr. Ravitch. It is well-written and well-reasoned, and based on her extensive experience with the history of educational reform. I am a great admirer of Dr. Ravitch, and this article was what started all of my thinking today. I also encourage everyone to read through the standards. They are the law of most of the educational land, and are now governing what is going on in public school classrooms.
In thinking about the Ravitch article, and the Common Core Standards, I have done my best to read the standards with an open mind. I think the overarching goals of the Common Core are something to strive for. I do think they expect more critical thinking, genuine application of knowledge, and creative problem solving than most state standards have previously required, and these changes are good things. Although, I do agree with Ravitch, that there needs to be a mechanism for revision of the standards with professional input, which as of right now there is not. My main issue with the Common Core is the intense, or “rigorous” in Common Core talk, and developmentally inappropriate standards in the early grades (pre-K-3). There will be some young students who can meet these standards, but that doesn’t make them appropriate. Most children WILL NOT be able to meet them, and in order to try to enforce them, I’m fairly sure teachers will have to remove more of the things that are most appropriate for young children. I think this, because I have seen it happen before.
There are several parallel problems with the way that the standards are being implemented that are not actually about the Common Core Standards at all. First, there is the corporatization of the public school system. I have seen this happening with my own eyes at an alarming rate. It is outrageous, and it has the capacity to dismantle the public school system if left unchecked. A tremendous amount of money is being made from the diverting of public funds to charter schools (which are often “for-profit” endeavors), the purchase of testing materials and the hardware and software to go with them, as well as the purchase of new Common Core curriculum materials and test preparatory materials. It is a ridiculous amount of money that could go toward real student learning. The schools that are being hurt the most financially by the outlay of cash for all of these new tests, gadgets and materials, as well as the fees to score the tests, are the schools that serve children living in poverty. Those schools tend to have far lower test scores than their more financially privileged peers, so their schools are the ones being robbed by charters, and the corporations that sell the tests, the scoring systems, the test prep materials, and new textbooks and curriculum guides now needing to be “aligned” with the Common Core. If we as a society turn our public school mission into a for-profit capitalistic enterprise, we can’t keep the mission of educating all children. These are competing missions, and our children, as well as our whole society, will lose if we turn education into a series of money making schemes.
Then there is the testing. There are so many things wrong with the way testing is being implemented right now, that it is hard for me to even describe them all. The standardized tests are expensive, they are pretty much useless as an instructional tool, and they force teachers to throw out so much of what is important about education. I have watched science, social, visual art and music education, and even school libraries, become mere blips on the schooling horizon. Things that are not tested get lost in the push to increase test scores. It makes sense, because if your performance evaluation, your paycheck, whether your school stays open, whether your school district stays accredited by the state, the housing values within the school community, and societal perceptions of your work are all tied to test scores, then you better believe that everyone from the superintendent on down through the school ranks is going to be pushing an increase in the time spent on the things that will bring test scores up. These test-crazy efforts are everywhere, but are most concentrated on the schools that serve the children who struggle the most due to language barriers, racial barriers, and the barriers created by poverty and disability. It is a vicious cycle because teachers, afraid of the professional ramifications of poor test scores, actively avoid taking jobs in schools where scores are lowest, or leave the profession entirely. This leads to the schools with the most need getting the teachers with the least experience. I know many dedicated teachers who work tirelessly every day to help children in poverty or with special needs learn. But, I wonder how many will stay with it as the demands of testing get more and more intense both personally and professionally.
I am very worried about the state and future of the public school system. I think the Common Core can be revised and be useful if it is used as a guide post rather than an evaluation system. It is the testing, the way classroom teacher evaluations and school funding are being tied to those tests, and the financial mechanisms connected to the testing, that I am really worried about. I think it is important to separate them in both implementation and in critique.
This is pure speculation on my part, but I have a feeling that Dr. King wouldn’t like the corporations taking charge of public education, or poor and minority children getting less education, more testing, and more shame when they do poorly on the tests. I also don’t think he would like the way that teachers are being held accountable for the failure of our society to do something productive about the vast inequity of our economic system that more often than not leads to children struggling in school. Dr King once said that, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I can’t be silent, but anyone who knows me, knows that all too well. I feel like fighting for the education of all children is one very small way I can honor his legacy.
I encourage you to read Dr. Ravitch’s article, and if you are interested to follow her blog. She writes eloquently, and prolifically, every single day about very important issues surrounding public education.
You can find it here at
That’s a mouthful, but there is much more here than I could ever hope to scratch the surface of with one blog post, but it is something I am constantly thinking about, and the surrounding issues play prominently in my decision to homeschool right now. So I will keep reading, thinking, and hopefully writing about it here.