(Photo credit: NPR)
Common core curriculum and stringent standardized testing have become two of the most widely discussed topics in education today (besides masking and other safety issues). Standardized tests are indeed important, but for pre-assessment evaluation, to see what needs to be done; not for post-learning assessment to see how well students are achieving. Why? Every child is different, with different gifts and talents, as well as different learning abilities, different skillsets in different subjects, and different “kick-in” times. We’ve all heard anecdotes about the student who was particularly average in school, and just gets through college, then blossoms in graduate school when he or she can focus on topics that are of importance to them, rather than the “well-rounded” person that public education and a liberal arts curriculum attempts to form.
Perhaps a common core curriculum is a good idea. It’s a fundamental set of skills that students should know in order to be able to function in society and form a strong foundation to scaffold higher learning skillsets. In that respect, balancing a checkbook and other financial literacy constructs should be included in that compendium, rather than teaching new ways to add numbers faster. Here’s an idea – do it the old – old – old way: 235 + 627 = 200 + 600 (800) and 30 + 20 (50) and 5 + 7 (12). That’s 800 + 50 + 12 = 862. There are many ways to get to the answer, just as their are individual talents in every child. If educators are supposed to teach to the learning style that is most productive for the student, then that’s not standardization.
Anyone see a pattern of oxymoronic policy here?
This is why parents of young children today are taking a closer look at faith-based, charter or even homeschooling for their children. It’s unfortunate that the great idea of a core curriculum dictates what should be taught, how it should be taught, how instruction should be communicated, and how learning should be assessed rather than relying on the teacher’s expertise and the local educational leadership. The message becomes, “Follow these directives, or government entities will withhold funding.” Since these are governmental tax funds that are supporting school district budgets through state and federal grants, then these are no longer public schools, supported entirely by the local community. These are government schools – and, if you haven’t seen some of the most recent research, it’s been discovered that our nation is more of an oligarchy (that is, those who have wealth are the ones who control most of the electoral outcomes) than it is either a republic (representational voting) or a democracy (one person, one vote).
Interestingly, it seems that many school districts continue to rely on their tax base, rather than come to the realization that they are non-profit organizations, and can accept contributions from alumni or the philanthropic members of the community. Since individual giving to non-profit organizations is at an all-time high in this country, perhaps some thinking needs to begin to change when it comes to where additional dollars can be found.
Lets add two more ironies to “common core,” “standardized testing,” and “funding sources” to the mix.
First, to continue to emphasize the common core curriculum, arts programs like band and orchestra are being cut from budgets while more and more research shows that such programs help both sides of the brain to develop, as well as foster discipline and teamwork. These are two traits are vitally necessary for success in today’s global workplace.
Second , if there is visionary leadership in place to imagine the future with the courage to mobilize the community and put such programs into place, they must be approved by volunteer school board members that are elected by their friends in the community to keep their taxes low, who may have a personal agenda as their rationale for election, and who may not have any background whatsoever in learning theory, pedagogy, learning styles, learning domains, instructional technology or the myriad of other disciplines today’s educators must have, and maintain their certifications through continuing education.
Isn’t it strange that the local beer distributor and car dealer can be a member of the school board and wear the hood and tassel of a Master of Education at graduation, and yet, these people may have never been to college?