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U.S. News & World Report

Common Core: A Poison Pill for Learning

The education standards being pushed by the corporate education reformers harm students and teachers.

Common Core cartoon. (Image: Amerigus)

Most teachers choose the profession because they have a passion for helping children achieve success. To do that, educators have never shied away from academic standards. Well-written academic guidelines, developed with the input of teachers, can provide them and their students with a clear outline of learning objectives.

The Common Core State Standards, first adopted by states in 2010, were developed without sufficiently involving early educators, and initial results and analysis by many experts and educators demonstrate that these guidelines harm both teachers and students.

When the Common Core standards were first offered, we heard promises about how these guidelines and their associated curricula and tests would transform and modernize education. Several years later, those changes don’t appear to be worth celebrating. This spring, New York state had its second round of annual tests based on the Common Core, and for a second time the results were disastrous for students: Only about 31 percent of them achieved proficiency in English language arts. Before the Common Core in New York, there was a 3 percentage point difference between white and Hispanic eighth-graders’ test results in language arts. After the first year of the new standards, that gap grew to 22 points. The gap in math between white and black third-graders also widened significantly.

Tests have become increasingly central to the work of educators and affect their relationships with students. Based on a single exam, students can be told they are “below grade level,” and schools and their teachers might be chastised as “failures.” All this though the overall high school graduation rate has never being higher, and scores have been rising steadily on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

It is test designers, not teachers, who determine what portion of students will pass or fail a test. Each time a state has used one of the two tests aligned with the Common Core, student scores have dropped dramatically. As in the Empire State, when exams are so difficult that only a third of test-takers pass, students are massively frustrated – and the results have significant implications on the evaluations of their instructors.

A number of experts have also said that the Common Core curricula are not developmentally appropriate, especially for students in first through third grades. Students are asked questions beyond their ability to understand, and they are reduced to guesswork. Moreover, as Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, has put it, “Common Core eliminates creativity in the classroom and impedes collaboration.” Rather than allow for the sort of imaginative ideas and critical thinking teachers need to inspire their students, the Common Core is a poison pill for learning.

We must begin to focus on making real improvements in our schools. We should allow teachers to use their professional training and knowledge to reach every student. We should reduce class sizes and increase support by adding more counselors and librarians. We should help stabilize schools in poor communities, not shut them down.

This year, some 40,000 students in New York opted out of Common Core tests. This movement started with parents, but it has been embraced by many teachers across the state as well. It takes a lot to get educators to rebel against standards and tests. But when they see their students being harmed, they must object.

Robin Hiller

Robin Hiller is executive director of the Network for Public Education.

Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody spent 24 years working in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high needs middle school. He is National Board certified, and now leads workshops with teachers focused on Project Based Learning. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning. For additional information on Cody's work, visit his Web site, Teachers Lead, and read his blog, Living in Dialogue. You can follow him (@AnthonyCody) on Twitter.

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