No one is ever happy about education in this country. There are incalculable flaws and disparities, insurmountable polarities in philosophy and unimaginable bureaucratic barriers embedded in the United States’ public education system.
In the past few years, there has been talk about the most recent idea for education reform, termed the “Common Core.” Much ink has been spilt over Common Core, both attacking and defending the standards therein, but the general public seems to forget that they elect the members of the State Board of Education who choose to accept or reject such standards in their state. It is time to consider the arguments surrounding this issue.
Common Core is based on a very simple philosophy: at least in the realms of English and mathematics, our children need to be held to explicit, universal standards to ensure a baseline of education throughout all public schools. Common Core acknowledges the failings of “No Child Left Behind” policies conceived and legislated during the Clinton and Bush eras and attempts to set more efficient standards and to establish better methods for achieving them. The initiative claims to take into account the suggestions of educators and state representatives as well as national politicians and has been accepted by over forty states, including Ohio.
Yet the danger of Common Core lies not in its philosophy but in its execution. Arguments on the issue come from three sides. While Democrats and Republicans both have strong opinions on the issue, a third, different argument comes from many parents and teachers.
It is easy to get caught up in the shouts of the Democrats about fairness in education and the bellows of the Republicans that the Feds are overstepping their bounds and invading privacy and miss the cries of those most affected: students, parents and teachers who fear for the quality and humanity of our schools.
Common Core does not prescribe teaching methods, only outcomes. To adopt these goals, however, means telling teachers what to teach, and, no matter how good the goals may be, this dehumanizes education. Rather than spending time helping little Jimmy understand the fundamentals of counting, Mrs. Smith must drill the numbers up to one hundred until Jimmy and his classmates have them memorized. This results in frustrated children who lose their love for learning.
The counter-argument is clear — children in poorer schools who have the potential to reach high goals are not being helped and are held to lower expectations. However, the same children in these at-risk institutions will be the first to resent the unyielding standards of a common core, especially if the emphasis on these standards results in less time dedicated to arts and activities which make school fun.
The logical extension of this train of thought leads to the realization that children already in poor, low-rated institutions would be more likely to drop out, feel inadequate and resist help altogether.
The concerned educators and parents who make these sorts of arguments are drowned out by the more vocal conservative opponents. The continued existence and adoption of the Common Core is, in no small part, due to the idiocy of its opponents. Conservatives turn themselves into straw men when they babble on about “big government” reaching into our schools. Yes, the reasons Common Core is inadequate might stem from the “big government” ideology behind it, but arguing that ideology only makes one seem ignorant.
Another major contributor to Common Core’s prevalence is the public’s feeling of helplessness. It’s difficult to tell where these sorts of things are decided.
However, Ohio just recently began a motion in its senate to repeal the Common Core standards, and, should it pass, the onus for the repeal would fall on the school board. Here in Hamilton County, we voted on a state school board representative yesterday. Our choice was simple to understand: the candidates are Republican Zac Haines, who is for the repeal of Common Core in Ohio and Democrat Pat Bruns, who is against repeal but in favor of some slight changes.
The education system has its problems, but Common Core is not the way to fix them. By placing rigorous, impersonal standards, we pit students against their educators.
One example of an alternative is community school initiatives, which offer a different sort of legislation which focuses on aiding students rather than fighting them and have been proven successful in Cincinnati. These are the sorts of policies we need.
We have the opportunity to affect the potential fate of Common Core in Ohio. Let’s not be steamrolled by political idiocy and bureaucracy.