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Common Core Wars – The Stakes Keep Getting Higher

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In the past year more and more parents and their children have come to hear about the new educational reality – the Common Core State Standards. These standards are supposed to be “robust and relevant” to get students ready for the real world that awaits them down the road; however, as the truth about the new state assessments tied to these standards sinks in, many people will rue the day they ever heard of CCSS. We educators must also face the fact that these “new” standards are like the Hydra of Lerna in Greek mythology, and if we even try cutting off one of its hideous heads only more will grow back.

Thus, faced with the inevitability of having to deal with CCSS (45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted them), what are we all to do? The growing fear is that what the CCSS represent is not an effort to give students better instruction, but rather an easier way for the large testing companies to remain in bed with state education departments. This nefarious relationship is rather cozy, and both parties would like nothing better than to pull the covers up and leave the rest of us out in the cold.

Wise, sensible, and rather well respected people like Dr. Diane Ravitch have come out against the CCSS, mostly because they see them for what they have always been – a smoke screen – and it is being used by very powerful people like New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg not to better schools but to bludgeon teachers, to break the unions, and to reshape schools into smaller but in no way, shape, or form better institutions.

Where did this all start? Well, let’s look back to George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and at Barack Obama’s current Race to the Top. On the surface, who can argue with every child learning (Bush)or all students doing well in school and teachers teaching more effectively (Obama); however, in reality NCLB and RTTT are the most pernicious educational initiatives ever enacted. Both were setting up almost impossible scenarios, and in the end teachers, students, and parents have and will continue to suffer because of them.

While NCLB was seen as ineffectual by many educators over the years, RTTT is a more dangerous matter because it basically is a grant contest where states vie for big dollars based on meeting certain guidelines, such as performance based evaluations for teachers, making assessments electronic, and breaking bigger public schools into charters. What is wrong with this picture, you may ask, if it brings in more education dollars to the states? What is wrong with wanting our students to have high standards and rigorous preparation in order to meet them?

Well, for one thing the CCSS were dumped on teachers and students far too quickly. Here in New York, the state education department also made these standards “count” on the fast track by linking them to assessments. This is the biggest hoax of all – basing teacher evaluations on test scores. All over the country experts are recognizing that because of assessments linked to the new CCSS, students scores are going to go down – precipitously! How can any state education department in all good conscience allow teacher evaluations to be linked to these scores? The answer is that they would like nothing better than to give teachers poor ratings, hoping in the end to get to their true desire – ridding themselves of longtime teachers, ending tenure, and ultimately breaking the teacher’s unions. If things keep going this way, they will be getting closer to these goals very soon.

Unfortunately, absolutely none of this has anything to do with bettering education for students. When I say CCSS are “new” that is tongue-in-cheek, for most of what the standards call for are things good teachers have been doing since Plato taught Aristotle. There is no magic formula here that will help students do better, but with the promise that “the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers” is embedded in these standards, people have accepted with wide eyes that all of this is so. Big Brother also loves us all and is watching over each and every one of us too, I suppose.

What is happening now is coming to a crescendo here in New York, where state ELA and Math examinations will be given next month. Guys like Cuomo and Bloomberg are salivating like wolves outside teachers’ houses made of sticks and straw; they cannot wait to pounce and have their day. The teacher’s unions, wise enough to build their houses out of bricks, have stood firm, but we know that there may be a day when Cuomo and Bloomberg forget trying to blow down the houses and come along in bulldozers. It is only a matter of time.

In the coming years we may have what really will be the end of education as people know it. Can you imagine classrooms of one hundred students being taught by one teacher remotely? Can you picture that same teacher’s lesson being broadcast to other school buildings with similarly sized classes? This is the bold future that RTTT is pushing us towards, as well as students taking all assessments electronically. Yes, these tests will be quickly graded and require absolutely not even one teacher to raise a red pencil, but don’t start thinking things are getting better because of this.

So can you imagine an essay being marked by a computer? I can. This computer can recognize grammar mistakes, punctuation, spelling, and other elements of good writing; however, how will a computer ever pick up the intent of the author the way a teacher can? Will a computer recognize tone, style, humor, and creativity? What is being lost is obviously so much more than can ever be gained in this situation.

As a classroom teacher the thing I loved most was getting to know my students. Usually by the time January rolled around, I understood who each student was as a personality. Each student is unique, special, and these human snowflakes sit in those desks and we get to appreciate all their individuality. We also recognize their problems, their strengths, and relate to them as real people. I fear all of this classroom dynamic will be lost one day – and perhaps one day sooner than we can imagine.

The year 2525, as described in the old song of the same name, told of a world of robotic domination, but that year may be too far away for the robotic abomination that is forecast for education. We have CCSS to thank for that, and our state legislators and governors, and the state education departments. The days of chalk and eraser are over, as is the apple on the teacher’s desk. SMART Boards and iPads are already here, but the teacher is still in the mix, but not for long. Electronic education could be coming to a classroom near you before you can say “To Sir, with Love.” What a sad day for education; what a solemn day for us all!

 
Photo credits: hydra – elfwood.com; CCSS – ptacommoncore.com

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/diana-hartman/ Diana

    It’s as if everyone who pushes for and gets these ridiculous “tests” and “standards” has forgotten what it was like to be a child and what kind of teaching actually taught them what they know. I had hoped we’d get rid of corporal punishment in every state; and not before we got rid of teachers.