Some would have us believe that without Common Core, the nation that sent men to the moon will watch its children float aimlessly along, failing to go to college, land careers or get ahead in the world.
Common Core, which in essence is national math and English curriculum standards, slipped under the radar of the public's consciousness during the Great Recession. Before we knew it, 45 states signed on and it seemed to have a momentum all its own. Many are now realizing that Common Core is only the latest educational fad — one that proponents say is the next magic solution needed to restore our nation's competitiveness.
As a 34-year educator in Maryland's public schools, I've seen education fads come and go. After we accomplished President Kennedy's goal during the 1960s of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to Earth, the '70s brought about a wave of standardized testing regimes in states throughout the country. The era of automated, collectivized testing has been an unfortunate legacy.
The Common Core goes a step further. It will attempt to change how children learn, and it not only doubles down on testing, but it makes up its own test. It won't be enough to know how many miles away the moon is from Earth. The poor student will also have to explain how that figure is derived. Explaining a correct answer under Common Core is more difficult than knowing the answer itself. The following muddled paragraph illustrates this; anticipating how these instructions will be interpreted in classrooms should give everyone who cares about education extreme anxiety.
According to the Maryland Common Core "Standards for Mathematical Practice," first-graders are expected to "decontextualize — to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents — and the ability to contextualize, to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved." I'm sorry, but that is further out there than Pluto, and I have no idea what that means. Neither will 7-year-olds and their hapless teachers.
Maryland, as it is apt to do with other federal takeover schemes, jumped head-first into Common Core in 2010. Originally billed as a state-driven effort, the program soon became intertwined with the Obama administration's Race to the Top education grants. Now Indiana, North Carolina and Michigan officials are in various stages of extricating themselves from Common Core, and opposition is brewing in a growing number of states in every region of the country. New York and Kentucky are facing problems with new testing procedures under Common Core, and state education officials are facing a backlash among principals, teachers and parents. The pushback spans from teachers unions to the Tea Party.
Add Maryland — the state our politicians promote as the best in the nation in public education — to this list. The same publication that politicians cite relentlessly to tout Maryland's public school rankings, Education Week, is chronicling the dispute between the state's largest teachers union and the state's education department. Politicians are now suddenly quiet. The Maryland State Education Association was planning last month to seek a court injunction against state-imposed teacher evaluation and testing mandates. The subtext of this angst is a new test aligned with Common Core.
According to a recent Maryland State Education Association survey, 82 percent of teachers think that significant challenges remain to understanding and implementing Common Core in their schools. Adding to the complexity of implementing Common Core itself is transitioning into the new testing system. If teachers aren't ready to adhere to Common Core standards in the 2013-14 school year, how ready are school administrators going to be to test students on it the year after?
It used to be a teacher's primary goal was to "reach" a student. That will never happen as long as politicians and education bureaucrats in Washington insert themselves between teachers and students. Common Core is a backdoor way of nationalizing education, one based on a notion that children are to be churned out of schools on conveyor belts and into the workforce. It will never work.
Washington and Annapolis, we have a problem. For a country that educates people well enough to send spacecraft to the moon and Mars, we need not surrender ourselves to the latest education fad that pushes teachers and students further apart.
David Craig is county executive of Harford County, Md.