During a 30-year career in education, I weathered numerous paradigm shifts and pendulum swings. I even survived the now infamous war between phonics and whole language. Each new thing promised to reform education.
The next thing is the Common Core, which on its surface seems like a good idea. There are some things everyone ought to know, right? However, when I looked into who developed these standards, I grew suspicious. Asking how and why made me even more so.
In my experience on standards-writing committees, every single standard was earnestly and endlessly debated by experts — those who actually taught them. Not so with the Common Core. Of the 135 people involved, not one was a K-3 classroom teacher. Not one was an educator of children with disabilities. Not one was an expert in English language learners. The largest contingent writing these standards? The testing industry.
They ignored decades of child development research validating our personal experience — children progress at different rates. For example, the average age when children walk is 12 months. The normal range is between nine and 15 months. Nothing suggests early walkers are better walkers than later walkers.
Let’s apply that common sense to the Common Core standard requiring kindergarten children to “read emergent reader texts with purpose and understanding.” The average age at which children begin to read independently is six and a half years. The normal range is between four and seven. Ironically, there’s no research showing long-term advantages to reading early over reading later. None.
In an era of “data-driven decision making” there also is no evidence this particular set of standards works. The committee merely mapped backward from what is needed to graduate from high school, assigning certain skills to certain grades. Those urging field-testing the standards were dismissed. Cash-strapped states were coerced into adopting these untested standards with the enticement of $4 billion in Race to the Top money.
Finally, why do you think technology, testing and curriculum companies underwrote this effort? Why has Bill Gates given more than $147 million? Profits. Together they have essentially purchased our most democratic institution, our public schools. They will write the curriculum, devise the tests and collect the data. Not to mention make a bazillion dollar profit.
Here’s a thought: Let’s hold the Common Core and all other federal mandates accountable. Instead of shaming teachers and students when this latest educational experiment fails, let’s examine the whole concept of top-down, profit-driven, coercive education reforms. Let’s do something that will actually make a difference. You know, like raising the minimum wage to address the shameful fact nearly one in four American children live in poverty.
Let’s hope there are enough good teachers left when that happens.
Lorie Schaefer is a retired reading specialist and kindergarten teacher.