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School's should welcome diversity of ideas but shouldn't tolerate political agendas

School’s should welcome diversity of ideas but shouldn’t tolerate political agendas

PART I: A Primer in American Education

Who’s Afraid of Common Core?
Education in America is often the centerpiece of someone’s agenda, and the newest chapter of the how-to-fix-our-schools controversy is called Common Core. Conservatives have apparently decided that Common Core is the path to Satan. Liberals have reservations about Common Core because it smacks of a factory-like environment that assumes every student and school is the same.

The problem is that the most vocal critics of Common Core have no authority to speak on effective educational methods. Common Core is a significant paradigm shift in education, and opinions of untrained, uneducated, unhelpful ‘experts’  do nothing to move forward the debate on how best to prepare our children for Life 3.0.

The Cost of Achievement
In 1950, only one-third of the population in the United States had a high school degree or better, and only six percent had a college degree or better. In 2010, almost ninety percent of Americans had at least a high school degree, and thirty percent had at least a college degree. That increase is impressive, but what is astounding is that in the same sixty year time frame, America’s population doubled. 

To accomplish that feat cost money. A lot of money. As the bandwagon to attack government spending gained steam, education loomed large in the sights of conservatives. The real cost of the success of American educational achievement has been to become a target of the post-Reagan  agenda.  

Public school in Panama: Seeking to achieve the American dream

Public school in Panama: Seeking to achieve the American dream

A Historical Perspective
In the pre-Information age, schools were isolated in their own districts. How well the students of any given school performed was a local issue, not a state or national issue. In addition, a relatively small percentage of students sought out a college degree, and there were few school districts keeping track of college bound students.

The goal for most school districts in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s was graduate as many students as possible, which sometimes opened the door to unethical practices, such as giving diplomas to students who clearly did not meet reasonable expectations (ability to read, write, etc.) to graduate.

However, by the 1990’s, the idea that all schools in the United States should be able to measure academic success through a unified set of academic standards began to take hold. As the Internet became the backbone of our society, the resulting information explosion forced us to accept that adequate math and reading skills were vital for success as an adult in a technologically advanced society. 

First Generation of Educational Standards
By the beginning of this century, plans had been put into motion to establish a set of educational standards for all schools and testing of all students to determine a school’s success or failure. Under President George W. Bush, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB,) was mandated and it required States to establish standardized testing, teacher qualifications, and annual academic progress reporting. This was one of the most sweeping federal intrusions into public education. The primary focus of NCLB was to improve reading, writing, and mathematics in schools nationwide, while allowing States to establish the educational standards that would have to be met.

The catch was that rather than investing in those schools that needed help, No Child Left Behind focused on punishing schools that didn’t meet the artificial standards. Almost ever reputable educational review of NCLB  has given it a failing grade. Some of the reasons are as follows:

  • The emphasis on reading, writing, and math during a time when States were cutting funds for kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) created a shearing effect on other programs (language, history, music, arts, etc.) as money had to be reallocated to the studies under the NCLB Act.
  • Politicians had little understanding of education and the variables in a classroom environment and they attempted to apply factory-like operations to school systems that failed to address the real issues that impact the ability to learn.
  • NCLB assumed that teachers were mostly at fault for poor educational performance and politicians sought to intervene by imposing punishments for schools rather than actually acting in the best interest of the students.
  • The education of higher performing students was sacrificed in order to devote more resources for the poorer performing students.
  • Students with special needs were not excluded from the testing standards creating a population of students that automatically counted as failing against the school.

Educational Standards – Second Generation
Soon after taking office, the Obama administration began to move away from NCLB by introducing “Race to the Top.” This program flipped NCLB by seeking to reward States for adopting standardized programs rather than punishing them for not meeting federal standards. States competed for additional federal education funding; however, not every State rushed to play the game that offered no guarantee of financial carrot at the finish line.

The most searing problem with Obama’s Race to the Top program may have been the requirement that a teacher’s performance had to be linked to the student’s test scores. This concept of Pay For Performance suggests that teaching professionals must be threatened with a financial stick, forcing teachers to teach students to be successful on the tests by sacrificing all other educational values. It also discourages teachers from working with groups of challenging students who will not be able to produce the test results of more privileged and economically stable students.

NEXT:  Part II:  What is Common Core?
To be published Wednesday, 25 March, 0700 PDT/1400 UTC

NEXT NEXT:  Part III:  An Answer to the Question – Good? or Bad?
To be published Wednesday, 25 March, 1200 PDT/1900 UTC