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What's So Bad About Common Core?

By Barry Peters, Esq.
Winter 2013

There are only two things wrong with the Common Core State Standards: (1) How we got them and (2) How ineffective they will be.

The previous article described how Idaho adopted the standards without really knowing what they were. In the midst of the turmoil of the Great Recession, many well-meaning elected officials in Idaho lunged for the tantalizing bait offered under the federal government's Race to the Top program. They jettisoned Idaho's existing educational standards and replaced them with the untested Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Disappointingly, the state received none of the promised rewards except for the consolation prize of an exemption from the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

So, now that we have these new standards, will they really increase the "college and career readiness" of our students as proponents claim? Will Idaho's public school students reverse course and become skilled at "independent analysis and creative problem-solving?" Sadly, no.

Consider this: The academic achievement of a state's students has never shown any correlation to the stringency of its educational standards. Historically, students from states with high standards score no better than students from states with low standards on national testing.

Think about that for a moment. No difference in student achievement due to the adoption of stringent standards. So why is Idaho spending hundreds of millions of dollars to transition from its prior standards to the new-and-improved Common Core standards?

In large part Idaho did so because those touting the standards promised they were the magic pill that would finally produce students who are capable of independent analysis and creative problem solving. And teachers were enticed with promises that the thrill of teaching rapt students would follow from the demise of the dreaded "drill and kill" teaching methodology. Imagine being a teacher suddenly able to leapfrog to the holy grail of engaging students in creative problem solving without ever having to wade through the tedious memorization of basic information.

Unfortunately, the premises behind this endeavor will preclude its success.

Central Educational Planning:

The first question that must be asked is: In what area have we ever seen central planning serve as the foundation for success?

For decades, educators and citizens alike have pressed for local control of education. The more local the control, the more responsive and successful the outcome generally becomes. Historically, we've wondered why should the state, or even the school district, dictate how teaching is done? Shouldn't it fundamentally be up to the parents and teacher to direct and implement each student's education?

Yet these Common Core standards are nationally uniform in adoption and implementation. Moving in lockstep, they've been adopted by Idaho and almost every other state. Can this one-size-fits-all approach to education suddenly work in this instance?

Consider the most successful forms of instruction. At the top we find home educated students and students from highly-selective private schools. Next are students from specialized public charter schools. Below that are the students in the brick-and-mortar public schools. And finally, there are the students enrolled in the computer-based virtual charter schools.

Conceptually, these schools show an inverse relationship to the one-size-fits-all computer-dependent education touted by the Common Core's approach to teaching. Home schools and selective private schools rarely have any formal standards at all. They simply teach subjects in their entirety, expecting teachers to teach and students to master each subject.

Being a part of the public school system, brick-and-mortar charter schools are required to meet certain standards, but they have the freedom to focus on their specialization, as well. Whether such schools focus on music, science, foreign language, or any other specialty, their students tend to thrive as compared to other public school students. Focusing away from the state standards actually seems to produce higher results, even in these public charter school settings. So why has Idaho embraced the very rigidity that seems to lead to academic lethargy.

Analysis Without Data?

The next land mine embedded in the Common Core approach is found in the premise that teachers will no longer be required to teach via the age-old "drill and kill" method. Instead, teachers can gently guide enthralled students to discover creative ways to discern answers to problems. Embracing our postmodern culture, students will be given more credit for vigorously-defended wrong answers than for correct answers given without explanation.

But in this jettisoning of old-school memorization, the Common Core approach overlooks the need to learn the objective "what" before students can probe more deeply to discuss the "why," the "how," or the "should."

For how can a student engage in independent analysis and creative problem solving without a foundational knowledge of basic facts from which to craft solutions? If a student doesn't know the math tables, for example, will he have to laboriously reinvent the wheel using his fingers and toes each time he is faced with a rudimentary calculation for the rest of his life?

Home School Concerns

Why should all this concern home schoolers? Several reasons.

Common Core standards do not yet apply to home schoolers or private school students. However, most experts acknowledge that there will be pressure to include them at a later date. But even if they are never legally subjected to the standards, the elimination of competing curricula and testing resources will so change the educational landscape that it will be almost impossible to ignore the Common Core standards.

The Standards Locomotive

Experts understand that educational "standards" drive the whole train. Once standards are adopted on a large scale, curriculum providers will rush to "align their curriculum to the standards." Curriculum that focuses on teaching to the Common Core standards will be embraced throughout the nation. Curriculum providers that fail to align will miss the opportunity to tap into the mother lode of expenditures that our nation's public schools are making as they transition to the new standards.

Likewise, once the standards are adopted, most testing to determine student academic progress or achievement will ask only those questions that reflect what the Common Core has determined to be important. Already the SAT, ACT, GED, and the latest version of the Iowa Tests have all announced that they are aligning to the Common Core standards.

Colleges are also quickly rebuilding their admissions requirements around these aligned tests. So home schooled students hoping to attend college will have another incentive to narrow their own education to these same standards even though they aren't currently required to do so.

Since both curriculum and testing will inexorably be aligned with the Common Core standards, it will become harder for home schooling families to find alternative materials, especially at a reasonable cost. Plus, early indications are that, once social studies and science standards (that are currently under development) are added to the mix, finding curriculum that reflects the parents' worldview will become increasingly difficult.

Electronic Monitoring

The next concern for home schoolers should be the data collection mandated by the Common Core experiment. As part of embracing these standards, each state is required to expand its existing programs that gather and store student data. The data that is gathered includes not only the academic information about the student, but also broad demographic data on the student and his family. Collection of that information will start at least by the preschool years and continue after graduation into the student's career years.

That data - including students' personally identifiable information - will then be made available without parental consent to any government agency or private entity that the federal government claims is "evaluating an education program."

What Constitution?

Any serious scholar of the United States Constitution acknowledges that "education" is not a task assigned to, or even permitted by, the federal government. It is, instead, reserved to the states.

Beyond the Constitution, various federal laws expressly prohibit Congress and the federal government from "prescribing," "supervising," "directing," or "controlling" the content of public school curriculum. With a shrug, Common Core backers argue that the federal government is merely "influencing" the process by its multi-billion dollar expenditures, not controlling the curriculum.

Conclusions:

So, welcome to the world of Common Core standards. Unfortunately, this public school disaster-in-the-making will have significant blowback onto private home schooling families.

Curricula will become less varied. Test results will no longer reflect mastery of the subject matter. Central planning will sweep away local control. Parents will find it more difficult to find curricula that reflects their worldview. Invasive data on the students and their parents will be collected and maintained for decades.

And in the end, student academic achievement will continue to languish.

Unless we push back.

Our state legislators are the key. They are the group tasked with educational policy. Most of them have a sense that they bought into this program without sufficient deliberation. Though there is tremendous inertia in favor of the Common Core standards, like tugboats exerting sustained statesmanlike pressure on our legislators, asking them to reconsider their decision will, in the end, turn the Titanic around. So reach out to your legislators today to politely encourage them to take a second look at this issue.


For a more in depth look at this topic, the author recommends the following additional on-line sources:

  1. StopCommonCore.com/youtube-channel-dvd (watch 5 part video series)
  2. TruthInAmericanEducation.com
  3. IdahoansForLocalEducation.com
  4. HSLDA.org/commoncore

Barry Peters is an attorney in private practice with offices in Eagle, Idaho, and is one of the legal advisors for both ICHE and CHOIS. His law practice focuses on the areas of wills, trusts, probate, and real estate contracts.

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