Common Core: Anatomy of a Failure
When Bill and Melinda Gates go to Africa and see healthy people and sick people, they presumably have a single thought: what can we do to make everyone healthy? The problems are easily understood; goals can be clearly stated. Given a big commitment, there’s a high chance of success.
When Bill Gates looks at education in America and sees good students and bad students, he probably assumes that these variations are part of the human condition. That’s not a promising problem to focus on.
What fascinates Bill Gates is something else entirely: namely, the variety and incoherence from school to school, city to city, and state to state. It looks so messy and inefficient. And he thinks: a guy with my money and management skills should be able to organize all this disorder, turn it into an efficient machine, save the country, and make another fortune in the process.
Potentially all true.
But at that moment he has lost the game. Because he is no longer talking about educational goals, which must be our main concern. He is talking about standardization. He is talking about a tidier assembly line. (But nobody ever said that democracy is supposed to be tidy. Dictatorship is tidy.)
Bill Gates brought a programmer’s sensibility to education. There is a maximally efficient way to design a piece of software. So let’s do that, and stop all this other nonsense. Bad plan, even with the best of intentions.
As Bill Gates’s own experience with Vista proved, the problem lies is finding the perfect design. You (a person or a society) would have to be a fool to put all your money on one solution.
There is also some willful deception or self-deception here. If you state that henceforth all children should be able to do X, because that’s the new standard, does this mean that all children can do X? Can even half the children do X? Read some of the verbose standards, and you’ll probably conclude that virtually no kid can do X.
There seems to be a belief in magic. Outline impressive goals (“internationally benchmarked,” no less) in a technical, officious way, and every kid will automatically soar to high levels. But why would that happen? Teachers still have to teach, and students still have to learn the information, fact by fact. But our Education Establishment hates all those traditional practices. It’s so much simpler to proclaim that henceforth all children will be college- and career-ready. Presto! That was easy.
Bill Gates and Common Core are obsessed with arranging things in standardized patterns, coast to coast. So we must have standards that will somehow apply to everyone. Then we need identical curricula, and we’ll need identical tests. All of these things will be aligned to each other and symmetrically arranged, like so many neat stacks of boxes in a shoe store’s warehouse. And no one, from that point forward, will be able to think outside those boxes, try something new, or tell the Education Establishment to take a hike and stop annoying us.
The fact of the matter is that many different kinds of schools use many different approaches to achieve excellent results. Look at all the great private schools, classical academies, Montessori schools, and strong public schools. The variety and differences are a sign of health. Let them flourish!
The best plan is to have schools and cities in charge of their own education, so that parents have some control, their suggestions are listened to, and everybody involved is constantly aiming for improvement, not ruthlessly enforcing a top-down mandate.
I suspected from the start that Common Core would be a fraud and a failure for a simple reason: it recycled all the bad theories and methods from the last 75 years.
If you want to let Bill Gates off the hook, say this: he trusted the wrong people and their bad ideas. The very same people who had dumbed down the schools were now being asked to create a reform program. Oh, really? How could that possibly work? Typically, these people were socialists. They wanted leveling, and they worked relentlessly to get it. They – people like Bill Ayers – call this leveling “social justice.”
I’m not sure whether they tricked Gates or he let himself be tricked. But everybody knows by now that Common Core accepted all the worst nonsense in Reform Math. (That’s why we see so many articles and stories about impossible math homework.) Similarly, Constructivism is the official dogma throughout Common Core. This quackery orders teachers not to teach; students must figure out everything for themselves. Similarly again, Common Core embraced sophistries from Whole Word, those sophistries being the cause of our illiteracy problem.
If Bill Gates had turned away from the Education Establishment and its dysfunctional ideas, maybe he could’ve worked a miracle. But the boss educators would never allow that. So they made a sweet deal. Gates would get a huge, tidy market for his wares. The education professors would get more dictatorial power.
You can talk all you want about standards – for example, “children should learn to read in a timely manner.” Of course. But what if the people in charge undermine this goal by using inefficient methods? That’s the way it’s been throughout the 20th century. All that Common Core was going to do was give the same people more power so no one could get out from under their thumbs.
Bill Gates was seeing a world where every seventh-grade history class would be identical to all the others, as if that’s more efficient. Ideally for him, they would use books and software created by his companies. But never mind how much Gates makes. We wouldn't mind if the children were being well-educated. But he was in cahoots with people who had never been primarily interested in making children well-educated. The goal, ever since the time of John Dewey, was to make children cooperative, largely incapable of independent thought, and easy to govern.
According to Robin Eubanks:
In the American Common Core classroom any skill, concept, or activity must be accessible to all or most, including the disabled, disinterested, and those with poor English language skills. Or it is not permissible for anyone. Abstract thought is not an ability that has been fairly distributed so it is off limits for everyone in the Common Core classroom of the future. How convenient for anyone with aspirations toward gaining quiet control over masses of people.
Again, in fairness to Gates, I think he did what all the business leaders in the country have done for years when they want to improve education. They call up the nearest school of education (that’s the fatal mistake) and say send over some experts. The same “progressive” professors come over and lay out the same hack ideas. Mediocrity is more or less inevitable.
Before, at least, there was still freedom to experiment and try to do better. But with Common Core locked in legislatively, mediocrity would be the law of the land.
Forty-five states took the Race to the Top grants (i.e., bribes) and signed up for Common Core. But Indiana just backed out, and most other states are restless and looking at their options. Euthanasia is a good one.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org.