Real Education Reform: Opt Out of Common Core

This spring, parents in my community of East Meadow, New York, together with tens of thousands of others across New York State, decided to have their children opt out of the high-stakes tests that define Common Core.

We should all be grateful for their courage.  And we should all continue to support their demand for true progress in educational attainment.

Common Core was adopted to bring our educational standards up to those of our foreign competitors.  But standards the states had adopted to be guideposts on a trail have, instead, become an HOV, “one-size-fits-all” express-lane curriculum without so much as a passing lane, an exit ramp, or a rest stop.  Even supporters like Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, are citing its failures.  “You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has dismissed Common Core opponents with derisive personal attacks.  “Moms,” said education secretary Arne Duncan, oppose Common Core because “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”  Clearly, Duncan doesn’t get it.

As a “Millennial” myself (I am 23), I recognize the shortcomings of America’s educational system relative to our trading partners.  As a historian, I consider them as much a threat to our long-term national security as being on the wrong side of an arms race.  It’s critical we get education “right,” right now, because a generation lost to failed education policy will cascade into the next generation, and then the next.  The “Education Gap” will become insurmountable.

Real improvements in educational achievement will begin with jettisoning Common Core’s de facto “common curricula.”

Then, let’s adopt proven educational standards in mathematics and reading on a par with Massachusetts, the state with the country’s highest standards for educational achievement.  Let’s reconcile the standards in grades K to 3 to young children’s developing cognitive, interpersonal, and fine motor skills.  Children develop these skills at variable rates.  The rigorous curricula for very young children imposed by Common Core may demand more of them than their developmental milestones allow, leaving them frustrated, angry, and rebellious at school.  Children should like school.

Next, we should trust professional educators in the classroom to decide how best to meet educational standards instead of dictating their lesson plans, as Common Core does.  A teacher in the classroom, who knows the students, can assess their abilities and tailor an appropriate lesson plan to meet standards far better than any bureaucrat in Washington or Albany.

The following “cluster” (a word in the Newspeak of Common Core) is an example of what the bureaucrats propose that New York’s first grade teachers achieve when they teach arithmetic:

6. Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).

(Unfortunately, this “cluster” is taken, verbatim, from the national Common Core standardGrade 1 NYS Common Core Math Standards, Page 14.)

Finland, which persistently ranks among the top three in the world in educational achievement, summarizes its educational objectives for both first- and second-graders in a single two-and-a-half-page document with double-spaced, single-sentence bullet points.  New York’s Common Core math standards for grades 1 and 2, on the other hand, are separated into two documents that run a total of seven pages of dense, detailed text.

Finally, let’s insist that Common Core’s elitist cognoscenti  just chill out.  Their zealous effort to impose unproven standards from Washington doesn’t ensure results.  Only a true-believer Common Core crusader could have written this as part of the standards:

These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step[.] … It is time to recognize that these standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep.

When education standards are written with the dogma of a politician’s stump speech, we should recognize that there’s a problem.  It’s clear that the politicians, bureaucrats, “experts,” and profiteers who advocate Common Core have all become far too heavily invested – literally and figuratively – to allow their program to fail.  Common Core will be imposed, funded, maintained, continued, and declared a “success,” no matter what the actual results might be. 

The country will be left with an “education system” built in a Potemkin village.

We must do better.  And we start that by opting out.

Adam Sackowitz is a graduate student in history at Hofstra University, from which he graduated in 2014.  He is a candidate for the East Meadow school board.