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What We Need is an Uncommon Core!

By February 25, 2014December 30th, 2021No Comments

Diane Ravitch’s recent decision to come out against the Common Core Standards is a welcomed voice. Describing her stance until now as being an agnostic, neither for or against, when it comes to the standards resonated with me.

Most public schools and to a lesser degree private schools and international schools have been watching the development of the standards and the adoption of the Common Core by 46 states as a second coming. Much needed direction as to what schools must do in order to improve their performance on standardized measures of student success by teaching for, not necessarily to the test. The promise of a common core has also been over sold to parents and politicians as a reliable assessment of school quality.

Like Diane Ravitch I have remained somewhat neutral regarding the effort to define what it is students need to know. Although I was expecting that the initiative would before too long implode. To my chagrin it hasn’t.

A definition of what students need to learn could be helpful in assisting those schools’ needing such guidance to anchor their curriculum to a well researched model similar to those provided by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate, Cambridge or the international AEROS standards. It could become been another tool schools could use to align their curriculum in ways that would ensure quality educational opportunities for students. But it has blossomed in to yet another boondoggle providing opportunities for millions to be made as schools scramble to implement the common core and spend scarce educational dollars on assessments to measure their success or lack thereof in doing so.

While we can easily agree on the content of mathematics with its clearly defined domains and interdependent sequences it is much more difficult to reach a universal consensus on most other disciplines like literature, social science and even science that are less clearly defined and wrought with topics and methods that are considerably more subjective and potentially controversial. But perhaps there is really no reason to create a common core except to prepare students for the inevitable common core test?

The specific content of curriculum is becoming increasingly less important. Much of what we need to know in terms of content knowledge is available on our smart phones. Its shelf-life is diminished by the rapid pace at which things change. And our decreasing ability to predict even the near future makes it impossible for us to determine what information will really be important when today’s students enter the world.

Curriculum should be a collection of experiences that develop the skills, knowledge, values and behaviors that we believe students will need in the future to live healthy, happy and productive lives. It should not be about the accumulation of static knowledge codified today, tested tomorrow and used to measure the immediate success of a school or the future potential of its students.

If we are going to really improve the quality of education, improve student performance and prepare students for the future we need to abandon much of what today we consider to be common. Common practice, common curriculum, common pedagogy and common assessments are factory model ideas which have long passed their expiration date. We need to focus more on the universal skills, knowledge, behaviors and values that will transcend our current understandings of the world students will inherit. We need to stop trying to get better at and to do more of what hasn’t been working and think more creatively about how we can do things differently. Adopting the common core won’t help us to do that anymore than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic could have kept it from sinking!

There is so much we are learning about how we learn that is not reflected in the common core. There is so much we don’t know about the world that students will be living in that is not accommodated in the common core. And there is too little flexibility in the system of common curriculum and assessments to allow for the inevitable adaptations that our changing world requires. It is simply a misguided solution that is the result of a deep misunderstanding of how we can best move forward.

The goal of establishing a common core, tied to standardized assessments ignores much of what educators know to be the critical attributes of quality teaching and learning. It sustains a factory model of education that no longer serves our schools and students well and perpetuates the ill conceived notion that education is a one-size fits all, easily measured process.

What we need is a NOT so common fresh look at how best to move forward and not another reinvention of what has been all TOO common.

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