Can We Trust Common Core?

Corporations, not educators, are behind the standards

Parents want to trust the schools where they send their children. Teachers, like myself, want to trust the learning criteria set before us by the state. And I believe most of us want to trust our government to make the best decisions possible for the children of our nation. The problem in trusting the newly implemented Common Core Standards and Assessments is that there are too many unanswered questions for it to feel safe on any of these levels. By themselves, standards are great and teachers strive to reach them. Unfortunately, many problems are introduced when working with the standards and assessments contained in the Common Core. Here are three questions that come to mind about Common Core in our schools.

• The first is: who created it? As far as I can tell, it was designed behind closed doors by a group of 27 people, made up almost entirely of non-educators. The difficulty in trusting this is: If Common Core is going to affect the testing and learning climate of our entire nation, why weren’t more educators involved in its creation? Most of us wouldn’t ask a lawyer to design our house, or a politician to perform our surgeries. Why, then, weren’t more professional educators part of an open creation process? And, more importantly, why is this system now being mandated as the driving force of student education?

• Next question. What are the Common Core Assessments designed to do? Everyone knows assessment is essential in schools. When students understand key concepts, teachers move on. If students have difficulties, teachers slow down to focus on specific areas. As teachers, we use a variety of assessments to help shape every lesson. When looking at how Common Core assesses student achievement, the complex tests don’t seem to be a valid measuring stick for the job. New York started Common Core earlier than other states and found that not only did their passing rates drop by 30 percent, but less than a third of students could even pass. So, at the end of the school year, what will these failure rates prove? We know the scores are aimed to evaluate teacher and school performance. Will this test data be considered solid proof of inept teachers and feeble public schools? Will it create initiatives to shut down schools in poor neighborhoods? And, how are students going to feel about their ability when it’s so difficult to succeed? Will failure and mandatory remedial classes motivate students to try harder on a test that, to many of them, seems impossible?

• The third question, though definitely not the final one, is: Why is Common Core linked to so many multi-billion dollar corporations? After some digging, I found it’s being pushed forward by both the Gates and Walmart Foundations, Boeing, Ford and Nationwide, just to name a few. It’s pleasant to imagine Common Core being funded out of the goodness of the corporate heart, but common sense tells us that that’s probably not the case. So why the aggressive corporate boost? What do they stand to gain? Could shoddy test scores lead to public school shutdowns, paving the way for the privatization of America’s schools? Will we soon send our children off to Walmart High, or Nationwide Insurance Elementary? And why are many of these corporations affiliated with agencies like Broad, who spend millions to destroy school boards and teachers’ unions? One thing is certain: There are billions of dollars in America’s public school system that, for the time being, are out of reach from these corporate giants.

Unfortunately, I have few answers to these questions, and the more I learn about Common Core, the more questions I have. Every system has room for improvement, including public education. As a teacher of 10 years though, I can say there are too many ifs in the Common Core to trust it achieving anything but more problems. — Caleb McKenzie

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