The common core curriculum in the USA
The legislation for the USA Common Core State Standards, planned in 2010 and now imposed on all state schools, sets targets in Maths and English for every age-group. The detail matches or even surpasses the British national curriculum.
First lets make one thing clear: The Common Core is not an educational upgrade. It does not make education more rigorous except in the sense of rigor mortis. The only reason I think that the Common Core is great is because it is so negative and destructive that it has finally done what we in our organization have been unable to do in the last 20 years: galvanize students, parents and teachers into a formidable force to resist top-down disempowering education. This is what I said yesterday to a large group of protesters who had gathered in bitterly cold weather outside Mineola High School, where New York State Education Commissioner John B. King was delivering his defense of the state's regime of testing and the imposition of the, possibly unconstitutional, Common Core Curriculum.
I went down there just to try to interview some of the protesting parents and teachers, for our online magazine, knowing it would be practically impossible to get inside to see the carefully scripted session with Commissioner King. I was surprised to see a makeshift stage, the back of a pickup truck, with a sound system. It was a brilliant idea! One by one the teachers and parents spoke of their misery under the new system. The said their children were in tears after the tests. The teachers said they couldn't really teach any more and that the fun and excitement of learning had disappeared. The crowd cheered each speaker and carried signs saying 'Common Core, High stakes Testing, Data mining, Experimenting with our kids!' 'Hey! Ho! Common Core has got to go!' 'King resign NOW!'
But it is not King's fault. It is much larger than that. This whole approach that has been imposed on the hapless children is based on a faulty and long-discredited theory: that children are naturally lazy and have to be forced to learn. Modern brain research has shown that the opposite is true, that children are natural learners. Unfortunately the people responsible for this debacle were raised with the old approach, which over the years becomes self-fulfilling, and have forgotten that they were once natural learners. This approach is based on distrust: Children are not to be trusted to learn on their own. Teachers are not to be trusted to teach according to their instincts. Parents do not know how to raise their own children.
Speaking of research, not only is the Common Core not based on research about its effectiveness, but even the most basic students of sociology know that any research must consider the Hawthorne Effect, that you effect what you are measuring by the way that you measure it. This apparently was never considered by the bureaucrats.
A small percentage of parents, teachers and children have decided to abandon the system to participate in learner-centered schools and homeschooling. They are almost universally happy with their decision. Even when the old system's standardized test are given, homeschoolers as a group score near the top! This is why colleges and universities love to take in homeschoolers and students from innovative, learner-centered schools.
But what of the rest? It appears that, thanks to the Common Core and high stakes testing, we now have their attention. But how do we approach the daunting task of convincing the bureaucrats of the system that they have been barking up the wrong tree? How can we help those parents who instinctively know that these Draconian measures are wrong-headed to turn their system into one that really nurtures their children? I don't know the answer to these questions but I do know that we need to answer them quickly before we lose a whole generation of children.