More is Less: The Common Core Standards

The Common Core Standards Initiative is in full swing in the United States and the outcry from students, parents, and teachers is deafening. Adoption of the standards is not mandatory. However, while some states have indeed rejected the initiative, this means that they will not be eligible for federal Race to the Top funding, a significant consideration. The No Child Left Behind Act was forced on our schools in the same way. It is important to point out that education, as specified in the U.S. Constitution, is within the purview of the state governments, not the federal government. By bribing educational autonomy away from the states, the federal government denies our families a significant amount of freedom in choosing how their children should be educated.

The Common Core Standards were devised by politicians and business people without any input from those who know the needs of the students: their parents and teachers. The curriculum, which remains a mystery, will be determined by assessments developed by and for the federal government. The standards were unleashed without provision of resources, teacher training, or field-testing. In fact, the 2013 NYSESLAT (New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test) was changed mid-year to accommodate the new standards. This means that English Language Learners had no materials with which to prepare for the exam and their teachers had no resources with which to help them.

Because the standards have been initiated without a curriculum that takes into consideration the needs of the students, elementary school children are working deep into the night on homework they simply cannot understand because it is not developmentally appropriate for their age. They are developing a real fear of the classroom because it has become a forum for failure. High school students who were already having difficulty are now losing all interest in secondary education. English language learners, whose challenges have never been properly appreciated, will fall even further behind their American-born peers, resulting in an even higher dropout rate. Teachers who realize the futility of what they are being mandated to do to their students are leaving the profession.

The Common Core Standards Initiative is motivated by a reasonable idea: students at the same grade level should be learning the same material throughout the country. In addition, this material should be appropriate for ultimately preparing the students for college and the workplace. However, the development and implementation of the standards have ignored one minor detail: the needs of the students. Demanding that all students learn the same thing in the same way in the same timeframe ignores everything we know about how human beings learn, and it ignores English language learners altogether. Our students are already struggling, failing, and dropping out. Arbitrarily increasing and homogenizing their workload is, to be euphemistic, counter-intuitive. Making it incomprehensible is incomprehensible. At least some thought should be given to how our students can learn what they need to know while still being able to enjoy growing up in America.

by John DePonte

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