PUBLISHED IN THE CINCINNATI INQUIRER, SUNDAY, JUNE 2, 2013
Instead of dealing with the real problem, the common core offers us, in the words of Susan Ohanian, “a radical untried curriculum overhaul and … nonstop national testing.”
The common core movement is based on these claims:
(1) Our educational system is broken, as revealed by US students' scores on international tests; (2) We must improve education to improve the economy; (3) The way to improve education is to have national standards accompanied by tests that enforce the standards.
Each of these claims is false.
(1) Our schools are not broken. The problem is poverty. When researchers control for poverty, our test scores are among the best in world. Our unspectacular overall scores are due to the fact that the US has the second highest level of child poverty among all 34 economically advanced countries (now over 23%, compared to high-scoring Finland’s 5.4%). Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books, among other things. All of these negatively impact school performance.
(2) Existing evidence strongly suggests that improving the economy improves children's educational outcomes, not vice-versa, supporting Martin Luther King’s position: "We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished”(Martin Luther King, 1967, Final Words of Advice).
(3) There is no evidence that standards and increased testing have improved student learning in the past.
No educator is opposed to assessments that help students to improve their learning. The amount of testing proposed in connection to standards is, however, astonishing, far more than the already excessive amount demanded by NCLB: US Department of Education documents show that testing will be expanded to include all subjects that can be tested and more, perhaps all, grade levels. There will be “interim” tests given through the year and there may be pretests in the fall to measure growth, defined as increases in standardized test scores.
The cost of implementing standards and electronically delivered national tests will be enormous, bleeding money from legitimate investments that have been demonstrated to actually help children. According to media reports, New York City and the State of Florida are each budgeting a half a billion dollars just to connect children to the internet so that they can take tests. And we can be sure that as soon as the equipment (the “infrastructure”) is set up, it will be declared obsolete. The boondoggle will never end.
This money should be spent to protect children from the effects of poverty, i.e. on expanded and improved breakfast and lunch programs, improved health care (at present there are more school nurses per child in low poverty schools than in high poverty schools) and improved school and public libraries, especially in high-poverty areas. The best teaching in the world will have little effect when children are hungry, undernourished, ill, and have little access to reading material.
Investing in protecting our children from the effects of poverty, rather than on standards and tests, will improve school achievement. We would be feeding the animal, not just weighing it.
Control for poverty:
Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/Bracey-Report. Berliner, D. 2011. The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism, Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., & Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers. Tienken, C. 2010. Common core state standards: I wonder? Kappa Delta Phi Record 47 (1): 14-17. Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012. http://www.epi.org/).
“Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books”: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential; Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership 55(4): 18-22.
Improving the economy ....: Baker, K. 2007. Are international tests worth anything? Phi Delta Kappan, 89(2), 101-104; Zhao, Y. 2009. Catching Up or Leading the Way? American Education in the Age of Globalization. ASCD: Alexandria, VA.; Ananat, E., Gassman-Pines, A., Francis, D., and Gibson-Davis, C. 2011. Children left behind: The effects of statewide job less on student acbievement. NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) Working Paper No. 17104, JEL No. 12,16. http://www.nber.org/papers/w17104
There is no evidence standards and tests have improved student learning: Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v14n1/. OECD. Tienken, C., 2011. Common core standards: An example of data-less decision-making. Journal of Scholarship and Practice. American Association of School Administrators [AASA], 7(4): 3-18. http://www.aasa.org/jsp.aspx.
How much testing: Nonstop testing: Krashen, S. 2012. How much testing? http://dianeravitch.net/2012/07/25/stephen-‐ krashen-‐how-‐much-‐testing/ and: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/
New York City budget: New York Times, "In city schools, tech spending to rise despite cuts," March 30, 2011.
Florida budget: http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/time-hardwire-florida-schools-senate-ed-chairman-says
School nurses: Berliner, 2009 (op. cit.)
Libraries: Krashen, S., Lee, SY, and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is The Library Important? Multivariate Studies at the National and International Level Journal of Language and Literacy Education: 8(1). http://jolle.coe.uga.edu/