Sent to The Atlantic (October 18), in response to their “big question” column soliciting opinions about “The Greatest Scam of All Time.” Nominations included Bitcoin, psychics, and Madoff. Here is my suggestion.
Just in case discussion of this “big question” (October, 2014) is not closed, I nominate The Common Core State Standards (abbreviation: CC$$). The CC$$ attempts to solve a problem that does not exist, our so-called failing schools, by imposing what education expert Susan Ohanian describes as “a radical untried curriculum overhaul” and “nonstop national testing."
The major problem in American education is not teaching quality, not a lack of standards or tests, but poverty: The US now ranks 34th in the world out of 35 economically developed countries in child poverty: when researchers control for the effect of poverty, US international test scores are at the top of the world, a clear demonstration that there is nothing seriously wrong with our teachers or our standards. Children of poverty do poorly in school because of the impact of poverty: Poor nutrition, poor health care, and lack of access to books, among other things.
The obvious first step is to improve nutrition through school food programs, improve health care through investing more in school nurses, and improving access to books through investing in school libraries.
Instead, the US government is investing billions in a tougher, more "rigorous" curriculum that has never been field tested for validity (and there are no plans to do so), and instituting an astonishing amount of testing, more than we have ever seen on this planet.
The core of the scam is the requirement that all tests be delivered online. This means billions to make sure all students are connected to the internet with up-to-date computers, billions for constant upgrading and billions for replacement of obsolete equipment, because of never-ending new technologies. There is no evidence, and no plans to gather evidence, showing that this brave new testing will help children. In fact, there is evidence that increasing testing does not increase school achievement.
The computer companies and publishers selling us the common core take no risk: taxpayers pay for everything. Also, the companies can't lose: If student achievement declines, teachers will be blamed, and we will be told that we need even tougher standards and more and higher-tech tests. The scam will continue indefinitely.