Thursday, May 8, 2014

Communication and the dreaded Common Core

When did you first hear about the Common Core? If you're a parent, when did someone explain to you how the Common Core was implemented in your child's school? Unless you are an ardent supporter of education, you probably never heard of the Common Core outside of news blips or as a parent when you first realized your child's math homework was more confusing than an advanced statistics textbook. A few weeks back, comedian Louis C.K. took to Twitter to rant about what the Common Core was doing to his kids: "My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!" This is a sentiment held by many frustrated parents. But do you know why it is so frustrating?

Regardless of whether you love the new common standards or you hate them, Louis C.K. has opened up a venue to debate it. Here is a man with celebrity clout relaying his frustrations, not as a comedian, but as a parent - who happens to have over 3 million Twitter followers. What was once a topic that occasionally hit the news in blips, the debate about Common Core now explodes from the media outlets. Some people in the media are praising Louis C.K. for pointing out the flaws in Common Core, and some people don't like what they hear because it jeopardizes the implementation of a lofty ideal. The debate is needed, because so much of what makes up the Common Core is still a mystery to many of us.

But of course, who wants to admit there was a mess up somewhere in the planning process. Supporters of the new standards like Michelle Rhee and Newsweek's Alexander Nazaryan were quick to respond to Louis C.K.'s dissatisfaction of the Common Core by trying to dismiss him as unqualified to weigh in. However, a quick Google news search shows an overwhelming amount of sources in support of the comedian's outspoken views. So why isn't the Department of Education listening?
Upset Dad does child's homework

I personally am also frustrated with the Common Core. Not it's ideal, mind you - I believe it is very important for our students to become better prepared for college and the global work force. What makes me mad is the way in which the Common Core (a basic by-product of that other good-idea-gone-bad "No Child Left Behind") was implemented. Education historian and educational policy analyst Diane Ravitch highlighted the rush to implement the new standards in a piece critiquing Newsweek's Nazaryan. In it, she makes a case for poor implementation, and a disconnect between the developers of the common standards and the teachers who must integrate them into the curriculum.

Another point she makes is how the U.S. government directly influences the implementation of the Common Core. By giving funding to states and school districts who adopt the new standards who fail to follow implementation, the Department of Education communicates to states that they must immediately adopt the new standards or lose their money. With funding being the most fought over topic in education, loss of federal funds can deal a huge blow to struggling schools. Accountability aside, is it fair to the students and families of these schools to be punished for a poorly planned, poorly implemented, and poorly communicated program? There is little to no communication between the DoE and educators as to how teachers are expected to implement a hastily developed program with little training and even less funding.

Photo from
According to Ravitch, studies have shown that using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers is ineffective and have the potential to cause more harm. Yet, Washington state recently lost their waiver for "No Child Left Behind" requirements because the state failed to include test scores as a "significant factor in determining teacher and principal performance levels." Again, communication is disconnected here. These studies that Ravitch cites were ignored by education reformers, choosing to listen instead to economists and business experts. Excuse me, but what do economists and business experts know about classroom instruction? These are children: they are firefighters, dragon slayers, NASCAR drivers, princesses, magicians, artists and fashion designers. They are not college students ready to be the next CEO of a major global company.

It boils down to this. Money. Education has become big business for publishing houses like Pearson and McGraw-Hill. Money is to be made in the tech industry as the standardized testing associated with Common Core moves to a computer-based format and online distribution. And what no one seems to talk about is the business of test prep, where new businesses will pop up to "help" struggling schools and struggling students adapt to the new standards by offering classes and consultations and private instruction on how to pass these tests (I highly doubt there will be any assistance in funding and implementing Common Core standards). Money is going everywhere but where it's needed - in classrooms.

So why are there so many parents and teachers frustrated by the Common Core and standardized testing? Because no one is communicating to them why this is important. No one is communicating how to receive training and materials to successfully implement these standards. No one is communicating where the money comes from and goes to. No one is communicating, and it is the most important part of any program to be successful. You can't just ram a project down people's throats and expect them to swallow it ignorantly and get excellent results. Communication also requires listening to feedback, so planners can see what works and what doesn't before it becomes a huge issue. Parents and teachers are frustrated because the powers that be would rather talk AT them than TO them.

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