Our public schools went through a significant change during the Obama years, a change that was met with an unusual amount of criticism from the public, parents, and concerned education professionals. Among the most frequently repeated complaint was that the new program, Common Core, had not been sufficiently tested before being released and implemented in classrooms throughout the United States, despite pleas from education professionals and parents that it needed further studies.
Parents, teachers, and education professionals who identified problems were ignored by the Obama administration and the NEA (National Education Association), both of which were strong advocates of the new system. Hence, Common Core was inserted in classrooms across America. The organization behind its implementation claimed that having a consistent national set of standards was important to US education, that these new standards would improve the educational outcome of students. That may be true, but they ignored many credible, worthwhile arguments, one of which was made by our Forefathers who wisely warned of the dangers of a federal government interfering with education issues. They advocated instead that each state be responsible for developing its own education program.
Failure of Common Core
The Common Core Standards were officially launched in 2009. The 2016 high school graduating class was then in fifth grade. Thus, this experiment has been in our schools long enough now to discern if it has achieved its promise to greatly improve student performance.
In Fall 2015, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tested a representative sample of high school seniors in the 2016 graduating class. After seven years of Common Core curriculum and assessment, the NAEP tests showed a depressing result. The average performance of high school seniors dropped in math and failed to improve in reading. Even worse, while scores improved for students in the highest percentile group in reading, they dropped in reading and math for students in the lower percentiles. The number of students scoring below “basic” in both subjects also increased from 2013. These were the students that Common Core and the high-stakes testing regime were supposedly designed to help the most.
Test scores for students in 4th and 8th grades likewise showed a similar decline in math. Terry Mazany, chairman of the governing board for the test, called these results “worrisome.” Fairfield University Professor and Network for Public Education Board member Yohuru Williams argues that the NAEO tests are manifestly unfair to the neediest children. They feed into the rhetoric that there is racial determinism in American society that tends to close doors of opportunity for Black and Latino children.
The facts clearly indicate Common Core has failed the specific objectives its authors tried to achieve, largely because the real problems were ignored. Much like a magician who tricks his subjects by distracting them away from the subject, Common Core tricked the public into believing changing our education standards was the answer to more successful educational outcomes for minorities, when the real problems were ignored, such as poverty, one parent families, both parents working long hours, gang involvement, under-performing teachers, and Teacher Unions protecting bad teachers at the expense of needy students.
There is no doubt Common Core Standards and Common Core aligned assessments failed to transform American schools and increase test percentages, but even more depressing is they failed their intended goal of helping the most vulnerable among us. It is interesting to note the media has not given this subject much attention.
New 2015 Education Concept: "Skills for Social Success"?
In 2015, a new concept for educating our children was introduced when the OECD published a three-year study entitled “Skills for Social Progress." The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) spans back to 1960, when 18 European countries, plus the United States and Canada, joined forces to create an organization dedicated to economic development. Its mission was to promote policies that would improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. It's membership now numbers 35 countries which span the globe.
The purpose of the research was to examine cognitive and non-cognitive skills (literacy, academic achievement tests, and grades) which can have a particularly strong effect on higher education attendance and employment. Social and emotional skills—such as perseverance, self-esteem, and sociability—can have particularly strong effects on staying in college, being healthier, being bullied less, and reporting more happiness. While research to improve our quality of education is useful, our children should never be used for experimental new programs, especially on a scale as large as Common Core, which was a nation-wide effort. Particularly problematic was that Common Core, under Obama, largely bribed states to accept the new education program by agreeing to forgive a previous agreement regarding “No Child Left Behind,” another federally funded education system that did not meet the expectations of its authors or the schools that accepted it.
ESSA and Testing Mandates
It was in December of 2015 that Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), that replaced the often criticized No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). ESSA, in contrast to NCLB, signified a clear move away from federally prescribed standards. In fact, ESSA expressly forbid federal regulators from attempting to “influence, incentivize, or coerce” states to adopt the Common Core.
Many states have been using the ACT or the SAT tests to meet federally mandated testing requirements, while concurrently preparing their students for college admissions. That the College Board is tied to common core-aligned SAT testing is troubling and assures that Common Core-aligned SAT and ACT are destined to remain prime candidates for these high stakes tests leading to profitable statewide assessment testing contracts
However, it is not just the standards that have caused many parents concern, it is also about the effectiveness of the Common Core curriculum, especially mathematics which has parents even more upset than the students. Parents have also complained about the excessive and inappropriate teaching of sex education at earlier ages and in a far more explicit way than in the past or required at their age. These are reasons why more parents are homeschooling their children.
Few deny that our schools have gone through an intensive transformation in the past decade and that our schools no longer teach important historical facts about our amazing beginning or how we became the most prosperous nation in the World. How will our youth know the important facts about our Constitution and Bill of Rights if they are not taught in our schools?
Bloated and Ineffective Department of Education
Perhaps the solution to our children’s and nation’s academic success is to abide by our Forefather’s wisdom that individual states decide what is best for their children, not the Federal government. The combination of concerned and involved parents, talented teachers, wise school administrators, and an informed public all working together would be a big step forward. Many Conservatives also question why the Department of Education, created in 1979, has now become a sprawling bureaucracy with 153 programs, 5,000 employees, and an annual budget of approximately $70 billion, reversing the years when the federal government left education almost entirely in the hands of the state and local government.
On the same day the Senate confirmed President Trump’s Secretary of Education pick, Betsy DeVos, by a historically narrow margin, Kentucky Republican Congressman Thomas Massieintroduced legislation to abolish the Department of Education. Massie believes that policymakers at the state and local levels should be responsible for education policy, instead of a federal agency that was erected in 1980. While Massie was probably just scoring some political points, abolishing the Department of Education is a favorite idea of Republicans, including President Trump. While elimination is unlikely, it’s also not impossible, according to Alexander Holt, a former a policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. Former President Reagan called for dismantling the Department of Education, along with the Department of Energy, but that proposal ultimately never came to fruition.
Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos
Betsy DeVos has made school choice and reducing the role of the federal government in education two of her priorities. She also is working toward fulfilling President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign promise to finally and totally end Common Core.
A brief excerpt of prepared remarks by Secretary Betsy De Vos to the American Enterprise Institute on January 16, 2018 more fully explain her ideas for our children’s education future.
"When it comes to education – and any other issue in public life – those closest to the problem are always better able to solve it. Washington bureaucrats and self-styled education "experts" are about as far removed from students as possible and yet continually overextend themselves time and time again with proposed changes. Educators do not need engineering from Washington. Parents do not need prescriptions from Washington. Students do not need standards from Washington."
Maybe there is some hope on the horizon, but for now it is wise for parents to carefully watch what is being taught in their children’s classrooms today, and equally important … what they are not being taught.