Niagara Gazette

January 13, 2014

GUEST VIEW: The core problem with Common Core

By Helen Kress
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — If Common Core curriculum aims to prepare U.S. students to compete with the rest of the world, its design is ruinously flawed. World-class competition is a national goal but the U.S. has always had a locally governed and funded public school system. Common Core may be remembered as one of the worst school reforms in U.S. history. The reason is not because of regulation. Its negative legacy will be because of its deregulation of public education and dodging education law.

Various forms of regulation of curriculum by state and federal governments is as old as public schools. Standardized curriculum and testing within states and by national offices can be found in many books about the history of American schooling. Public schooling was created to teach the next generation what Americans have in common and to teach youngsters core foundational knowledge and skills while allowing for individual creativity to flourish so that citizens can better examine all levels of their governments. Balancing structures and freedoms is the obligation of regulators. Common Core is unbalanced in that it brashly prescribes content developed by a limited number of so-called experts.

Regulating public P-12 schools is what good governments do, as long as they seek a balance that favors freedoms. What else do good governments do to nurture good school learning for the next generation? Governments that want to teach the values of democracy follow procedures that demonstrate democracy. Students and families who experience a democratic life are more likely to help that democracy become even stronger over many generations. If (a big “if”) the goal is to become a stronger democracy. Common Core fails on this measure because it was created only by select advisers at the top levels of educational administrations and education-related businesses.

I have worked for over 20 years as an expert in teacher education and I could easily create a P-12 curriculum for teachers to follow, but I wouldn’t brand it “public.” That’s because such a creation would not be generated or controlled substantially by the public and it wasn’t vetted from its beginnings at the local levels.

No amount of reassurances from political leaders or teacher “professional development” training can make up for the lack of input from the many communities that public schools serve. Education-related businesses will profit from the workshops they offer and materials they sell. Schoolteachers, principals, and school boards will follow the new curriculum because it is a requirement. We are assured by Common Core advocates that families can access the curriculum guidelines on the internet. Consistency and transparency of topics in every state (45 so far) that has adopted these standards may be intended to comfort constituents. This is an even greater comfort to educational consultants and textbook/test publishers who will make money from the new curriculum in 45 states.

Herein lies the deregulation: Common Core guidelines are so commonplace in appearance, consumers don’t realize they are becoming buyers instead of citizens. There will be no need for local school boards when all you need is the websites managed by curriculum publication companies. Who needs a teacher when you can read and test yourself? Success will be limited only by the personal motivation and money to progress individually through the curriculum.

Back to the dilemma of having locally-governed schools and the seemingly new need for global competitiveness. Why not use the local and state levels to discuss how schools are funded? The Bill of Rights includes no federal right to an education. Yet we see the federal (more accurately “corporate”) initiative of Common Core trying to give the appearance of national reform of schooling. A federal right to education would be a move toward true reform and nationwide success. If all other aspects of schooling are equal, testing can be a valid measurement of many core ideas and skills. Common Core may show off to the world that U.S. elementary and secondary schooling is unequal in public control and unfair in funding essential learning resources. 

Helen Kress is a Niagara Falls resident.

Helen Kress is a Niagara Falls resident