This school year will be the first school year in which Montana implements the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for public education grades K-12. The CCSS focus on raising student standards for english language arts and mathematics. These two areas of education are believed by the creators of the Common Core to be the most critical for educating students to become contributing members in society, both in the U.S. and abroad. Although the CCSS will be implemented in Montana’s public education system beginning this school year, the standards are mired with controversy both locally and nationally.
The CCSS website states that the standards “are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to take credit bearing introductory courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce.” However, many opponents of the standards claim that the initiative is only going to promote a “one-size-fits-all” education system. Opponents claim the standards don’t take into account the inherent variations between students, putting them all up to the same challenge and setting up many of them, particularly the lower-performing students, to fail.
In response to this criticism, the CCSS website cites the fact that the standards only mandate what students should know upon completion of each grade level, not how teachers are to teach their students. The standards are meant to simply provide educators with a goal while letting them achieve that goal in whichever way they see fit.
However, critics strike back by stating the fact that the CCSS is a part of Obama’s educational initiative, “Race to the Top,” which means that states that opt-out of the CCSS also face the consequences of potentially missing out on their share of the $4.35 billion set aside for Obama’s educational reform program. Opponents claim that the lure of federal funding puts the same pressure on teachers that Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) campaign created a decade ago. As many educators remember, the NCLB program created high stakes for teachers, who would be fired if their students did not exemplify scores that were high enough. NCLB essentially forced teachers to “teach for the test.”
Although the CCSS are creating a frenzy of controversy across the political and professional spectrum, the real issue lies in the approach Americans have been taking to raise American students’ academic performance. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the No Child Left Behind Act, and now the CCSS aspect of the Race to the Top initiative have all focused on improving students’ performance by raising educational standards and holding teachers accountable for their students’ performance. The worst part of these initiatives is the fact that the most common method of assessing educator accountability has been, and still is, using student scores on standardized tests. Academic progress cannot fully be evaluated by a bubble sheet, and yet that is exactly how it is being evaluated today. When every teacher feels the pressure to “teach for the test” and every student feels the pressure to learn just for the test, education becomes an objective pursuit of “pass or fail” that completely ignores the differences between individual students.
Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This is exactly what American educational reform has always focused on: judging every student by the same standards. Initiatives that try to increase academic performance by making every student jump through the same hoops will only further discourage those students that already struggle with the education system the way that it is. Every student learns in his or her own way, and every student has unique talents that standardized education cannot fully address.
If America wants to raise the academic performance of its youth, it needs to do it from a grass-roots level approach instead of from the top down. The CCSS might be a step forward in improving America’s public education system, but only if it focuses on the differences between students and how they learn. The academic proficiency of students in grade school will not improve just because of a new set of educational standards are implemented, especially if those standards treat every student as if they were the same. The CCSS claims that the standards are meant to help students become well-integrated members of society. But Americans have to wonder, who contributes more to society, the student who learns to think like everyone else, or the student who learns to think differently?
According to a poll conducted May 29-June 20 by Gallup Poll, eight in ten Americans have heard at least a little of Common Core State Standards.