LegitSlater: Common Core Has No Place in ND

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been a hot topic recently both in state and across the nation as a whole. Several states have either dropped out of, or are considering dropping out of, the CCSS; and bills calling for North Dakota to withdraw will likely be considered during the 2015 session.

Opposition to CCSS is not new news, and has been covered here extensively on SAB. The latest dissatisfaction is reflected in a survey conducted by DPI regarding the standards for science which Rob wrote about earlier today. Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics were surveyed back in 2011, back when relatively few outside the education establishment had heard of CCSS. While those survey results are not available on the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction website, it is safe to guess that those surveys had far fewer responses from parents than the one for science (which ran from April through June of this year) simply because the implementation of the CCSS has flown under the radar in our state (and the country for that matter) until recently.

The survey on science standards was horrendous for lack of a better description, and I would venture to say that the survey reflects more overall concerns with CCSS as a whole than just the standards for science. This is simply because it is the first time a thermometer was offered to measure the temperature of all concerned (parents, teachers, administrators, taxpayers, etc.) at a time when CCSS was more widely known about — and also understood for what it is. CCSS is simply the greatest disruption to K-12 education our nation has seen since the federal government first inserted itself (or bribed itself due to the large amounts of funds given in exchange for complying with one size fits all rules)  into what ultimately should be a local responsibility.

CCSS proponents are fond of saying “but they are just standards”. What is conveniently left out of this statement is that standards set the stage for everything else to follow, such as curriculum, materials, and of course standardized testing. Standards for standards sake may or may not be a bad thing, but it is the things that follow those standards that have been a concern for many parents (and a growing number of teachers). Standardization also loses sight of an important fact– no child is the same, and each has unique talents and challenges which need to be further enhanced and developed (resp.) on an individual basis. There has been an infatuation with standards-based measurements in K-12 education ever since the federal government butted into this local responsibility, which has resulted in a continuous string of flavor-of-the-month initiatives under both Republican and Democratic Administrations. These initiatives have only excelled at wasting a lot of tax dollars and letting our kids down. And while it is true on the surface that CCSS is not a federal program, it has taken on the color of one by allowing states to opt out of No Child Left Behind if they opt in to CCSS.

The concerns surrounding CCSS are numerous; too much so to cover in the length of a normal SAB article, but I’ll highlight a few:

  • Standardized Testing will result in an environment which teaches the test instead of one of educating the child. It always has and always will.
  • Data Collection. Standardized testing results of our kids is fed into a system called the Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) under CCSS. It sounds harmless enough on the surface, but along with the test scores goes tremendous amounts of personal information which would be a treasure trove for identity thieves, as well as mental health and medical information which is of no ones business except for the parents of the child. The federal government does not have a good track record protecting personal information stored in databases, or as seen with the NSA, for invading such databases when it suits their needs for purposes outside those stated for SLDS.
  • Expensive. In order for schools to teach a test which measures the one size fits all standards to be reported via SLDS, tremendous reinvestment in “Common Core Approved” materials has and will need to take place. While it is true the appearance of local control is in place through allowing school districts to pick their curriculum and course materials, the fact remains that in order to teach a test you have to ensure the curriculum and materials support such instruction. Textbook companies (and testing consortia for that matter) have of course risen to this artificially-driven demand in the market– at the expense of taxpayers.
  • Disincentive to innovation in education and individualization of instruction. With a “teach the test” approach, CCSS provides no real motivation to teachers and districts to innovate new instructional methods. It also provides them, and students, with no incentive to develop gifted children (regardless of subject) as the focus is instead on trying to ensure all students can meet a bare minimum — which of itself is an impossible task. CCSS expert Dr. Duke Pesta (see video below) stated it best when asking that if you can’t get every child in one household to perform at the same level in every subject; how do you expect to get every child in a school, district, state, and nation to do the same? You can’t, but we are going to try again anyways.
  • Unproven. There is little to no proof CCSS will move the needle towards helping educate the next generation to be more ready for higher learning and the workplace.  Yet 45 states (originally; many are dropping CCSS or are considering it) are embarking in an untested program, betting the future of our children that it will hopefully work. Gambling has no place when it comes to the futures of the next generation.

If you want to learn more about CCSS from a leading critic, Dr. Duke Pesta, I invite you to watch the below video of a talk he conducted in Bismarck in May. It is a little over an hour and a half, but worth the time invested (wish I would have seen it in person).

Everyone has a stake in the education of our children; be you a parent, educator, or taxpayer. In the meantime, the best thing North Dakota can do for our kids is take advantage of our tremendous economic situation by severing ties with the federal government when it comes to K-12 education, and return true local control to our districts by taking control back from the feds as a state. There is little probability the US Department of Education will be abolished anytime soon, but we can leverage our prosperity by removing ourselves from it’s control via grant requirements. The legislature missed a tremendous opportunity to take a step towards getting the federal government out of North Dakota education when it failed to take up SCR 4012 for study in the interim session. They should not make the same mistake twice.

North Dakota must also drop out of Common Core, or at a minimum, hold off on further implementation of it until other states have a chance to prove or disprove its worth. Similar to any other federally-stamped education program, it is a safe bet the latter will be the case based on past performance of such programs. In the meantime, North Dakota educators and parents should work together on standards (hopefully individually based ones instead of collectively based as we have now), curriculum, and coursework which is best for North Dakota kids– education that will make us the envy of 49 other states rather than education that just follows the crowd towards failing our kids. We have excellent educators and dedicated parents, and to say we can’t do better on our own than what CCSS offers is an insult to both.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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