There And Back Again: Post-Common Core education goals need to be more than a change in name, administration

perspectives

hafsacolumnpThe story of Common Core in Indiana is about flip-flops. Back in 2010, Indiana was among the first states to implement the national standards, which promised to improve American students’ chances in an increasingly competitive world. Four years later, we are the first state to drop out. Hoosiers on both sides of the political aisle rallied in support of standards created by Indiana for Indiana schools. Yet according to the Indy Star, education experts now say that the replacement standards look awfully similar to the ones we have right now.

All this back-and-forth proves that we can’t improve the state of education in Indiana without actually understanding the goals and methods we’re trying to implement. If we don’t, we end up only with nominal victories, without real change. Too much of the conversation about the Common Core standards has nothing to do with education at all. Instead, it rehashes old arguments about federal overreach and intrusion on private lives by the Obama administration. It asserts the need for Indiana to set and implement its own education goals without addressing if and how Indiana will do anything differently. 

But the fact is, it won’t make a difference. Whether Indiana’s education standards are determined by the state or national government will not matter if the standards do not work. And the standards don’t work, especially not the way we implement them currently. On paper, the Common Core standards don’t sound that bad—they are fairly rigorous and they tend to emphasize skills over content memorization. But the standards aren’t just goals, and the tests they produce don’t just determine how well students meet these standards. When standards-based tests decide which schools are failing and which teachers are fired, the standards become test outlines. They increase focus on testable skills rather than practical ones—for example, emphasizing cold reads over reading in context. They become the most that a teacher can cover, rather than the least a student should know. They were meant to be baselines, but they become brick walls. 

These problems are inherent in any standards-based education model. So while opponents of Common Core decry its inability to meet individual states’ needs, they ignore the fact that any evaluation based on standards, federal or otherwise, cannot accurately measure the effectiveness of a school’s teaching process. There are too many other factors that determine a student’s success, the most critical being poverty, which is undeniably correlated to lower achievement. As an educational method, standards don’t even begin to address these factors, but somehow, they have become our sole focus, as though no other program will work. 

Whichever replacement standards Indiana develops, however distinct from Common Core, won’t be the solution we really need. The Common Core standards were meant to level the playing field between American students and their international competitors, but America is only falling behind when we include the poor, the disadvantaged, the struggling students into our average test scores. These students won’t be helped by more standards or different standards or any standards at all. They will be helped by research-based teaching innovation, by teacher training that responds to students with disabilities, by early health and education programs that catch disadvantaged students before they stumble. The solutions for education in the state and nation are out there; we just aren’t looking at them. 

The views in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the HiLite staff. Reach Hafsa at hrazi@hilite.org.

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