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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Just Who Benefits from Educational Uniformity?

The Common Core standards seem to harm the highest performing students as well as those academically below them.  If I am among the 65% failed by the Core in New York State this year, the standards have surely hurt me.  Rather than trying to gradually ease me to a higher level, I and my friends have suffered through shock therapy in order to be labeled as abject failures.  Ironically, a good many reformers put their own children in private schools, shielded from the Core.  Thus, their children need never learn the sad fact that most of them are probably also abject failures.  The standards fail the rest of us.

If I am among the 35% who passed, doubtless, I'm happy, but how do I feel about all the test prep that frames so much of my academic existence?   The tests actually hold me back.  My mind could be stretched further, but so much time has been wasted on pointless test prep to which I and my classmates are subject.  We are bored out of our wits.  The high-stakes standards have failed us, too.

Is it possible that there is some small segment of the population benefiting from the standards?  I spoke with a teacher the other day who told me how happy she was that her child's teacher was implementing the standards by preparing kids to do better on tests.  I mentioned that some learners did not work well under timed pressure and that life is not all about tests.  She disagreed.  So, we agreed to disagree.   

It seems teachers at every level have been asked to sacrifice creativity for uniformity.  In the past few years, we have had uniform "assessments," quarterlies, midterms and finals.  The tests overlap only imperfectly with the scope and depth of topics and ideas covered by any single teacher.  But, I guess, in that way they mirror state tests.  Usually most students pass these tests although there is a sizable contingent that fails.  At the same time, these tests hold back the highest-performing kids.  And, that's a shame.

The fact that we need to focus on tests and test prep greatly limits our ability to teach a rich curriculum.  We are responsible for prepping at just the time when we could be concluding the term with in-depth studies of current events and fun and rewarding projects.  If students are benefiting from the Core, I would be hard-pressed to find many.    

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