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article imageOp-Ed: How the Obama administration will cripple education

By Jay McClung     Oct 16, 2013 in Lifestyle
Even though Congress is trying to put an end to the government shutdown, Americans continue to have concerns with government policies. A particularly pressing concern is the current state of Education and the negative impact of the Common Core Standards.
“The Common Core lights the way along that path; the Common Core standards will help us to ensure that each of our students - regardless of zip code or family income - develops the skills and knowledge needed to graduate college- and career-ready.” That was a quote from John B. King, Jr., the New York State Educational Commissioner as he talked about the state of New York adopting the Common Core Initiative Standards (CCIS). Common Core standards was developed by the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, is supported by the Obama administration, and is funded with money from the Pearson and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations.
The idea behind the CCIS, which has been approved by most states, is to get schools across the country working toward the same education goals. Students will be expected to achieve certain levels of reading and math proficiency at each grade level and they will take a national standardized test to measure their progress. The problem with this scenario is students are being tested and teachers are being evaluated based on material that has never been taught and curricula that is still being written.
While the CCIS is the tree of Evil for education, the roots of the tree undoubtedly belong to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001. NCLB, which is a United States Act of Congress, requires States to develop assessments in basic skills. To receive federal school funding, States must give assessments to all students at selected grade levels. What this means is for all public schools to receive federal funding, all students must take the same test under the same conditions. Supporters of the NCLB Act have said that there is increased accountability for schools and teachers. Critics argued, however, that the focus on standardized testing encouraged teachers to teach a narrow set of skills to increase test performance instead of focusing on helping students grasp a deeper understanding of the curriculum.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools were held accountable for the levels of student performance and this is where the political stupidity shines bright like a flood light. Schools that made great strides were still labeled as "failing" if some students had not made it all the way to a "proficient" level of achievement; this included Special Education and non-English speaking students. Poor planning and inflexibility during test administration ended up violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which states that schools must accommodate disabled students and the violations continue under the current administration.
According to Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, who quoted Marion Brady, in the state of Florida, every student has to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in order for the school to receive state funding. Like nearly any other school in the United States, a school in Orange County, Florida has a student with a disability and he has to take the test. The problem with this scenario is that Michael, the student, is a nine-year-old student who was born prematurely (weighing four pounds) and although he has a brain stem, doctors say that most of his brain is missing. The state of Florida said it wasn’t a problem, an alternative version of the test would be sent which would allow Michael to look at some pictures and describe them. This type of alternative test is common in every state. Unfortunately, Michael is blind. The state of Florida said they would send the Braille version. Michael doesn’t know Braille and it’s unlikely that he will ever be able to learn it. Michael still had to take the test. His test score, a zero, now reflects poorly on the school district, the school, and the teacher. This lack of common sense, however, is just the tip of the iceberg when investigating the Common Core Initiative Standards.
Common Core, much like NCLB, is a one-size-fits-all education policy that assumes every student learns exactly the same. Centrally controlled standards will hurt students’ creativity and learning. An average person, but not a politician, realizes that all students have different learning styles, preferences, and paces. Additionally, teachers will have little control over their classrooms under Common Core. They will comply with standards decided upon by the government. This leaves no room for teachers to be innovative or to meet the unique needs of their students.
Along with the violation of IDEA, Common Core has a big price tag that will be paid by the taxpayers. Julie Borowski reported that the State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington estimates that Common Core will cost the state $300 million while the California Department of Education estimates it will cost $759 million to implement the nationalized standards. The ultimate goal of Common Core is to have every school district follow the same national standards. This will undermine educational quality and choice for schools and teachers. In an interview with Paul Preston, Gretchen Logue of the Missouri Education Watchdog said Common Core is about money for Venture Capitalists, not about the children.
“Just to do (implement) Common Core for one school district in Missouri would be $1 million dollars. These are costs the districts have not budgeted and they don’t know how much it is going to completely cost. Common Core also bypassed state legislators and it bypassed the voters. Unlike No Child Left Behind, which was a Congressional Act, these are mandates that are Stimulus-dollar-funded, so when the Stimulus ends in September 2014, all that money runs out. The standards assessments are copyrighted by the two private organizations, so a school district cannot change the standards, nor can they change the assessments, so you have to teach to the assessments, to the tests, and using the specific curriculum that is aligned to Common Core Standards.”
To address cost of computer infrastructure needed for CCIS, the Obama administration is considering raising taxes on phone lines in order to generate funds for schools to install computerized testing software. Logue also points out that citizens don’t realize that Common Core has never been researched. It’s not evidence-based, it’s not field-tested, and it was never piloted by any school or district. This, as Gretchen reiterates, is a just a theory. Why does the government want states and school districts to spend billions of dollars on a theory? Common Core also violates privacy by “data mining” information on students that will follow them the rest of their lives. The information that will be collected is more than just test scores and academic progress; it will track information religious practices, political beliefs, sex behaviors, attitudes, and more. Students will also be tracked on his or her behavior tendencies. For instance, if a Kindergarten boy is wiggling around in his seat and isn’t making good eye contact, he will be graded down and that information will go in his data set.
This is disturbing. People develop differently and it’s been well documented that boys mature and develop slower than girls. At an early age, girls are good students and boys generally are not. Boys have a lot of testosterone and they need to move around – a lot. It’s difficult for them to sit still and pay attention but it’s this type of behavior that will put into a child’s data set under the Common Core initiative. It’s also important to understand that every child will have a data set. It will follow each child into the work force and it will be merged with data from the Departments of Labor, Health, and any other organizations the Department of Education deems necessary. As it was pointed out, the decision to implement the CCIS was done without insufficient public input or feedback from experienced educators.
The Common Core Standards, just like NCLB, are set-up for national standardized tests. These tests, however, can’t evaluate complex thought, don’t avoid cultural bias, and they can’t measure non-verbal learning. Unfortunately, there is so much attention being given to Common Core Standards and poor student performance, that the main reason for poor student performance is being overlooked: the level of childhood poverty that no amount of school can fix. In the Journal of Developmental Psychology, researchers state that, “Children raised in poverty experience a more limited range of language capabilities.” Standardized intelligence tests also show a correlation between poverty and lower cognitive achievement. Recent statistics state that 16.4 million children in the United States, 22 percent of all children, live in poverty and more than six million of these children were under six years old. Of the 16.4 million poor children, 7.4 million lived in extreme poverty, which is defined as an annual income of less than half the official poverty line ($11,157 for a family of four).
Why are our schools and education systems being lumped together under the Common Core Standards? Our children are not common; everyone is different and has different needs. Schools need to adapt to what the children need and teachers need to teach to the children, not to the test. Should educators be held accountable? Absolutely. Every other profession holds employees accountable. While most of the CCIS tree is evil and poisonous to the country, it does manage to produce some fruit. According to Alan Singer, a Social Studies Educator at Hofstra University, Common Core teachers will become curriculum planners, instead of curriculum planners, by making conscious decisions about what to focus on in each lesson. CCIS also schools promoting vertical and horizontal integration so between grade levels and subjects so that teachers can build on prior student learning. These strategies are undoubtedly beneficial to teachers and students but the Common Core tree is still poisonous.
While data mining, standardized tests, and making every student common is a current hot button in education, one of the most disturbing things about the CCIS is how we will start to move backward in education, particularly in mathematics. Dr. James Milgram, Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University, and Emmett McGroarty, Executive Director of the American Principles Project’s Preserve Innocence Initiative, have been waiving a red flag and sounding an alarm but no one is listening. Well, that’s not completely true; somebody is apparently listening since the states of Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia have yet to adopt the Common Core Standards. Milgram and McGroarty have stated, “One of Common Core’s most glaring deficiencies is its’ handling of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing numbers.” For example, students are not being taught the standard algorithm of two digit addition (I.E. adding the “ones” column and carrying the remainder to the “tens” column) Why are we teaching students to do it this way? It doesn’t give students a “deeper conceptual understanding” of what they’re doing.
Doing things differently is not wrong but as Milgram and McGroarty have stated, the use of student-constructed algorithms is opposite with the practices of high-achieving countries and it is not supported by research. CCIS is also presenting geometry in a non-research based method. Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise since the entire CCIS is non-research based. The only other country that attempted to teach geometry this way was the old USSR and they quickly abandoned it. Along with the geometry gaff, Common Core only covers most (not all) of the standard Algebra I expectations, some parts of Geometry, and some parts of Algebra II. There is nothing beyond Algebra II. The most disturbing part of the Mathematics Common Core Standards, however, is the minimal amount of material high school students need before entering the work force for an entry-level job or to enroll in a community college.
This lack of planning and structure will only prepare students to enter a community college setting, not a University or four-year college setting. If you have your doubts or if you think I am spinning this a certain way, you need only to hear the self -admission of Dr. Jason Zimba.
Dr. Zimba, a professor at Bennington College and one of the chief drafters of the Common Core math standards, told the Massachusetts State Board of Education that low-level workforce-development is the goal of Common Core and that Common Core is designed to prepare students only for a non-selective community college, not a University. Sandra Stotsky, a professor at the University of Arkansas and served on the committee to validate Common Core standards agrees with Dr. Zimba. “The standards dumb American education down by about two grades worth,” Stotsky said.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration would rather deflect the evidence, proof, and testimony that the Common Core Standards is poisonous instead of addressing the problems. Michelle Rhee, the former teacher turned administrator and current back scratcher for President Obama’s administration, told CNN during an interview, “On international tests, the U.S. ranks 27th from the top.” What Ms. Rhee neglects to tell the nation is that unlike the other countries, America tests every student, even the disadvantaged – the mentally disabled, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the transient, the troubled, and those whom English is a second language. When the tests are complete, the scores are lumped together and schools are evaluated.
It’s becoming more apparent that the Obama Administration is developing an era of surveillance that would make Orwell proud. However, data mining and indexing students’ income, religious affiliation, blood type, homework completion, cultural awareness, and competence crosses a line. The administration’s support of the Common Core Initiative Standards is preparing to set our education system back a couple of years. Taxpayers will feel the brunt of these decisions with a significant increase of costs coming in four areas: textbooks/instructional materials, professional development, assessments, and technology. One investigation of the CCIS change estimates a $16 billion bill for taxpayers. Additional costs will likely be added if school districts are unable to update their technology so that open-ended questions (short answer questions) can be scored on standardized tests and assessments. All of this comes at a time where school districts across the United States are making budget cuts and freezing salaries. Yes, changes need to be made in education and teachers need to be held accountable but not at the expense of giving up personal privacy, moving our children backwards in school, or forcing tax payers to spend millions and millions of dollars.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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