November 2013

Line in the Sand: Common Core?

Author: Frank Dunne Jr., Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Frank Dunne, JR.
I was caught a little off guard when Maggie and Miss C threw Common Core on the table, because I didn’t know anything about it at the time. Common Core? What’s that? Some new Pilates modality? Nevertheless, Courtney’s enthusiasm to take the thumbs up side provided my first clue that it’s got to be something awful. I jumped online and learned that Common Core is some sort of federal education standards initiative. I also learned that President Obama is a supporter. I could end it right there, because that’s all the evidence you need to know something’s a stupid idea, but since I’m supposed to make a whole column out of it I’d better keep writing.

So, here’s what I found out. Common Core sets common educational achievement standards for all students across the fruited plain with the stated objective—and I’m paraphrasing—of preparing kids for college and careers and returning America to her vaunted status as the global leader in just about everything. Oooh! Doesn’t that sound just peachy? Of course it does. Too bad it’s a bunch of B.S.

How do we know it’s a bunch of B.S.? Answer: it’s a federal program, and what do we know about federal programs?
a) The stated objective is a lie intended to distract you from the actual intent.
b) The stated objective is never met and the program worsens the problem that it is purported to resolve.

c) When the program, by design, inevitably fails to achieve the stated objective, the responsible government trolls are rewarded; people who have nothing to do with it—or tried to stop it in the first place—get blamed, and the program receives more taxpayer money.
d) The cycle repeats itself and the program becomes a self-perpetuating money pit for eternity.
e) The People suffer.

Common Core is no different, except that it is especially sinister because the youth of America are its primary victims. Mind you, the people behind this thing are the same gang who oppose school choice, i.e., charter schools, private schools and home schooling, where students on average overwhelmingly outperform their public school counterparts. Since Common Core is driven by the U.S. Department of Non-Education, let’s take a look at their record. According to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study of student performance by country, U.S. students rank 33rd in reading, 27th in math and 22nd in science. That’s abysmal. These clowns turned our education system into the laughing stock of the developed world, and now we’re turning to them to administer academic standards for all? C’mon Man!

Stanford University mathematics professor James Milgram sat on an expert panel convened to validate Common Core. He refused to sign off on the standards, asserting that the Common Core math scheme would place American students two years behind their peers in high-achieving countries. Other members of the Validation Committee offered similar comments. Professor Jonathan Goodman of New York University described Common Core math standards as imposing “significantly lower expectations with respect to algebra and geometry than the published standards of other countries.” Software architect and electrical engineer Ze’ev Wurman, who has served as a math advisory expert on state and national levels, had this to say: “I believe the Common Core marks the cessation of educational standards improvement in the United States. No state has any reason left to aspire for first-rate standards, as all states will be judged by the same mediocre national benchmark enforced by the federal government.”

Whew! Such ringing endorsements! And we haven’t even touched reading and science.

Wurman also hinted at a hidden agenda, noting that teachers unions and other professional teacher associations have a vested interest in lowering accountability standards for their members. I agree, and I’ll take it a step further. The frightening reality is that Common Core is nothing but a dark scheme to put all American youngsters on the same fast track to illiteracy, ignorance, and mediocrity or abject failure. Why on earth would anybody do that? Because we know who’s really behind this and why—at least those of us who pay attention—and an illiterate, uninformed, desperate populace is a populace that votes Democratic. Perhaps they should change their name to Dumbocrats.

Courtney Hampson
I do not have children, so I can’t argue on behalf of my child. But I can argue on behalf of yours. For the last decade, I have welcomed more than a thousand college freshmen into my speech communication classroom. Each semester it pains me—and frustrates me—as I witness the great divide among students. A college freshman should know how to cite sources, how to write an outline, how to conduct scholarly research (and understand what scholarly research means. Hint: it isn’t Google.), how to arrive on time, how to stay awake for 50 minutes, how to not look at his or her iPhone for those same 50 minutes, how to complete homework by the due date, how to read a chapter and comprehend the contents, how to type an essay, how to double-space that essay, how to listen… but many don’t.

While thinking about this article, I went into my classroom and simply asked, “How many of you felt prepared when you stepped into your first college course? Only 50 percent of them raised their hands. That statistic is enough to raise an eyebrow, but not a surprise to me. My students have been batting 500, at best, in the preparation department. (Don’t worry, I whip them into shape.)

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics. The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit-bearing entry courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce. The standards are clear and concise to ensure that parents, teachers, and students understand the expectations in reading, writing, speaking, listening, language and mathematics in school.

If Common Core works, it can level the playing field for students. Your brilliant child (yes you, with the “My Kid is an Honor Student” sticker on the back of your minivan) can continue to excel. The kids who struggle may still struggle, but the Common Core initiative will work to prepare them for the next step and ensure that they are ready to take that next step, which may include walking into my classroom.

Let me tell you a story.
Last semester I had a student whom I’ll call Joe. Joe was taking my Speech Communication class at USCB. The Speech Communication course is designed to make the student an accomplished and confident public speaker and to acquaint the student with a variety of speech forms and oral grammar.

Realizing that college isn’t going to be like high school can be a shock to an 18-year-old’s system, but Joe took it all in stride and understood the expectations set forth. Joe sat in the front row, asked questions often, contributed to class discussions, and completed all of his coursework on time, but really struggled with trying to connect with his audience a.k.a. his classmates. Joe had an obsession with video games. For every speech he delivered, he would choose a topic somehow related to video games, so he was becoming predictable, and the awkwardness was palpable. I struggled with how to connect with Joe and help him understand.

As we neared the end of the semester, my students were preparing their persuasive speeches. This is the culminating speech—the skills and theory that I have taught them to this point become the building blocks for persuasive brilliance.

Joe, again, was dead-set on persuading the audience to play video games, which was met with moans and groans during his audience analysis. As my “kids” worked in groups to refine their topics, I heard a young lady, whom I’ll call Sue say to Joe, “You have autism, don’t you?” To which Joe replied, “Yes, how do you know? Sue went on to talk about an educational psychology course she was taking, and I stood there feeling like an idiot. There are no IEPs in college, so I had received no heads-up on Joe or any special accommodations he might need to be successful in my class.

But, this was an “aha moment.” Could it have been the Common Core standards in high school that prepared Joe so well to enter a college classroom? Joe’s revelation that he had autism was a barrier breaker for the entire class, and as a group, we were able to focus with Joe on developing a successful persuasive speech (which is where our time should be spent). He delivered a speech on the educational benefits of video games and received a standing ovation from his classmates and tears from me.

Where would Joe be without Common Core?
College students are paying tuition to receive a “higher education,” but in reality, I have to re-teach half of them core high school curriculum elements in order for them to be able to complete my assignments. What about the kids who choose not to go to college? How are they going to enter the job force without these basic skills? Could that be your kid? Do you want fries with that?

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article