We have been hearing a great deal lately about Common Core and the federal requirements. The fact is Common Core is NOT a federal program. It was established by the governors or 45 states because they wanted a common core of curriculum standards for all states to be tested on. The need for a common core and a common test was brought about by No Child Left Behind that requires that children be tested in every grade 1-8 and then again in English, math and science in grade 10. As you might imagine, since the federal law defined testing but not the test, the quality of the different tests varied dramatically. Some governors were being skewered because their test was hard and scores not so good. At the same time governors in other states were looking like champs because their easier tests were producing higher results. However, the law did require that all kids- and I mean ALL kids- be on grade level by 2014. Anyone with a functioning brain knew that could not happen given the range of abilities of children and the lack of definition regarding just exactly is grade level.
So before the crisis reared its ugly head, the US Office of Education allowed states to request a waiver from that requirement. No big surprise, almost all states did.
Now comes the Common Core. Race to the Top, the Obama administration's playing card in education, allowed states to apply for money for schools. Unlike No Child Left Behind, the program was voluntary. Many states applied and got mucho money. The big chink in the works is that one of the requirements for getting money was linking teacher evaluation to some achievement test scores. It seemed logical to use the tests that were being developed to support Common Core. But those tests are being developed by regional organizations and will be different from region to region. Common Core itself does NOT require testing, it is merely a listing of curriculum benchmarks.
Local school districts are developing curriculum to go with Common Core. Teachers have had little to no experience with the new content and are rebelling at the thought of being evaluated based on how well their students do on the new tests that are supposed to be matched to the new curriculum.
Legislators are getting into the issue. They are famous for wanting to do something about an issue they know nothing about. Makes it a lot easier to come up with a magical solution. Some GOP legislators in the House of Representatives have a bill that would bar the US Office of Education from coercing the states to adopt Common Core. Clearly these folks have paid no attention to the origins of Common Core since the program was originated BY the states.
Is Common Core a good program? Maybe. Most educators agree that the standards are well beyond the neurological developmental levels of very young children. So that will eventually make them irrelevant to elementary aged kids. If this issue sounds like a re-run of all kids on grade level by 2014- well it does to me at least. You cannot teach children or insist on their learning until they are neurologically ready. Edict does not work.
But if it makes the GOP Representatives feel like they are responding to the people by insisting that the US Office of Education not coerce the states- well fine. What would really be good is if we skipped the whole thing and went back to old school, where curriculum was developed by the states and local school districts based on community needs. Now there's a great idea. As far as testing is concerned, there really should be a better way to figure out what kids have learned. Maybe they could demonstrate it!