Rethink Common Core

The governor and leaders of the General Assembly responded to the concerns of school administrators and teachers last week by agreeing to scale back a cumbersome and unnecessary evaluation system for teachers. If the change receives federal approval, administrators wouldn’t have to spend pointless hours in the classroom observing even their best teachers and teachers wouldn’t have to waste time on forms and other red tape when they should be focusing on lesson plans and student learning.

The change comes after criticism of the evaluation system and the new Common Core standards dominated statewide forums held by the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

“I am not seeing the value,” Wallingford teacher Ken Daly said of the evaluation system at a recent forum covered by the Connecticut Mirror. Like most teachers, Daly has spent too much time on paperwork this school year for his evaluation. “The more time we spend spinning our wheels, the less time we have (to focus on) improving,” he said.

The governor needs the support of organized labor in his bid for re-election, so it’s no surprise criticism from teachers got his attention. But legitimate concerns over the state’s education reform strategy go beyond onerous teacher evaluations.

With the recent rollout of Common Core standards, the public at large is getting its first look at this top-down, testing-driven approach to improving student performance, and they don’t like it. Conservatives, worried about what it will mean for the long tradition of local control over education, are joining the teachers’ unions in opposition. House Republicans last week called for a public review of Common Core during the next legislative session. Of course, it should be noted that Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed an agreement in 2009 to develop the standards. Common Core has been very much a bipartisan initiative, with some of its strongest support coming from Democrats like President Obama and Malloy.

But that doesn’t make it good policy.

The standards were devised by a non-educator, David Coleman, working for the National Governors’ Association with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Coleman’s background is in textbook publishing and testing. He’s the president of the College Board, which designs the SAT and Advanced Placement tests – so naturally Common Core revolves around testing.

The new standards for English are supposed to better prepare students for the real world by having them read more non-fiction and less literature, even though tackling great works of literature teaches them to analyze and read between the lines. Proponents of the standards claim they will also better prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math, but they’ll actually do quite the opposite, as Sandra Stotsky, a former member of Common Core’s validation committee, wrote in a recent op-ed. The standards ignore the kind of advanced math – trigonometry and precalculus – you really need to take in high school if you want a STEM career. Ironically, states like Massachusetts and California did have standards for precalculus before Common Core.

But the greatest threat posed by Common Core is it’s failure to acknowledge that all students learn differently, and that teachers need the flexibility and support to continue reaching them.

Reach Managing Editor/News Eric Cotton at ecotton@record-journal.com or (203) 317-2344. Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3.



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