Education is the one topic that never seems to be at the top of the list of issues during each election cycle. It’s always a blip on the screen, barely mentioned at all. Yet, during each Presidency since at least Clinton, there has been a major education bill passed and signed into law. Most recently, the very unpopular No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 was replaced by the Every Child Succeeds Act (ECSA) of 2015, much of the most unfavorable parts, including the massive testing requirements, of the NCLB was carried over into the ECSA. All of these new laws expanded the current system in some way, but none of them fundamentally changed the way we educate.
George Wood once stated, “The broad goal of NCLB is to raise the achievement levels of all students, especially underperforming groups, and to close the achievement gap that parallels race and class distinctions.” He points out that the legislation’s purpose was to address the failing school epidemic by forcing schools to focus on “improving test scores for all groups of students” and that this would give parents “more educational choices” and ensure “better-qualified teachers.”
So instead of actually improving the system, legislators chose to test kids into a coma, only pointing out the degree to which they were behind, and offering no real solutions to the problem. Of course, federal dollars were attached to the bill, but again there were no solutions attached to those dollars. So for 14 years, educators, parents, and teachers continued on the path of testing, testing, testing but never creating a real solution.
Then came ECSA. When you read the description of the law on the Department of Education’s website (linked in the first paragraph above), it seems like a great attempt at changing education for the better. But, there were two words that consistently popped out at me: Accountability and Grants. Accountability is achieved by continuing the rigorous testing and using those scores as part of teacher evaluations. And now, stories of teachers intimidating students by telling them they will fail if they don’t pass the tests. Grants were provided as the reward, providing money for those schools with acceptable test scores, and holding “failing” schools accountable by withholding money.
MONEY! MONEY! MONEY! No meaningful strategies, no meaningful solutions, just money.
In 2009, a bunch of bureaucrats and lawmakers agreed upon a new set of standards, The Common Core State Standards Initiative, “real-life learning goals,” as the CCSSI claims. Not a fundamental change, but it was, at the very least, an attempt to establish milestones, regardless of where the child was being educated.
Many parents and states are firmly against the new standards; it was new and different than anything they learned in school and it’s perceived by some as federal government oversight on a state issue. We all know people do not like change. So, under pressure from parents, elected school boards rejected the change, as did many elected governors and legislators who backed them up. But, again, federal dollars were attached to the adoption of the new standards. If a “failing” school failed to implement the standards as prescribed by the DOE, federal dollars would be withheld. Again, MONEY! This didn’t sit well with many states because, after all, that’s their tax dollars being dangled in front of them. So instead of opting out of the new standards altogether, states began to rename the new standards, thinking parents wouldn’t realize.
We can all debate the efficacy and educational worth of Common Core. What doesn’t seem debatable is the implementation of such a massive change. We took 5th graders and introduced a building block model, where they had no foundation. We basically threw them into the swimming pool and said “sink or swim” without ever teaching them how to float first. Maybe a better analogy is giving your child a lego set to build the Empire State Building and telling him to start on the 5th floor.
Then, we gave them a series of tests, but instead of giving the teachers the tools and resources to help complete the set, we told (ok, actually Arne Duncan told) parents, “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were!” And still, no solutions have been offered to fill the obvious gap that Common Core created…except summer school as punishment to failing these arbitrary tests.
Common Core and the new ECSA have a common theme repeated throughout: “College and Career Ready.” We are telling parents of kindergartners that their child must know x,y, to be “College and Career Ready,” never once taking into consideration that not all kids will want, need, or are even capable of going directly on to college. A prediction that couldn’t possibly be known in Kindergarten and in many, if not most, cases it’s not even predictable until High School. Requiring kids to be “College and Career Ready” really is only beneficial to those who go on to college because the current standards fail to address the “career” part. Even more importantly, the standards fail to address “Life Ready” skills.
What solutions can we implement? Should we open the system up to competition and support the right of parents to opt-out of the system and take their tax dollars elsewhere, whether that means private school, charter, or homeschool? Should we give kids an alternative path to being career ready? Should we implement a completely different education model that is tailored to the educational needs of the individual instead of the collective “one-size-fits-all” model? America is no longer in the industrial revolution and the current system is no longer effective or efficient for the 21st century. Fundamental change is not only needed, it is imperative to being “Life Ready.”