Tuesday, April 15, 2014
An Open Letter to "Stand for Children"
To whom it may concern,
While I was recently supporting an online petition on Change.Org I was presented with another petition that the website thought I might like; your petition to support Common Core in Arizona. I am writing to inform you that, regrettably, I cannot and will not support your petition in this case. While I do agree with the mission statement of your organization and your stated goals, I believe that this particular course of action is a mistake. Common Core does have a more modernized set of standards than what is currently being used in Arizona, yes. However, it also treats all education as a one-size-fits-all, assembly line approach that has not been working very well for the last 100 years. Taking an approach that isn't working and changing the color of the product that the factory produces still does not begin to repair the problem.
The education system in America is beset with challenges; administration who mis-allocate funds, publishers who overcharge for textbooks, a diminished literacy rate among schoolchildren, behavior problems, violence, drugs, a high teacher turnover rate, and not enough resources for the teachers to effectively do their jobs. The NCLB Act has already been highly detrimental to our education system. Instead of allowing teachers the freedom to teach lessons in a way that children understand and in a manner that will develop children's cognitive thinking processes, we binding teachers to a very narrow curriculum with a high degree of specificity. And, to ensure that the teachers are teaching exactly what is prescribed by administration more and more states are tying teacher's annual pay raises directly to how well their classes perform on standardized tests. The adoption of the Common Core curriculum will not improve this problem. In fact, I would argue that it makes it worse as it locks teachers into a prescribed curriculum even more. Students today are being taught to the tests. They are learning the answers to the specific test questions through pure rote memorization at the expense of cognition and higher level thinking. We don't need robots running the country when we are old and grey, we need thinkers, intellectuals, inventors, renaissance men...none of these would be created by spoon feeding a prescribed curriculum to the students.
The vehicle that is public education in America is broken. The "education reform" plan that is common core will not repair this breakdown. At best it would replace one tire on the car when all four are flat, and even then there's no guarantee that the new tire will be inflated. Many proponents of education reform wish to simply throw more money at the problem, but that's not the answer. The US Public Education is already the most expensive education in the world, and compared to other G8 countries it's a shining example of confident mediocrity. We are losing new teachers faster than ever before in history, with 50% of new teachers quitting within the first 5 years. That fact, right there, should be a deafening alarm bell that we are doing something drastically wrong. I challenge you to name another professional vocation where people are required to have at least a Bachelor's degree as a minimum requirement to be employed with a turnover rate as high as this. We are losing competent qualified teachers at a much faster rate than we can replace them. They are retiring, taking their years of wisdom with them or they are young and intelligent, but have decided that this job. as much as they love it, is simply not worth the hassle that is imposed upon them by bureaucracy.
There are many, many ways to change the education system. The most effective way would be a complete overhaul of everything we do from the top down, including the notion that summative assessments are a requirement for determining if our children are learning anything, that antiquated notion has to go. We need to develop student's critical thinking abilities. We need find a way to retain the new teachers that are coming into this noble profession by providing them with support, resources, and development opportunities rather than throwing them to the wolves. We need to put legislative pressure and public pressure on the administrators and school boards to stop purchasing overpriced textbooks from greedy, profit-mongering publishers when other, legitimate sources of information are available. We need to push to our administrators to move into the 21st century and adopt more technology into our classrooms. We, for the first time in history, have the ability to develop truly experiential learning to our children and we elect not to. We need to put pressure on the government to stop letting politicians and bureaucrats make bad decisions about what is "good for our children", which is code for "how can we track the money?" and turn more of that power over to researchers and scientists who can make decisions about how a child learns best based on empirical evidence about learning and cognition from the best minds in the world. There are many, many things that we can do to improve the education system in America, but the adoption of another program that mandates standardized testing and forces teachers into a regimented methodology of instruction is not one of them. No, I will not support your petition. I will vociferously oppose the adoption of Common Core at every chance that I get. I beseech you, before lending your support to a program such as this, to ask yourself whom does it serve, the schoolchildren in the classrooms, or the politicians and the bureaucrats?
-- Johnathan Clayborn
PhD Student, Educational Psychology