Stop Fighting And Start Fixing Common Core


Common Core is one of those items that makes people in education crazy. Watching Fox News, you can get the impression that lesson plans are being written by either al-Qaeda or the Socialist Workers Party. On the other hand, the head of the New York United Federation of Teachers threatened to punch anyone in the nose who doubted the effectiveness of Common Core. And his union has now asked a judge in New York City to rule that parents who protest (and even those who don’t) should have no voice in the education of their own children.

Whenever I write about schools, I get a lot of accusations of being an errand boy for school boards, a complete radical or a mindless drone of a former educator. Occasionally, I get accused of all of the above for the same column. There is a lot of heat generated about the curriculum and not nearly enough light shed on the topic.

Quite simply, Common Core is not a product of left-wing radicals or people who want to oppress our children. It was designed and financed by the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation. It is just another step in the constant seesaw battle between those who want to ensure that students learn certain specific skills and others who want to make sure they learn a lot of facts within the academic disciplines. Between being a student, a teacher and a school administrator, as well as a columnist, I have been involved in education for more than a half-century. And the pendulum swings back and forth between the two basic groups.

When I was in high school, there was a push to “think like someone in the field,” and I wound up in an advanced “MIT Physics” class that was so esoteric that most of the students (considered the brightest in the grade) had trouble dealing with the regular tests other students took. Later on, I had to teach intensive reading classes that were “teacher-proof,” where students were asked to read a lot of very short passages answering different kinds of questions. The teachers merely graded the work. I might also add that there is no such thing as lessons that are “teacher-proof.”

The change to Common Core from the one we had before, No Child Left Behind, where students focused almost solely on skills, was very rapid for one vital reason. School systems that adopted it got “free money,” either from Gates or from the federal government that jumped to support it through the Race to the Top funding source. School boards love money that they get without having to ask their own taxpayers, who often resent school taxes. Not surprisingly, school systems around the country signed up, and 40 states adopted it.

But there have been critics on both the left and right. Zephyr Teachout (I really love that name), who is challenging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic Party primary, charges that no one consulted with teachers and administrators before imposing the new system. And she is correct. On the other hand, politicians never consult teachers. After all, politicians know far more about educating students than the people who actually do the work “in the trenches.” They’re always ready to criticize other people.

And on the right, there are challenges to many of the materials that have been provided. There are math problems that have more than one answer or none at all. And the college professors who created the social studies curriculum seem to prefer liberal topics and materials.

Both complaints can and should be addressed. Perhaps some of the best teachers in different systems could meet and look for useful modifications. And, of course, curricula can be changed. Math problems could actually be checked for correct solutions. Social studies lessons could have a more balanced perspective.

We all need to be willing to change, and that includes continued alterations to the new changes. Despite calls for violence from certain people, almost everyone wants kids to do well in school. I should point out that while parents want their children to do well, they want it in the context of attending good schools. That means that most, if not all, students must do well.

So instead of arguing, why not work together to make “baby step” improvements? Ones that might actually work in the real world while not generating headlines? Some tweaking here and there would be a lot better than screaming at each other.