This is part 3 of 5 regarding the popular editorial post Top Ten Things Parents Hate About the Common Core by Amy Pullman. I am providing opposing arguments and rationality in defense of the Common Core. I do not believe the new standards or their implementation have been anywhere near perfect, but we need to have legitimate debate if we’re going to improve them.
5. Turning Kids Into Corporate Cogs.
Given that I just finished a book in which I made the argument that our employment-based economic model is unsustainable, I understand Pullman’s frustration in the CCSS’s focus on getting kids ready for the workplace. However, we still live in a world in which productivity is livelihood, and if we want our kids to have a chance at a future, they’re going to need to be ready to participate as productive members of the economy. Pullman’s issue that the standards aim to get children “college and career ready” claiming that this approach makes them mindless cogs in the corporate system. What she overlooks is that most high school graduates these days will need to be “college ready” more than “career ready” (“Back to School Statistics). In college, students are learning much more than how to be corporate cogs; they are learning how to be productive members of society (at least we hope). Most people these days don’t end up in a job that their college education specifically trained them for (“Majority of STEM College Graduates”). So what are students learning? They’re learning how to learn. They are learning professional and ethical skills that apply to being a citizen, regardless of occupation. For those who do not go on to college, they will need skills to support themselves because getting a good job without a college degree is very difficult. Indeed, our students should be college and career ready because not having a useful education in this world is not having a livelihood.
Of course, all of this assumes that “college and career ready” does not include useful civic, ethical, and professional education that Pullman is demanding. Given that recommended reading lists include great works of fiction (even some including sexual material), it is pretty safe to say that college and career ready has more than just a touch of humanity to it. Perhaps the issue is that the moral and ethical subjects being taught are not what conservative parents want their children learning in school. Pullman points to an antiquated ordinance that supposedly formed the basis for education in America, which calls for the teaching of “religion, morality, and knowledge.” Knowing the prevailing attitudes of the late eighteenth century (the time of the Northwest Ordinance), I’m going to step out on a limb here to say that the religion she wants to see is Christianity, and the morality she wants taught is founded in modern Judeo-Christian norms. A document we still use today, which supersedes this Northwest Ordinance, is the U.S. Constitution, which contains the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” By promoting a religion or its moral teachings in public school, Congress, by extension, condones the establishment of that religion. If you would like to teach your children your Christian ethics and beliefs, that is your right. This is a secular country though, and we will teach secular ethics in our public schools.
6. The Data Collection and Populace Management.
First of all, I must state that I agree with the idea that there is far too much testing in the new system. However, that doesn’t seem to be the issue Pullman raises. I’ll defend the idea of “data mining.”
Let’s first discuss the scientific method (something that is far too foreign for most Americans). When we have a question about the world around us, we want to have a reliable method for discovering the answer. The scientific method is not a fixed set of steps, but it is a sound guideline for getting to a satisfactory answer to our question. When we first define our question (e.g. How do we improve teaching methods? What works in improving student readiness upon graduation?), we get a certain idea about how we want to measure these things. Given that this is about education, we will probably want to start looking at schools, students, and teachers. From here, we start making observations. From these observations, we come up with a hypothesis, an educated guess (e.g. Standardizing teaching methods improves student learning. More streamlined standards better prepare students for their future). We then set out to test our hypothesis. In order to do this, we need to collect data about the phenomenon we are studying. In many places, standardized student assessments have proven to be the most popular way to collect this data. That in itself requires examination, but this collect of data leads to one of two outcomes. First of all, it allows us to disprove our original hypothesis. If we study math scores of students learning a new math curriculum, and we see no improvement in test scores compared to a control group (a class that didn’t change math curricula), we can say that the teaching method was not effective in improving student learning. The other thing that could happen is that the data supports the hypothesis (this would happen in math scores did improve. At this point, we would want to conduct more experiments, collect more data, and have experts in our field verify that our methods, logic, and math were all sound. As more data comes to support our hypothesis, we can be more sure of its veracity. More data leads to more certainty.
Moral of the story? Data mining provides a basis for proving or disproving our hypothesis. Data mining is, in fact, the way we will show that the CCSS are good or bad. We need to collect this data (whether through standardized testing or other means) to determine if all this effort was for not. Yes, the data is being sent out for analysis by private corporations, but I thought the conservative argument was always for more privatization? If we don’t do that, we’ll need to fund a massive government organization to crunch the numbers, and I think just about everyone is on the same page about government efficiency.
to be continued…
“Back to School Statistics.” Nces.ed.gov. National Center for Education Statistics. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372>.
“Majority of STEM College Graduates Do Not Work in STEM Occupations.” Majority of STEM College Graduates Do Not Work in STEM Occupations. 10 July 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <http://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2014/cb14-130.html>.