The debate over Common Core is raging and will continue to rage for the foreseeable future. Concerned parents worry that their children will miss crucial elements of education as administrations and school boards require teachers to ensure high scores on standardized tests. Teachers who entered the field with a desire to mold young minds and encourage creativity and critical thinking are burning out as test scores become the sole measure of success. Administrations interpret the standards differently, and so, even in the quest for ultimate equality, curriculum decisions vary widely.
I get the need for some basic standard to measure educational success/progress. But we go about it all wrong. We pay publishers (Pearson) to write tests and sell us textbooks to meet some arbitrary standard that may or may not be a true measure of anything besides the ability to take a multiple choice test. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are destined to fail, just as No Child Left Behind did. Both have lofty and noble ideas, but implementation across a country as large and diverse as this one is virtually impossible. There is very little students in Oregon have in common with students in Michigan or Alabama. The basics of education need to be flexible enough to function anywhere in the country, yet tailored to the local needs and priorities. This can’t be done by a group of intellectuals, researchers, and publishers in Chicago.
I have an idea, slightly unorthodox, but practical, useful, and potentially able to create some kind of national unity in the US. Instead of tests created by textbook manufacturers, use real life measures to determine graduation readiness. The first test: all high school students must pass the Citizenship test currently administered in the path to naturalized citizenship. This demonstrates ability to read, write, remember, understand, and relate US history, government, and ideals. I wonder how many current college students who scored well on the SAT could pass this test? It already exists, so cost is less an issue, and it would put all citizens on the same page, so to speak, when it comes to national identity. How regions, states, and school districts prepare for this test is completely up to the local boards.
Secondly, I would have students demonstrate the ability to create a budget and reconcile a bank account. Or, even more useful, have all potential graduates successfully prepare their own taxes using a standard tax preparation software. Create a scenario of income, dependents, debt, etc, an let the students figure it out. If they can submit a return with no red audit flags, they’re ready for the real world.
As for science, a page from the Scout book on survival might be enough to cover botany, engineering (one needs a degree to set up a tent these days), and chemistry.
So there it is, my idea for a simple set of standard outcomes nationwide. How the tests are administered can be determined locally. How students are taught these elements is determined by the people who actually teach them. And there’s still plenty of time to discover the classics of literature, the intricacies of discovery, and the ramifications of Pythagoras’s Theorem on world events. And in the end we have a citizenship that knows its history and its present, which makes it more prepared for its future.