Personally, I've got a thing for Starbucks. The short mocha latte and I became closely acquainted in graduate school. These days, it's minus the latte. I like Starbucks because I know that when I walk into a Starbucks and order a short mocha, there are some basic characteristics that I can expect to arrive with my purchase: a certain amount of coffee, a certain amount of chocolate, a certain amount of sweetener should I request it, and a least a few options for additives like cinnamon, cream, whipped cream, etc. Sure, the customer service may differ from place to place, but my coffee's preparation is regulated by the company's training structure. I like that. Other Starbuck's coffee drinkers love that. That's why we pay what we pay for our morning joe.
What does all of this have to do with the Common Core? Well, branding has a lot to do with it. For almost everything else in our lives we are willing to apply a common standard: how to dress a wound, how to construct a building, how to boil an egg, how to pick a husband or wife, how to create a certain hairstyle, how to change the oil in a car, how to make a Big Mac, and etc. And with these common standards we have chosen for ourselves--by popular demand--certain brands that we trust and best like. We have made the manufacturers of those brands FILTHY RICH because we know that when we buy their products, we can expect a certain minimum quality.
You would think we'd readily apply the same law to education, not supply and demand but branding. We apply less variance in how we manufacture polo shirts than we do in how we educate children, a profession that SHOULD lend itself to producing end products (children) that have certain minimum skill levels in common: the ability to read for bias, the ability to knowledgeably discern w
hether or not to sign a contract, the ability to balance a checkbook and understand interest in lending, the ability to--gasp--use technology for personal and professional improvement, not just social entertainment.
that all children can be expected to do, aren't there? There are some performances, some skills, some concepts, some understandings that all human beings--provided the right instructional methods and resources--can commonly manipulate to some level of proficiency. The Common Core Standards writers synthesized hundreds of years of research on milestones, college expectations and changes in industry to draw for us a flowchart (so to speak) of the things we can all do if provided with the right inputs and stimuli. In other words, all fifth graders--regardless of where they live in the United States of America--should be able to perform the skills in the fifth grade list by the end of fifth grade IF those fifth graders hope to be competitive in our current economic environment.
You would think people would be excited that education has finally reached the level of supervision that Honda and Mercedes and Ford have enjoyed for quite some time, a requirement for minimal standards of quality in the end product (the children). However, people are increasingly angry and hesitant to even ATTEMPT the implementation of minimal common standards. Children are unlike products in that they don't all come with the exact same social raw materials (prior experiences, vocabulary, home support, financial stability, etc.), but do we really need those particular raw materials in common?
What if all we really need to help children reach their maximum potential is some level of attention and a brain, the physical raw materials? What if it's true that as long as a child can perceive or sense a stimulus, he can use experiences to achieve new levels of understanding and performance? Because, after all, the science says that's true. That's why you can bring a child out of total depravity in an African village, supplant him in an environment with the right supports and produce a medical doctor. Common ability is not so much about circumstances as much as it is about providing each child with the necessary stimuli to maximize cognitive growth.
The Common Core Standards are simply suggesting that stimuli MUST BE PROVIDED for children to perform certain skills at certain levels. The instructional methods will and should vary according to to the prior knowledge and cognitive processing speeds of each set of children; that's just good teaching and good cognitive science. And, as educators we are responsible for providing our society with quality citizens. Don't we play a key role in producing a viable populace, one that will not be enslaved to television advertisements and totally ignorant of why gas prices are rising?
Is it so hard to believe that a child raised on the farms of middle America could be as smart or smarter than a child raised in Silicon Valley? Is it terribly impossible for a kid raised in the deserts of Arizona to equal or outperform a child raised in Manhattan when they are asked a set of basic, skills-based questions? Or, is the real problem the concern that they might all--really--be quite close in the end if they are provided with the right inputs at effective levels of instruction?
Economic theorists teach us that people don't really like equality; they like the feelings of superiority they get when they drive better brands of car, wear better brands of clothes, eat at better restaurants. Have we unknowingly contributed the same need for feelings of superiority in our educational systems? Are we willing to sacrifice whole regions of children so that other regions of children--and their parents--can feel superior? Has a good education become like a Rolex watch, a symbol of privilege?
If good education has become an expensive name brand, and it may be so, we have a real problem in this country. Some people's children are being undereducated for the entertainment and encouragement of others' children. Communities are left in intellectual squalor for what reason? Why do children in some states perform consistently behind children in others? Why can't the states, all of them, agree; we are going to produce quality minds to (at least) this minimum standard?
What's the worst that could happen? Really?
Before you yell at me, have a read of those standards. Read the standards for yourself; do not consult an opinion column. Read them. Then, come back and let's have a talk about whether or not common teaching standards are good for our children.
If you're worried about whether your child can meet the expectations, I say to you that little Johnny might surprise you. There's a very good chance that he will.
For Pupils Sans the Politics,