I just read Diane Ravitch’s article, titled, “The Biggest Fallacy of the Common Core Standards“. She makes a very good case for questioning and rejecting the monolith of propaganda being promulgated about the value of common core standards in the US education system.
What stood out for me was the use of power and influence to push an educational agenda that is going to have a significant impact on an entire generation of learners based solely on unfounded statements and unwarranted claims. This situation reminds me of the way digital technologies were brought into education. There were no studies, no research, and certainly no consideration of what it really means to use digital technologies in educational settings. There were those who had an interest in selling digital technologies to schools, and those who were sold a line of patter about how digital technologies were going to make teaching easier, learning more efficient, and improve academic success. All these expectations were freighted onto digital technological devices, software applications and network infrastructure. It was assumed that the presence of digital technologies in schools, by their very existence and proximity, were going to have a magical effect on teaching and learning.
Of course, none of this patter was true and many billions of dollars have been invested in educational digital infrastructure and it has been used at a rate of 1/4 of what might be possible. This problem continues, with different vendors marketing their wares to politicians and administrators that make significant purchasing decisions without any supporting research or warrants to back the claims of the purveyors of digital technologies. The result has been an influx of digital technologies into schools and entire generations of teachers unprepared to make sense of their use, nor take advantage of their presence. We can certainly demonstrate that our uses of digital technologies amplify our abilities to communicate, access information, and change societal understandings of perplexing problems toward generating innovative solutions. However, without significant investments in learning about learning, learning about digital technologies, learning about our social relations with, through, and about digital technologies, there isn’t going to be a significant change in the education system just because the technologies are there.
There is a similar problem with the idea of testing and standards in education. Tests have been used in education as a way to measure what learning has taken place. Historically the educational mission was to convey information from a textbook into the memory of a learner. The teacher’s job was to design the method of conveyance in such a way that the learner could acquire the knowledge from the textbook, at least long enough to re-write that knowledge onto a test and achieve academic success. We are seeing the destructive consequences of this educational system in the current multiple crisis of human existence on this planet: environmental, political, economic, social, cultural, health, housing, financial, etc. Our education systems, at least in the western world, have proven wholly inadequate to prepare citizens for sustainable, equitable, reasonable, moral, empathic, healthy, sound, etc. systems of living. In a sense, there never was a test of the test. How was the acquisition of textbook knowledge ever shown to be of benefit to sustainable human development?
Now we have boosters of Common Core national standards in the United States. We are also facing the same pressure in Canada. For example, although the BC Ministry of Education is implementing a new education plan that is supposed to prepare citizens for knowledge era society, the entire plan is based on ancient notions of assessment, standards, and common core knowledge. In Ravitch’s article she shows how boosters of the Common Core make claims about the efficacy of Common Core Standards as if this efficacy were self-evident – these claims are unwarranted because the Common Core Standards are only being implemented this year. There is no research knowledge to support any claims about the efficacy of the Common Core Standards, thus any claims are warrantless.
However, this lack of supporting evidence does not stop the Obama administration from allocating $4.35 billion in educational funding tied to implementing the Common Core Standards. Promoters of the Common Core Standards have correlated college readiness, career readiness, and even national security to implementing the Common Core Standards. But, as Ravitch points out, there is no provision for actually preparing the education system to implement the Common Core Standards in a coherent way, and there is certainly no provision for accounting for diverse learning needs to be able to successfully learn the Common Core Standards. One has to ask, what model of ideal student learning was used to imagine the learner who is going to successfully acquire the Common Core Standards and demonstrate that learning on a standardized test? Once again, the promoters of an economic agenda to profit from educational expenditures are driving significant educational decision-making, selling their vision of education through the power of media and an uncritical consumer.
I argue we all need educational research. We need research carried out through publicly-funded institutions whose purpose is to support the development of society for the good of all concerned, not those invested with the wealth and power to further enrich their corporate entities through promulgating educational policies and practices that actually disenfranchise citizens. I continue to be amazed at the lack of cogent educational argument in the public sphere.
Just because we have the digital technology to enable, enrich and enhance learning does not mean that is how the digital technology is used in education. Just because we have the technology to implement more tests than we ever could before does not mean tests are going to improve learning. What we need is a coherent response to corporate pressure that seeks to profit from education at the expense of real learning. What we need is a response that is as powerfully persuasive as corporate lobbying and media buy. We have this response at our fingertips, if we can comprehend the power of our communicative abilities and the need for parents, teachers, students, administrators, and politicians to take ownership of our educational system for the good of all concerned, not the powerful few.
We have an opportunity for a collective voice about education as never before. We have ample educational research to support the formation of cogent educational philosophy, creative curriculum, and innovative pedagogy. We actually have everything we need right in front of us. We need educational research to inform the formation of educational policy, significant curriculum focus and new pedagogic practices in our learning relationships. We can do this.
The juggernaut of corporate profiteering in the name of our democracy’s most important asset, the minds of our new citizens, need not defeat us. But we are going to have to become active in our understanding of the issues, and proactive in our forming learning networks to formulate an education system that actually serves its constituents rather than corporate interests divorced from the micro-economies of our communities.