Common Core needs to be revamped

By Noah Thornburgh

If education is about raising humans, then the Common Core needs a revamp. Otherwise, the next generation may be more machine than man.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative started in 2010 as a way to promote country-wide learning standards for K-12 students. For the 35 states using it, Common Core provides a minimum requirement of knowledge in English, language arts and mathematics to prepare all students in the public school system for higher education or the workforce, according to Common Core’s website.

Recently elected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promised Jan. 31 to eradicate Common Core standards. This is the most recent attempt against Common Core in the state since 2014, when Florida altered the standards and relabeled it Florida Standards. If DeSantis’ order is successful, then Florida will be the 12th state to repeal Common Core.

A lot of the backlash against the standards is politically motivated — Common Core is a federally defined set of standards, which conservatives have historically opposed. However, many of Common Core’s issues are cause for bipartisan dissent.

Issue one consists of the tests — lots of tests. The average U.S. student takes 112 standardized tests throughout their K-12 career, according to a report by the Washington Post published Oct. 24, 2015.

That’s an absurd number. College students will remember the SAT and ACT as the big ones, but don’t forget about the ISAT, PSAT, ISA and so on.

Tests are a reflection of what Kerry Burch, professor of Foundations of Education, calls the neoliberal paradigm — the governing rationality in the U.S.

“The purpose of education within the neoliberal paradigm is really driven by the imperatives of capitalism,” Burch said. “Its whole purpose is to get people plugged into the existing economic order, hence all this emphasis on testing, mathematics and STEM.”

The emphasis here is on quantitative skills because the economic order is quantitative. It’s all about sums and investments, views and clicks, science and algorithms — none of which is bad, when balanced with the qualitative in arts and humanities.

That qualitative balance is exactly what is missing in Common Core. No one cuts the STEM departments over the art programs when school funding is so tied to test scores, but lose the music program, lose the soul.

“You diminish the role of the arts and humanities, which renders education spiritually impoverished,” Burch said. “You’re not thinking about the core purpose of education as one of moral development and civic awareness, things that are really necessary to make life more meaningful and make the country more democratic.”

Enter the machine: the 18-year-old student, freshly graduated, prepared not for civic engagement but economic enhancement — able to take a test, meet expectations and not much else. A dark prediction, to be sure, but necessary to jump start a reevaluation of the humanities.

Speculative scares aside, Common Core is not all bad. Its focus on critical thinking and problem solving provides a solid, intellectual foundation, but the minimum knowledge it requires should be raised.

“The standards are expressed in such a way that if you want to attack social justice or multicultural diversity issues in your curriculum, there is space to do it,” Joseph Flynn, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, said. “The other side of that is there is no explicit statement or standard that holds teachers to the fire to engage these issues.”

The news is packed with stories related to race, gender, sexuality and socioeconomic status — stories Common Core doesn’t require engagement with.

The next generation of citizens needs to be equipped with an understanding of social issues to have effective conversations — the core of a cooperative society.

If a citizenry of economic cogs is the ideal, then keep the tests running and the machine turning. If a citizenry of free-thinking individuals is the ideal, then change needs to be made.

Maybe this time, ask the teachers.