Liberté, égalité, fraternité?

June 24, 2013 0 Comments

Supporters of Common Core (CC) claim it will make the education system of the U.S. more equitable by requiring all students be taught the same national standards and thus have equal benchmarks for educational goals. This systemization of the U.S. educational establishment will allow high standards to be implemented and thus improve the economic competitiveness of the United States through an educated skilled workforce. Other countries have tried similar approaches, but a more equitable education system has not been the result. Even in France, a country grounded in the ideas of equal citizenship and opportunities regardless of social class dating back to the French Revolution, national standards and testing have actually increased the achievement gap and restricted forward class mobility for lower socio-economic groups. The United States should weigh the consequences of a centrally controlled set of national standards and testing on class mobility before taking one more step towards Common Core.

Parisian journalist, Peter Gumbel, wrote French Schools Show Pitfalls of Common Core for In France, the centrally controlled standards have not leveled the playing field by giving and expecting the same from every child regardless of their zip code as the Common Core promises, it has done the opposite. In France one-third of high schoolers drop out before getting to graduation and most of these are “working class and first-or second-generation immigrant children.”

He details how the rigid national standards in France came under fire for being too hard for some children and caused the system to institute a three tier approach instead of the traditional high school diploma called the bac:

“Attempts to ease the requirements have had mixed results, and in some cases have hardened the social rigidities in the system. In the 1980s, two less academic, vocational qualifications — “technologique”and “professionel” — were created for school leavers. They are also called the baccalaureate, but don’t have the same rigorous academic demands.”

“The “real” bac, (for college entrance) is taken by just one-third of pupils. The life-determining decision about who will be able to take the exam is made at the end of middle school. The 14- and 15-year-olds deemed not to have the intellectual wherewithal for higher education are shunted into the vocational high schools, often against their will.”

At first, the three level system of France can make sense. If you aren’t going to college, you need to be trained for employment. However, when France instigated its national standards the 1980’s, unemployment was around 6.5%. By 1995, it doubled to over 12% and currently is at a new 15 year high at 10.4%. The insane idea that government and business can predict the jobs of the future and education should be tailored to supply these jobs has NEVER worked.

I think it is easy to see how the French system has shut the door on class mobility. If an education system is not forced to hold all students to a high mark, it takes the path of least resistance. If a lower income child is difficult in elementary school and his parents don’t show up for meetings and ensure homework is done properly, it is easier to ignore him and assume he is going the technologique  route. No one has failed to do anything, no requirement was unmet, the system is considered to be working and he will get trained for something. It won’t be his choice though, it will be the state’s choice and determined by one test in eighth grade. Educated, wealthier parents understand what is necessary for forward mobility in society. They will pay for tutoring, learn to gain the system, investigate the right schools and teachers, or simply call an influential friend to have their child’s poor test results waived.

The Common Core creates a new centrally controlled, national bureaucratic system of standards and testing that determines college readiness and measures which students are meeting them, similar to France. This violates a long standing principle in the United States where parents, teachers, higher-ed and local government made these decisions.

Some  business leaders and educational bureaucrats claim the need for common core standards and testing is to be able to determine who is “on-track to be college or career ready” as early as third grade, so we can “tailor their education” or “make appropriate interventions” on the students behalf. What will happen to children who are not performing well on the national tests measuring these rigid standards?

When society allows the education system to determine who it will be required to bring up to the next level based on national tests, the difficult ones, the late bloomers and the less advantaged will be left behind. How much talent is wasted and never cultivated in a system like that? To government and businesses, that is a cost worth incurring because their needs will always be met. They will have the numbers they need to fill the ditch digger jobs and the high paying engineering jobs. If unemployment goes up, they can increase taxes. If a child’s potential is not met, that is the cost of the collective good. A collective good determined by bureaucracy and business, not the people.

Supporters of CC  would call this fear irrational as CC is a state-led effort and the federal government has nothing to do with it. However, the federal government DOES have control over the funding and final test items of the new national tests, PARCC and Smarter Balance, which will decide the definition of “college readiness” and who will get automatic placement into credit bearing freshman math and English courses. In addition, all student level data collected by the assessments MUST be made available to the federal government as it was a condition of the 163 million they received to create the tests. Big Brother will know quite a bit about your children and could use this information to determine who goes on and who does not. As a side note,  student loans were consolidated under the power of the federal government by the Obama Administration, which could give them an authority over who qualifies for loans in the future.

I realize  CC doesn’t dictate this idea at present, but the writing is on the wall. Think about it, under CC we have national standards and testing developed by government and business groups to fill the jobs of the 21st century. The idea that CC will end the practice of states not meeting high standards and ensure every student is held to a higher, equal standard is dumb-founded. It is only replacing our existing system with a similar, more highly bureaucratized mess that will have more power over the individual and prevent any state from striving for more.


Leave a Reply