My “rabble-rousing rhetoric” for the day.

I was recently directed to a Newsday article by Anne Michaud titled Don’t waste your vote on Stop Common Core. While her article simplisticly reduces the conversation about education reform to a  he said, she said… or rather a  we say, they say  debate, I was struck once again by the missed opportunity of many of the commenters to debunk Michaud’s talking points with intelligent reasoning. Instead, commenters spent more time arguing various points with each other that had nothing to do with the article. I see this more and more, especially in my state of New York where a debate has been heating with the nearing gubernatorial election, and the Stop Common Core ballot line.

Much of Michaud’s article is a replay of pro-reform rhetoric, straight from the mouths of state education officials and a rehashing of the state’s so-proclaimed call for the reduction of testing in our schools. (Stakeholders know that in actuality testing still dominates education and drives instruction by focusing too much on quantifiable data). Michaud celebrates the “higher standards” of the Common Core and ends her article with this proclamation: “I’ve seen my high school-age daughters more engaged by their assignments than ever before. That’s not a course I want to reverse.”

I’m sure that’s true, but the article overlooks the big picture–socio-economic status. Ann Michaud is undoubtedly an educated, respectably employed, involved parent. She’s white, and let’s not forget that by virtue of her race, she is given a big advantage in the world of success and achievement and opportunity. In other words, Michaud belongs to the world of privilege and that means that her daughters would most likely succeed academically no matter what standards, what tests, or what curriculum were thrown their way. It is now widely known that poverty and other situations outside of the school play a larger role in the academic success or failure of children. So-called higher standards will not solve this problem.

Common Core isn’t about high standards, states like mine had high standards long before Common Core was adopted. Common Core is about control. It’s about telling teachers what to teach and in many ways how to teach it. The expectations laid forth by the backwards mapping of education have been shown by experts in childhood development to be inappropriate, especially in the early grades. We’re pushing children to learn concepts earlier and earlier and at rates that are not natural for many. One doesn’t need a report to understand this; just talk to members of your school community. There is little joy in learning anymore. Stress and anxiety among students and teachers abound. Michaud downplays and oversimplifies opposition to the Common Core and believes it exists magically, completely unrelated to other issues of testing and teacher evaluations. Schools have become test preparation centers because of the accountability structure associated with school reform. In a rush to align curriculum to Common Core State Standards, many districts in my state have adopted poorly written and uninspiring curriculum lesson plans called modulesSo, while Michaud’s daughters, and perhaps other children of privileged backgrounds might be thriving, there are indeed many who are not–who are in fact suffering daily.

Michaud’s article assumes that opposition to the Common Core comes from uninformed, complaining parents who just don’t get it, or perhaps by teachers who are afraid of being evaluated. She calls it “wonderfully rabble-rousing rhetoric.” While that is certainly one effect by a very small percentage of those who possess a myopic focus on single issues, or last night’s homework, the vast majority of those opposed to Common Core are acting from a place of good intentions and a vast amount of research into these issues. What surprises me most about reformers who downplay the public’s concerns is that they fail to acknowledge that opposition is coming from across the nation, from people everywhere, from all walks of life, from all professions. Our specific concerns might vary, or might be ranked differently, but when such a vast oppositional movement occurs with such force, as that against education reform, it’s time to start listening. It’s time to start admitting that there might actually be a problem.

How one defines that problem is an individual thing, and there is a wealth of resources available to help one accomplish this. Real experts in education like Diane Ravitch, Yong Zhao, Carol Burris, Susan OhanianMarion Brady, and many others have written extensive commentary on the subjects of Common Core, standardization, testing, scripted curriculum, data collection, Charter schools, and more. But it is abundantly clear that Common Core and the other ill-effects of the reform agenda are not serving the public the way they are touted by reform supporters, such as Ann Michaud.

Whether one chooses to vote against the Common Core in New York State either using the Stop Common Core ballot line or by supporting one of the other gubernatorial candidates who are also opposed to Common Core, or whether you choose to fight back by opting your child out of testing, you have a voice in this debate. The worst thing you can do is remain silent and comply with a system that you see hurting your child daily.

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