Common Ground for Students by George Latimer, Albany Times Union, January 8th, 2014
For decades we have heard the rallying cry that American students' performance is falling behind that of students in other countries and for decades education experts have attempted to come up with ONE solution.
This time, under the guise of making students more prepared for a global economy, New York has adopted the "Common Core" standards and is forging ahead at breakneck speed to implement a new top-down education mandate on local school districts. Without dissecting the validity of the "global competition" argument, there are elements of the Common Core's implementation in New York that must be addressed first.
There is nothing wrong with asking our students to strive for more and prepare them for what their futures hold. There is something wrong with asking our students to perform at a higher level without properly preparing them. There is something wrong with asking someone in Albany or beyond to evaluate a student in Brooklyn the same as one in Bedford or Buffalo.
There are many issues with New York's implementation of Common Core, and the concerns are not limited to a small contingent, as some have suggested. Real people who have students in schools and are of every ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, age and geographic makeup share reservations about the Common Core. It is also an issue that does not pit Democrats versus Republicans; it is truly about the students.
New York is asking students to take exams based on curricula that are not fully implemented in and certainly not readily embraced by those who are actually in classrooms every day. Yet proponents of Common Core continue to move forward without compromise.
With significant corporate interests behind the shifts toward a "global" education system, I think it is imperative to analyze this in a business-oriented manner.
Many business school students and graduates are surely aware of failure of the "New Coke" initiative in the early '80s, a product that the top brass of Coca-Cola were convinced would usher in a new generation of an already successful brand. Consumers rejected it, prefering they product they already knew and liked.
Aggregate scores from the entire state have already slipped in the first year of these new tests, and we know our students are not X percent less intelligent than they were the previous year. The scores dropped because the top officials at the Education Department, like those at Coca-Cola in the '80s, are convinced that they have a new "brand" of education that will usher in a new generation of globally competitive students. The scores dropped because in its haste to implement the new "brand" of education, SED did not do "consumer" research and development before bringing this product to New York's education "marketplace."
The critics of elements of the Common Core, myself included, are not against having students who are able to understand the "why behind how things work," but we are opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach to educating children in a state, nation and world where one size rarely fits all. I believe that the outcry against specific aspects of the Common Core — the lack of preparation, privacy of student data, and over-reliance on testing — is an opportunity for us to respond to consumer feedback and adjust to the market.
As the Legislature gets set to return to Albany, this issue will certainly draw significant attention and debate. I see no reason why we can't find common ground that balances what works in successful schools with the necessary reforms in areas that need the most help. I believe that to this point, proponents have failed to properly assess the need for a completely new product in their market, and if we don't evaluate the public opposition to the Common Core as a gauge of the education market, we will make a mistake that will hurt our children.