Monday, July 1, 2019

The Common Core Debacle Proves That Cave Men Educated their Children Better Than We Do Today

Here is an excellent article describing the real reasons for the teacher shortage happening in other states as well as Louisiana. The following is a quote in the article from a teacher who quit teaching recently, partly because she felt that the new Common Core based system imposed on her school did not allow her to address her students' individual needs in reading. She was teaching 8th grade English and had found that many of her students were reading at second or third grade level:

"At a staff meeting with a school district testing data coach and our principal, I brought up the lack of reading skills in my eighth-graders. How was I expected to bring them up five or six grade levels in one year so they could pass the state test in February and April, I asked. 

Their reply was: ‘Don’t talk about kids who can’t read and our responsibility to educate them, and don’t ask questions. Head down; mouth shut. You’re no longer teachers, but managers and monitors of information."

Notice how similar this description of teacher frustration is to my earlier post on the Louisiana teacher shortage. There is now little respect for the professional opinions of teachers. The unrelenting drive is on preparing kids to score well on the state tests. But that school system has found out, just as we in Louisiana have, that the imposition of slavish prep has not really significantly raised test scores after all.

In this post, I want to focus on the negative effect of the current nationwide shift of education to the Common Core State Standards and to begin a comparison to how primitive hunter-gatherer societies educate their children. I believe forcing teachers to implement this unwieldy and impractical curriculum is a major contributor to the discontent of teachers and the serious teacher shortage. In addition, this approach is counter to our children's inborn drive to explore and learn vital skills.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the adoption of the Common Core Standards has failed to accomplish the stated goal of improved college readiness. Instead the new push for the CCSS has actually caused a decline in student academic achievement as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The NAEP testing is recognized as the gold standard for measuring the math, and reading skills of  students in each state.

The NAEP tests that are administered to representative samples of students in all states have revealed stagnation in reading and math achievement in most states. So, if the CCSS have not improved college readiness (the original reason why the Gates Foundation and the Obama administration pushed the adoption of Common Core) and have actually allowed the degrading of our children's basic skills in reading and math, why are most states still using the CCSS? The answer is that the major power brokers that pushed us to adopt the CCSS in the first place are ideologically tied to these defective standards even if they don't work! The problem is that public education policy decisions are more political and are often not based on data and science.

It is ironic that the executives of successful mega-companies like Microsoft and Exon that make their company decisions based on data and science, embraced CCSS without a shred of evidence that it would work in the first place. They apparently were sold a bill of goods by a group of college testing executives led by David Coleman, head of The College Board, who somehow believed that all children could and should begin preparation for college starting at the lower elementary levels. But the writers of Common Core were definitely not experts in early childhood education. They also had no idea about recent findings from evolutionary Biology about how children learn to survive and succeed in their environment.

The self appointed authors of the CCSS wrote the standards based more on the type of training currently being used to prepare older students to take the SAT and ACT tests. This dry, purely academic material is simply not developmentally appropriate for early childhood. In addition, even for older students, the material billed as vital for the development of critical thinking skills and college prep is not appropriate for the majority of careers. It is not correct that all students, even those who will not pursue 4 year college degrees, need to take college prep math and English. At least 90% of our students will never use the Common Core math for the rest of their lives. So it's no wonder that many such students are not easily motivated to learn this material.

Also, while almost all careers benefit from the ability of workers to read product manuals, reading skills are often stifled by introducing such material before students are developmentally ready or motivated to learn such dry material. It is no wonder then, that reading and math achievement has actually declined slightly since the implementation of Common Core. The influential boosters of Common Core at the Gates Foundation and Exxon seem to be oblivious to its failure. These company managers often move very quickly to correct policies and practices that adversely affect the bottom line for their corporations. For example, Microsoft had briefly adopted stack ranking of employees based on job evaluations, so they got school systems to adopt the same plan for evaluating and rewarding teachers. But in a few short years, the Microsoft managers learned that the new policy severely damaged team unity and morale, so they shut it down. No such luck for our teachers who continue to be tortured by the same defective plan!

Another piece of bogus ideology currently being promoted is the belief of reformers that "children will rise to the challenge of higher standards." This dogma claims that all students perform according to the expectations of their teachers.  Again, there is not one shred of evidence for this claim. But the reformers firmly believe that if some students are falling behind, it must be because their teachers did not have "high expectations". Such thinking is pure hogwash, because it ignores the tremendous variation in student abilities and home backgrounds. After 10 years of mandated "higher expectations", schools that serve students in poor neighborhoods continue to perform at the bottom compared to schools serving more privileged kids. High, unrealistic expectations accomplish absolutely nothing!

Unfortunately, our new state tests are designed to reflect the high expectations of the education reformers without regard to individual or community differences. So now Louisiana children are averaging a little over 40% correct answers on their all important Common Core based annual tests. Yet, each year, almost all students are promoted to successive grades regardless of actual performance on class work or state tests. Then, to meet the higher expectation of increased graduation rates, our students are given credit for high school courses where the passing grade can be as low as 12% correct answers. The true performance of our students is converted to a scale score system that obscures actual test results. Such schemes make a mockery of higher standards and cheat students of a real education.

Also the assumption that forcing young learners to master certain difficult "critical thinking skills" improves overall performance, is not correct. Most learning is specific to a particular task or problem and does not necessarily transfer to other areas. Learning researchers have known for many years that requiring kids to play chess, or attempting to master obscure complex math problems and reading difficult technical text does not make students smarter. Such exercises waste time and energy that could be used to prepare students for skills, such as financial literacy, that would be truly useful for successful life. A recent report by the BBC found that most American youths have no financial literacy and rapidly become overwhelmed by credit card debt. Why are education reformers determined to promote pretentious theoretical exercises at the expense of useful learning?

Recent findings in the field of evolutionary biology have revealed that the versatile brains of children are designed to absorb a huge volume of information and skills as they grow, to prepare them for survival. Human children are literally "learning machines" that are pre-programmed by their genes to be curious, to explore, and to happily learn the skills that will make them successful in their environment. They really need very little coaxing to learn vital life skills, which they often learn through play and imitation of adults and older children.  Unfortunately, our education reforms have produced a curriculum that frustrates the healthy learning instincts of our children. Watch for part II on this topic on this blog to see how modern humans could revise our education system in harmony with our genetic programming to produce happy, educated, and productive citizens of the future. We should strive to teach our children as well as did our Cave Man ancestors.