common core3

Planning for college fills me with dread.

The financial reality is just too sobering. Even with the amount of money my husband and I are able to put aside for college, there’s absolutely no way our children can graduate from college without the accumulation of significant debt. A year of college at a state school runs around 25,000 dollars a year. Who has that kind of money?

My family isn’t the only one facing this dilemma. Most people I know are treading water financially, doing their best to make it paycheck to paycheck. Many lost their jobs from the 2008 crash. The economy may have recovered, but many of us haven’t. If there’s a little extra money at the end of two weeks, it goes for things like shoes, a coat or paying off the dentist. Saving for college isn’t on the radar.

So, what was the Washington State Legislature doing after the 2008 economic meltdown? Among other things, making way for the Common Core Standards. In 2009-2010, the Washington State Legislature adopted the Common Core Standards (SB 6696). Randy Dorn, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, made it official on July 20, 2011. Implementation was set for the 2013-2014 school year.

According to Seattle Public Schools, the Common Core Standards will “ensure every student develops crucial 21st century knowledge and skills” which will make them “college and career ready”. Sounds amazing, right?

But how does a set of standards and their matching tests possibly deliver so much?

Mercedes Schneider recently asked the same question in her blog post Smarter Balanced: Lacking Smarts; Precariously Balanced. This is what she found:

In this time of  “public-education-targeted boldness,” the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has made the American public one whopper of a “bold” promise: The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live. [Emphasis added.]

There is neither now nor never has been any empirical investigation to substantiate this “bold” claim.

Indeed, CCSS has not been around long enough to have been thoroughly tested. Instead, the above statement–which amounts to little more than oft-repeated advertising– serves as its own evidence.

So the big promise of the Common Core Standards, to put it bluntly, is a bald-faced lie. Worst still, what’s being sacrificed has real consequences for our kids’ and by extension, our society’s future.

In the name of Common Core, our public schools are being asked to give up wide ranging, comprehensive curricula. Test preparation trumps opportunities for kids to develop their individuality and creativity. Teachers’ professional judgement is now subordinate to the results from the latest standardized, formative assessment. Our local schools are being managed from afar, by individuals who aren’t elected or responsive to community input.

Even the National Center on Education and the Economy, no friend of public education, values creativity and believes innovation is the key to a healthy economy. In the executive summary of Tough Choices or Tough Times the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce you will find (pages XXIV-XXV):

The best employers of the world over will be looking for the most competent, most creative, and most innovative people on the face of the earth and will be willing to pay them top dollar for their services. This will be true not just for the top professionals and managers, but up and down the length and breadth of the workforce.

Strong skills in English, mathematics, technology, and science, as well as literature, history, and the arts will be essential for many; beyond this, candidates will have to be comfortable with ideas and abstractions, good at both analysis and synthesis, creative and innovative, self-disciplined and well organized, able to learn very quickly and work well as a member of a team and have the flexibility to adapt quickly to frequent changes in the labor market as the shifts in the economy become ever faster and more dramatic.

In case you’re wondering, elite schools won’t be participating in the Common Core experiment. Valerie Strauss points out this uncomfortable fact in her article Common Core backer: For public schools, it’s great. For my private school, not so much.

One of the big disconnects in Common Core advocacy is that a lot of the people who think the standards are vital to the future of America and want to see them implemented in public schools everywhere send their children to private schools that have not adopted the Core. President Obama comes to mind: His daughters attend Sidwell Friends School, a private school in Washington that not only doesn’t have the Common Core but doesn’t subscribe to other Obama education reforms (like linking teacher pay with student test scores). Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation funded the creation of the Common Core, send their children to an elite private school in Seattle that doesn’t teach by the Core (and doesn’t seem to care a whit about some of the other education reform policies Gates supports).

Here’s two shocking statistics to consider: the pool of college graduates is growing more than twice as fast as the pool of jobs requiring a college degree and millions of college graduates are stuck in jobs that don’t even require high school diplomas. And that’s not the worst of it.  A staggering 59% of American workers make less than $35,000 a year. Remember, that’s only $10,000 more than the cost of a year a college.

Even if you believe in the National Center on Education and the Economy’s rosy future of well-paying jobs for a highly skilled, creative class, the dream doesn’t square with reality — at least not for public school kids.

First, there’s the issue of cost and the crippling debt associated with college. Second, more college graduates means fierce competition. Landing a plum job will depend on who you know as much as what you know. To put it bluntly, a graduate from Yale will have a huge advantage over a graduate from Eastern.

Sadly, I do believe there will be a well-to-do creative class living comfortably sometime in the near future. Unfortunately, with the radical restructuring of our schools, it’s quite apparent the billionaire philanthropists have a different future mapped out for public school kids. Plans which don’t involved my children joining the privileged creative class.

Instead, my kids are being prepared for today’s workforce. A large poll of educated workers toiling away at jobs which don’t require a college education, don’t pay a living wage, and don’t offer a future.

Carolyn Leith