Live By The Test, Die By The Test

Written by Tom Allon on . Posted in News Our Town, News Our Town Downtown, News West Side Spirit.


The Common Core is counting the wrong metrics for education

New York City’s education system, like the rest of America’s, has been hijacked by politicians who are eager to tout their success at making much-needed gains.

Tom Allon

Tom Allon

Remember “No Child Left Behind?” That was the George W. Bush administration’s catchy title for revamping public education in America. That lasted about eight years, and was then replaced by “Race to the Top,” another peppy slogan invented by the Obama-land educrats. How did that work? Well, it got a number of states to commit to important reforms that got them a pot of federal money.
But has it made our overall education system better? Are our children better off today in the classroom than they were four years ago? Twelve years ago?
Thirty years ago?
No, no and no.
And now comes along another slickly named new idea: “The Common Core.” I’m not sure more than 10 people in New York can give you a comprehensive explanation of what Common Core means, but it’s now the talk of the town and has emerged as the new hot topic in the mayoral race.
In a nutshell, Common Core means that we are now shifting the way we assess student progress, with a greater emphasis on critical thinking, higher reasoning and strong writing skills. These are, obviously, all worthy goals, and who could argue that this is a long-overdue reform in an ossified education system.
But so many things have been botched…where do I start?
Last spring, my very intelligent 13-year-old daughter came home and told me she took a very hard statewide test. “Daddy, I had to skip eight questions. We didn’t even learn that stuff. Why would they test that?” This, from a student, who tested well enough to get into New York’s most prestigious public high schools.
It was one of those rare moments as a parent when words failed me and I couldn’t explain to her why she was was being tested on material she had never seen before.
Why wasn’t Common Core phased in? We’ve known about it since 2009, so why weren’t teachers prepared to teach it much earlier and then our kids wouldn’t be set up for a test everyone knew the majority would fail? Is making children and their parents frightened about lack of “proficiency” a political policy to shock the sytem?
And what about that large segment of students who may not be well-suited for liberal arts educations or high-end professional careers – shouldn’t we be preparing curriculums or tests that play to their relative strengths? Why, in education, do we always fall for the mistaken notion that “one size fits all.”
Tests are not a substitute for great teaching and real learning. They are a blunt tool that measures “progress” and “proficiency” but we now live in an age where everything must be quantified so we can hold students, parents and teachers “accountable.”
I think I speak for many parents and a “silent majority” of concerned citizens when I say: Let’s slow down, focus on training great teachers and make sure that our children learn effective communications and basic computational and reasoning skills.
But let’s not lurch from one panacea to another – from “No Child Left Behind” to “Race to the Top” to “Common Core Curriculum,” we are just packaging the latest fad in education reform and losing sight of the fundamentals of teaching and learning.
As one pretty poor student named Albert Einstein once famously said: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
How true.
Tom Allon, the president of City & State, NY, is a former English teacher at Stuyvesant High School and the father of three teenagers. Comments? Email tallon@cityandstateny.com.

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