Common core represents the latest attempt to improve the educational system in American schools nationwide. According to its web site: “The Common Core focuses on developing the critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills students will need to be successful.” So far, 42 states, and the District of Columbia, have pledged to adopt it. Many teachers and parents, however, have voiced concerns about common core, and this topic has also crept onto the political stage–at the second GOP Presidential Primary Debate last month.
Educators and parents seem anxious that common core might just be one more “Great New Thing”. Perhaps it is merely change for change’s sake, following previous attempts such as: modern math; team teaching; computerized learning; etc. Those programs were often just dumped on schools and teachers without prior planning, training and forethought. No one ever seemed to understand the new modern math, team teaching was used by some schools as an excuse to double class sizes, and computers should have been introduced–say 20-25 years ago–as a new subject unto itself, and not as an unfamiliar tool for teaching existing subject content.
There are a number of annual rankings of same-grade student achievement of national school systems, around the developed world. In most cases, the U. S. ranks just above the mid-point, but it used to consistently rank near the top. Studies have found that the top-ranked educational systems operate differently; so, there is no one or two magic bullets. But there are some commonalities.
Top-performing national school systems have a long-term commitment toward improving student achievement. Educators are respected as the professionals that they are, and compensated accordingly. Resources are divided equally among advantaged and disadvantaged schools. Schools are afforded a great deal of autonomy in accomplishing their very important mission–preparing the next generation for life.
Those trends seem to follow the pattern of many successful organizations: attract good people; train them well; give them the necessary tools; establish clear, achievable goals and allow the educators the autonomy to do the job that they are there for. On the other hand, top-down micromanagement, political interference, irrelevant budgetary constraints and constantly changing goals will only breed confusion and mediocre performance. Unfortunately, many U. S. schools have been managed following that second path.
Eduction is at the center of a country’s future. It is an investment in our future–preparing today’s youth with the necessary skills to become tomorrow’s workers, as well as to be the leaders, parents and citizens of the future. Along these lines, the common core basic elements–critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills–can be excellent additions to the educational process, if implemented properly. Teachers are just like the workers who make incremental contributions at every stage of a new car’s journey along the assembly line. They must know, however, what the final product should look like. But, does Common Core have that long-term view, as well?