Common Core aka NCLB: Why Neither Can Work

The newest buzzwords in education seem to be Common Core Standards. In fact, 45 of the 50 states in the USA, along with the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and four U.S. territories, recently adopted the Common Core Standards for educational achievement. The Common Core Standards are meant to level the playing field of learning for all students. A wonderful idea in theory, but one that, without perfect educational facilities, smaller classes, and ideal home environments is not completely workable. It is an updated version of the G.W. Bush administration's No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and the same as its predecessor, doomed to fail.

In 2005, the Legislature of the State of Utah signed an important piece of legislation regarding NCLB that had already begun making headlines in education circles. The news garnered cheers from teachers countrywide. The bill, introduced by 55-year-old mother of 12, Representative Margaret Dayton, would make the state lose almost $116 million in federal aid for not following the NCLB mandate. Why would any state risk losing federal funding? They were taking this step for a very good reason; they were challenging the national act of "No Child Left Behind." Utah, invoking the nation's policy of states' rights, wanted to be able to make their own decisions and clarifications on the definitions of "highly qualified teachers" and "quality schools"; decisions that affected the education of its children.

Fast forward eight years and the introduction of Common Core Standards. In a country where learning disabled students and non-English speaking students are grouped into regular classrooms, it becomes problematic for so-called standardized education to be administered to all. Like clothing, one size (or test) does not fit all.

Addressing today's Common Core Standards, Margaret Dayton writes, "NCLB is evolving into a more dangerous national curriculum than was proposed in its original, overwhelming proposal, and plans to address re-authorization don't seem to exist anywhere."

It is unfair and almost cruel to expect a student with learning disabilities to pass the same test as an honor roll student. The idea that we are all created equal intellectually is a myth. Learning abilities are not equally distributed and the process of becoming proficient in any given subject varies from child to child.

The idea that ESL (English as a Second Language) students will become proficient in English in one year's time, enabling them to take the same test as would a native speaker, is also not feasible. Again, learning ability plays a part and even the brightest ESL students have a great deal of difficulty achieving the goal of the one-year-to-learn-English timetable.

Utah took the right approach in the area of education. Each state should decide what constitutes a "highly qualified teacher" and "quality schools" according to their own state standards, adjusting them for the demographics of their various cities and towns accordingly. You can be the best teacher in the world and you still will not be able to teach equitably to all students.

While there is no doubt that the United States Department of Education should have the right to monitor each state and insist upon the highest quality possible in the hiring of teachers and educational methods, it should not have the right to impose an act such as Common Core Standards on a state or penalize those which choose not to adhere to the act.

No Child Left Behind was, and Common Core Standards is, ambiguous at best and detrimental to children in the long run. Socio-economic factors, learning disabilities, and language barriers are areas that the act does not take into consideration. Insisting on having all children fit a preconceived mold is the same as putting the proverbial square peg in a round hole: it just won't work.

© 2013 Copyright Kristen Houghton
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