One of the false premises that media and politicians have portrayed is that American students lag behind the rest of the world in education and that America will fall behind economically as a result. Both of these premises are wrong. Take, for example, the results of the 2009 PISA Reading tests. PISA tests are an international standardized test used to compare countries around the world. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009, the United States had an average scale score of 500, while Finland, the country deemed to have the best education system in the world, had an average scale score of 536. The media and politicians have tried to sell us on the false premise that our students are not keeping up. But they fail to include poverty rates in their analysis. Finland had a poverty rate of 3.4% in 2009, while the United States had a poverty rate of 21.7%. So, for a fair comparison let’s look only at the test scores of United States schools that had less than 10% poverty. When we look only at the scores from U.S. schools with less than 10% poverty, the United States reveals a score of 551, far above Finland and every other country in the world. Too often we are sold a false bill of goods without having all the information.
Now let’s look at the economic impacts. According to National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), since NAEP tests were first given in 1971, America students have had virtually no increase in Math and Reading test scores on these standardized tests. For years, the media and politicians have been telling us that our economy will suffer as a result. But again, let’s look at the real facts. According to World Bank, in that same time period since 1971, the GDP in the United States has gone from $1.113 trillion to $16.8 trillion. That is an astonishing accomplishment, and is close to double the GDP of China. Again, we have been sold a false bill of goods without being given all the information.
So what is Common Core and how does it affect our students? In NYS, we have always had very high standards. Until recently, these standards were called NYS Standards, and they held our students and teachers to high degrees of achievement. Common Core, however, is much more than a set of standards. Originally, Common Core had the potential to be a very good set standards, that could have been as good as our previous NYS Standards, but Common Core Standards have now been permanently ‘packaged’ with excessive standardized testing, expensive mining of student data, excessive and expensive computer data-analysis software, flawed teacher evaluations, expansion of Charter Schools, lessening of special education adaptations, and privatizing of education. It is a ‘package’ that can no longer be separated into its individual parts. Often times when people refer to Common Core standards, they do not realize that Common Core is the whole ‘package’, not just standards. It has been packaged this way because mega-corporations have publicly admitted that K-12 education is a $500 billion dollar untapped marketplace. Again, we have been sold a false bill of goods by the media, politicians, and corporations on the premise that we need to improve education, but we have not been given all the information.
As Ken-Ton Superintendent, Dawn Mirand, points out in her article, “All school districts, including our own, are held to [Common Core standards]”. That is exactly true. We have had no choice in the matter. And the greater reality is that all school districts are held to the entire ‘package’, not just the standards. School Superintendents are forced by the NYSED and the NYS Board of Regents to fully implement the ‘package’ or they will lose their jobs. So when we are told how wonderful and important Common Core standards are, we have to be very careful to look at the entire picture of what is being sold to us. There are constant claims of how Common Core will make our kids more College and Career ready, but where is the proof? Where is the evidence? There is none. There is no evidence showing that the Common Core ‘package’ is helping our kids. However, there is endless evidence showing how the Common Core ‘package’ is hurting our kids. Take a look at just a few of the obvious examples that we all see every day. In the past two years, students are bringing home excessive amounts of homework to the point where family life and family time is suffering. Homework is now of a nature that parents cannot even help their children with it. Families are frustrated. Behavior problems in the classroom have increased significantly as students are forced to sit for lessons that occupy inappropriate lengths of time for their age. Recess no longer exists for many students because test prep has displaced recess, resulting in students that now don’t enjoy school when they used to love it. Students that used to love to read now tell their parents that they no longer like to read in school because Common Core is suffocating them. Classrooms that used to thrive on creative projects are now overwhelmed with worksheets and test prep. We are taking a country that was the highest performing education system in the world, when poverty is accounted for, and we are reducing it to a one-size-fits-all marketing plan that excludes students from the equation.
Another common misconception is that Common Core assessments are designed to determine whether students understand what they are being taught. Common Core assessments could not possibly determine whether students understand what they are being taught because the NYS Education Department has shown us that these assessments only measure ELA and Math, and within ELA and Math they only measure 15-20% of those standards. What about the other 80-85% of the ELA and Math standards, and what about science, social studies, music, art, history, physical education, health, collaboration skills, research skills, life skills, debating, reading out loud, public speaking, sociology, three dimensional thinking, critical thinking, self-awareness, historical literature, current literature, planning skills, philosophy, enjoyment of learning, morals, theater, intrapersonal skills, relationship management, ethics, self-confidence, home skills, spatial relations, naturalism, work ethics, self-control, freedom, playing, creativity, psychology, technology, business, and government? Teachers aren’t even allowed to know which questions students got right or wrong on Common Core assessments.
The real purpose of Common Core assessments is to assign an arbitrary score to student results so that teachers and schools can be arbitrarily evaluated. Last year roughly 70% of students failed these tests. Why? Because the state purposely set the cut scores at a point to show that 70% are failing. They could have just as easily set the cut scores to show that 50% were failing or 30% were failing. We already know that the U.S. has had the highest test scores in the world, when poverty is accounted for, and we already know that test scores have no impact on the U.S. economy, so why would NYSED want to show that 70% of our students are failing when, in 2011, they showed that only 40% were failing? Because they want a reason to move forward with a ‘packaged’ business plan designed to tap into a $500 billion dollar marketplace.
School Superintendents, teachers, parents, and the general public have all been sold the same false bill of goods. And to make matters worse, Superintendents and teachers are required to implement this ‘package’. So it is left to us parents to take control. How do we do that? Actually, it is very simple. We refuse to allow our children to participate in NYS Common Core assessments just like the parents of 60,000 NYS students did in April of 2014. Refusing Common Core assessments does not negatively impact our children or schools, but it will stop the ‘package’ from moving forward and it will save our children from being used as political pawns in the privatization of public education. Please consider refusing Common Core tests in grades 3-8. Together we can regain what is being taken from us.
Eric Mihelbergel is an individual advocate. He is not officially affiliated with the Ken-Ton School District, Kenmore Teachers Association, or any other Ken-Ton entity, association or group.